For many people dealing with serious illness, the shock of the diagnosis is often enough to put us into an emotional place where it’s easy to ignore the life going on around us. We get so focused on the shock of our new reality that we can easily find ourselves already beginning treatment before we have time to process and accept all that is going on. For me, when the shock of hearing “you have stage 4 breast cancer” wore off, I had to face and accept that I would be in treatment for that cancer for the rest of my life. Treatment would never end and I was officially a breast cancer “lifer.” My life would go on, but so would all the ramifications of knowing I would always be one tumor marker or progression away from yet another treatment change.
As, with life, however, none of us live in a cocoon and we must live with all that goes on around us – having nothing to do with our health situation, but everything to do with the fact that the world doesn’t stop because we’ve been hit by an unmoveable iceberg.
In the 6-plus years since my mets diagnosis, I’ve experienced many non-cancer related, albeit life-changing events. I’ve lost a job that I loved, I’ve become a grandparent for the first time and I’ve watched my own child settle into a life filled with all I ever wished for her. I put the negative things into my “it could be worse” category and the positive things have been added to my completed “bucket list.” I try to put perspective into everything that happens and that usually smooths things out for me and helps make my life more normal.
While we react to unexpected joys and traumas in different ways, occasionally, our reaction when we are affected by something that is beyond what we have ever prepared for can’t be imagined until it happens. If we win millions of dollars in the lottery, although we may have dreamed about that possibility throughout our lives, we will never know how we will react until it actually happens. Similarly, while we assume we are safe in our cars because we are good drivers, a split-second decision (or lack, thereof) of another driver can can change lives forever.
Recently, my adult daughter was involved in an accident when she was stopped at a red light and was hit from behind by another driver. It was a minor accident and at another time, would have given my daughter nothing more than shoulder bruises from her seat belt. The air bag never inflated. What turned this from fender-bender to horror is the fact that at the time of the crash, my daughter was 21 weeks pregnant with her second child. Except for a very short discharge, she has been hospitalized since the crash and will be until her baby girl is born. Every day is a gift and allows the baby to grow and get stronger. If she holds off until 28 weeks, there is a great chance she will be perfectly normal. The odds go down if she is born in the next 3 weeks, they go up for every day from 28 weeks to 34 weeks.
Needless to say, since the accident, I haven’t thought about my own health situation. Even having metastatic breast cancer (and respiratory issues related to a medication I was on for the cancer) seems trivial and minor compared to my daughter’s situation. Healthy babies are born all the time and we tend to take for granted that ours will be healthy and normal as well. How could I possibly feel sorry for myself when my child is fighting for her child? Of course, I can’t and don’t, but her situation has caused me to pause and look at my own journey.
What I’ve realized is that in the grand scheme of my life, having stage 4 breast cancer isn’t the worse thing that can happen. Yes, it’s bad and not what I expected or wanted, but in the end, there is so much more that can affect and change me. After watching my daughter and son-in-law deal with their situation over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that in the end, the reality is that life happens and as much as we think we can control our lives, we really can’t be in total control. Whether we are dealing with the negatives or the positives of life, all we can do is try to make the right choices and hope others do the same.
Don’t Stop Believing!
May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.