I have wrestled with writing this, because it is a hard reality that stares me down daily as I continue on my cancer journey. I struggle with some areas more than others, and I want to encourage those WITH cancer that you are not alone... and to the people that love someone with cancer - I want to share how you can support your loved ones on this journey. So I am going to get super vulnerable and super real in this particular blog. I am writing this on the day that my amazing fiance and friends have set up a benefit in my honor... (which makes me SUPER uncomfortable - because I hate admitting that I need help or accepting help)... this is a common trend in my life - I am super independent and am pretty sure "let ME do it!!" was a common staple in my childhood vocabulary. Help me is not a phrase I like to use.... and I don't pull it out until I REALLY need it - so if I ask for help - you can bet your butt that I truly need it. I have found out (the hard way) that the cost of cancer isn't just about money. And paying the toll of this ruthless disease will often leave you crying and praying on the floor... begging God to take it from you. I have never in my life identified so much with the life of Job until now. I am going to try to explain from my experience the best I can - but it sorta seems like a reverse of the "priceless" credit card commercials! LOL
Money - Money is up front because it is the easiest to explain. I literally decided to write this blog on the day of my very last chemo - because I woke up that day to my electricity being cut off. I was embarrassed to tell my son why we didn't have light or AC - and I had to squint in my dark bathroom to get lidocane on my port so I could get to chemo on time despite not having electricity. You can BET YOUR BOTTOM DOLLAR that cancer is going to cost you money. What insurance DOESN'T cover adds up - "I am sorry, but a PET scan isn't covered by your insurance... so we can't tell you if or where the cancer has spread.", "You need to take this Claritin (OTC) to prevent the bone pain this life-saving chemo medication is about to cause you." All of the little medical things that you NEED but aren't covered add up. Plus, stuff RADICALLY changes - and it will cost you money. You will need to crank the AC because of hot flashes $$, You will need new clothes because of surgery or weight gain or loss from treatment $$, You will need healthy food to fill your fridge and fuel your body $$, And you may need to pay someone to do the things you physically can't if you don't have someone to help (yard, car, house repairs, cleaning). You may lose your job or extra income (I had to quit coaching - which not only broke my heart, but took my extra income). AND REGULAR LIFE STILL GOES ON - My son graduated this year - hands up from all of the senior mammas that have had THAT expense!?!? CHA-CHING, Also, had my AC mess up twice $$, Bathrooms re-done $$ and child support end all within the same 6 months. My kiddo starts college this month.... Real life happens. Cancer doesn't exempt you from normal or abnormal expenses. So for everyone that keeps trying to sell me stuff... THIS IS WHY I KEEP TELLING YOU NO!!!! ;)
TIME - Cancer will eat your time. I have spent so much time in doctors offices and infusion chairs in the last 7 months... but it goes deeper than that. Cancer takes quality time from your loved ones. When your kid stands by your bed while you cry in pain instead of going on a vacation with you, Or your "date" with your fiance ends up being him watching the doctor touch your boobs then going to eat pho, or time with your friends is you apologizing for not being able to stay longer or do what you used to because you are exhausted. You miss holiday stuff because you are sick (I legit do NOT even remember Easter). You desperately want to be invited to everything, but feel guilty when you can't attend everything. Cherish your time. Time spent on your loved one with cancer (even if it is just a few minutes for a call or text) will ALWAYS be appreciated and cherished.
Your Body - This one gets me. I worked SO HARD to get a healthy body. Cancer is a jerk. It takes and takes. I have paid a LOT in this department. Chemo is like putting drano or bleach directly into your veins. It not only kills the cancer cells - it kills good stuff too. The drugs used to accompany the chemo (steroids) will do a number on your body as well (weight gain... ugh). I thought "losing my hair" would be such a big deal... and such a big loss. After all of the other things cancer has taken/will take - hair is nothing. I am freaked that I will be losing my nipples... I know, weird. But it really, really bothers me. I am also sorta sad that I am being thrown into menopause... not that I wanted more kids... but just having to give that up because of cancer is a heavy blow. Dear Cancer, You can have my hair, my size smalls, my breasts, my ovaries, my lashes and brows and vibrant skin, you can have my energy and all of the cries in pain that you brought on, but you CAN NOT HAVE ME!!!!!!!! Because cancer has changed so much stuff in my body, I am obviously struggling. I want to look a certain way. I want to feel a certain way. But I don't. And right now I can't. What I CAN do is eat healthy and be as active as possible (which means less active than I am used to...but still moving!)
Mind - Cancer will play tricks on your mind. Chemo brain is real. You will forget things. "What day is it?" and "What was I doing?" are questions you will ask yourself often. You will struggle with your worth. You will feel like you are "losing your SH*&" several times a week or even several times per day. You will need to see a counselor, but with money being tight to save your life - and time being tight because you are trying not to lose your job, you just make sure your kid gets counseling and you skip it on yourself - which can seriously add to the "cancer crazy" going on in your head. For me, anger has been my go-to throughout this journey - but it will be a rollercoaster in your head... so my advice is this: Get out of your "head" when you can - I look at sunrises, sunsets and stars to remind me to "look up" in this journey. I also take bubblebaths and walks to get out of my head.
Your relationships - This journey is not for everyone. You will lose friends. Some people will get pissed that you are "different". You ARE different - you will doubt yourself, you will doubt others' loyalty to you. You feel like a burden to those around you. You feel like you are taking to much from relationships and not putting enough in. Your treatments may be to heavy for your friends or family to carry. You will have family members and friends that just need to take a "backseat" until this cancer stuff is over. Some people can't handle it - and that is OK. For every one that can't handle it - you will have two that can. Surround yourself with the ones that CAN handle it and give everyone else grace. Try not to get your feelings hurt when you aren't invited to things or if people don't call to check on you. Be grateful for the ones that DO! :) And if your friend or family member with cancer doesn't call to check on you - or call just because - see the section above... they likely don't even remember what day it is. Grace goes a long way in relationships.
So although the cost of cancer is huge and you have to trade in a lot of stuff to have your life... Cancer cannot take your faith, your spirit, your laughter, your peace (unless you let it), your JOY or the essence of WHO YOU ARE! Cancer can GIVE YOU - perspective, a new opportunity to make a bucket list and check stuff off, a fight that you can win!!!! Cancer can't have ME. Put your pearls on and PUSH THROUGH!!!!