I’ve had cancer for over a decade. While there has been many roller coasters along the way, the first few weeks after a cancer diagnosis were the most stressful and mentally draining. Through my cancer journey, like my business career, having role models and mentors were critical. I had many people look out for me and so I believe in doing the same. While I never wanted to be “Caryn with Cancer,” if my stories and learnings can help someone else find a little ease with this disease, then I want to share them all. When it comes to the initial diagnosis, unfortunately you can’t bury your head in the sand for long. You have to make several decisions in a short amount of time. Though I never wanted to be “Caryn with Cancer”, hopefully the words below, or those on the pages of Happiness through Hardship – The Cancer Book or “Happiness through Hardship” – The Podcast will help others, especially those dealing with the first few weeks after a cancer diagnosis.
When I was younger, preparation for bikini/wedding/holidays or frankly any season, inevitably meant a new workout regimen. Endless hours were spent scouring magazines for the hottest new fitness fad, hoping it would get me beach-ready. Unfortunately, because of this silly commitment, I became the proud owner of Jane Fonda videos, the Thigh Master, the Bowflex and the Shake Weight. Bring on summer of 2014, then 2015 and now 2016 where my focus is flipped from looking pretty to being well. And now my clothes fit without all the gizmos. How have I done it? Give a round of applause for a plant-based diet, a little yoga and a lot of walking.
I wasn’t scared of the painful side effects from surgery.
I wasn’t scared of fatigue and emotional drain from a packed schedule of cancer doctor appointments.
I wasn’t scared of humongous machines filled with radiation.
And I wasn’t scared of chemotherapy … I was petrified.
When I was first diagnosed, I only knew a few people who went through cancer treatment. And I didn’t know much about their experiences, so I really had no idea what to expect. I feared the worst when I was told I needed chemo; my stomach sank and anxiety filled my chest. I imaged myself regularly hugging a toilet, unable to leave the house and participate in life for 16 weeks of treatment. But this wasn’t my experience at all. In fact, my first chemo treatment was just me, my husband, two nurses and an IV.
As the hours set in after my initial cancer diagnosis, I went from feeling disbelief to craving information. I wanted to know more. So rather than jump on the internet, since I was warned to stay away, my husband and I drove to the nearest Barnes & Noble bookstore. I purchased a few “you have cancer” books and quickly learned that any piece of literature, story, infographic or even a sound bite could bring me to tears if I wasn’t ready. Since unfortunately others have been and will be touched by cancer, below is a short list of cancer books that provided me information without scary statistics and overwhelming tales. These cancer books delivered inspiration to move forward and take care of myself, while I let my medical and support team take care of me.
Ten years ago yesterday, I was first told that I had invasive ductal carcinoma, aka cancer. As I look back, I wonder what would my life be like if I didn’t have cancer.
Where would I be? Would I’ve been a stay-at-home mom with four kids? Or possibly a business woman traveling cross-country while my husband stayed home and managed family life?
Do I even begin to play that game, dreaming about what could’ve been before cancer changed my plans? How do I know that even without cancer, life could have been better? Maybe something more daunting would’ve appeared, and I surely don’t want to think about that.
So, when I’m down or feeling a little sorry for myself, I try to think of what I’ve gained from my cancer experience or (insert horrible situation here.) I’m not suggesting we all rewrite a modern version of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. I just think finding positivity clears the mind of the stress and angst of a tragic life event.
These are a Few of My Favorite Things – After Cancer Came to Town
You hear it all the time, cancer brings about a special bond. Those who understand the frightful conversations dealing with a life-threatening diagnosis can provide relevant advice or tough love. I’m grateful for these cancer friends, otherwise known as my angels, who have taught me about cancer, strength and grace. Some guided me tremendously during the early moments. Others have grown with me beyond cancer and continue to be a shining force in my life. In fact, I’ve played both roles, as well, mentoring, motivating and educating those about the “big C.” Treatments debated and tears often shed, but many times we commiserated about the silly stuff.
It’s also worth noting, that other relationships intensify because cancer brings them to a life-altering other level. My husband and I dealt with frightening decisions in a short amount of time. This taught us how to not only communicate but also work well together under such duress.
I often stressed over the wrong things in childhood. I took every self-help magazine quiz to improve my teenage self-esteem. While I was a confident kid, I had my moments, which trickled through my early 20’s. Beating cancer and thriving with it at 31 catapulted me into a different mental state. With every intense work project, fearful presentation or uncomfortable life situation, I drew upon my cancer survivor skills and thrived. Take that, cancer … you made me better.
Adapting to Change and Evolving with It
It’s one thing to adapt to change, but completely different to evolve with it. Being thrown this curve ball at age 31, when I was just asserting my adulthood taught me how to play ball successfully. If one strategy works for years, it doesn’t mean it will in the future. So when my cancer life began, my old life had to be adapted. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) easy, but I’ve learned to grieve any loss and move forward.
New Boobs and Bod
Ok, so here’s the silly, yet surreal part. While I would never wish the surgeries, IV cocktails, shots and scans on anyone, my body looks better. I had bigger boobs, but I never loved them. My post bilateral mastectomy ones fit well in clothes and I don’t even have to wear a bra. Even more exciting, the past year eating clean, sleeping more and practicing yoga has tightened my body and improved my energy level tremendously. I wish I would have embraced a clean lifestyle way back when, instead of counting calories for all those years.
Timing Means Everything
My husband and I wanted to be pregnant within the year after we were married. Our plan had to be altered because I was diagnosed just three months after our wedding. I would have never wanted to wait four years to have a baby. But, thankfully, I did. Kyle is our everything. Since every second/minute/year carries different possible outcomes, had we not waited four years, our baby would not be our precious, silly, thoughtful, caring and creative, Kyle.
Have you or someone you love experienced any life altering moments that redefined your life?
I’m thrilled to be a recipient of the 2014 Pink Power Mom award.
The Kids II Foundation’s, Pink Power Mom network is a nonprofit organization that honors eight women annually who have used their breast cancer battle as a catalyst to make a difference in the community. I’m honored that I was selected because of my efforts with Pretty Wellness. As a winner, I will receive a sizable donation for my charities of choice, so that I can continue to advocate for meaningful breast cancer treatments and resources.
My 2015 donation will be awarded to The V Foundation for Cancer Research. As a former Disney/ESPN employee, I have fond memories of supporting the V Foundation. I participated in many fundraisers and sat on a departmental committee to help build awareness and raise funds to support their mission: curing cancer. On the day I was diagnosed with stage IV disease, one of the executives reminded me that I am not a case study and recited the wise words of coach Jim Valvano, “Don’t give up…Don’t ever give up.” It uplifted me and was the reminder I needed to embrace my positive spirit in the face of hardship.
Another charity that is near and dear to my heart is The Get in Touch Foundation, founded in my hometown by fellow cancer survivor, 2010 Pink Power Mom, author, and friend, Mary Ann Wasil. The foundation’s goal is to provide initiatives to educate girls and boys about early detection. Their Girls’ Program/Daisy Wheel tool has been implemented in 26 countries and teaches children about how to do their own breast self-exams. I sat on the board in the early stages, now years later I’m amazed at the progress and global reach of their efforts.
Here is the official press release for more information on Kids II, Inc. and the Pink Power Mom recipients.
I’m excited to join the sisterhood of this amazing group of breast cancer survivors and can’t wait to meet them at the award ceremony in early 2015.