Sunday, June 27, 2010

When You Look In The Mirror

What do you see when you look in the mirror? And, how do you want others to see you?

I know how very difficult it is when you are diagnosed, undergoing surgery and treatment, to see the person in your mirror as anything else but a "cancer patient".

Your entire waking existence revolves around office visits, x-rays, scans, lab testing, blood drawing, taking meds, and trying to cope mentally, emotionally, and physically with your new unwanted identity. Cancer has erased the person whom you used to be prior to your diagnosis; you will never be the same.

Most of us are forced to lose part of our body to cancer; but, you don't have to relinquish your identity to it as well. You may even decide to see this as a kind of "rebirth" of the rest of your life. Now, as someone facing your own mortality, what is truly important is very clear; and the person whom you see in the mirror is indeed still you, after everything which you have experienced.

As more and more people living with cancer (over 12 million, at last count) finish treatment and enter their survivorship stage, they will be redefining their own lives. As survivors, we also have a real opportunity to empower and help others; both our fellow cancer patients, and those who might someday also face the disease. This is the reason why I am writing here about my experiences, and sharing them with you. I'm almost 3 years from diagnosis, and there are days when I don't even think about cancer.

It's unfortunate that cancer patients are continually bombarded with the "warrior" and "fighter" personas which are automatically bestowed on us. I believe that the very best way to diminish cancer's power over us is to be true to ourselves, and to define our own lives. Remember, you are not defined by your disease; or by what image society attributes to someone in our situation.

There are many times, even now, when I don't particularly feel like a "warrior" as I deal with my daily symptoms. I don't feel particularly strong or empowered when I'm overcome, literally, by the severe hot flashes caused by my anti-estrogen meds. This happens at least a dozen times a day, and during the night: besides any normal activity, it can be set off by things like standing too close to the toaster, drying my hair, ironing clothes...but I have chosen to laugh it off, and say to myself, "Only 2 and a half more years of taking this drug - I'm almost halfway through!" And, I was the person who was always cold...!

When people describe me, I think that they would most likely say, "She's an upbeat, funny, short woman with blonde hair, who always has a smile for everyone. She loves reading, sci-fi, architecture, history, gardening, pugs; she loves Hawai'i, and plans to move to Maui in retirement. She also happens to be a person who had breast cancer." Cancer is far from the first thing people associate with me, and that's exactly the way I want to be seen, because that's how I see myself.

I have vowed that even though cancer could take my life, I will never allow it to claim my smile, or change the essence of my personality: then, it will have "won" in another way. That, to me, would be even more tragic than dying.

When you feel overwhelmed by fear and worry, think about this: no one knows how much time they have left in this world. And, have you ever considered that you may die from something other than your cancer?

Put your life in perspective, and focus on your present and your future. Be as "you" as you can be; this is the best advice that I could possibly give to the person you see in the mirror.

No comments:

Post a Comment