Thursday, June 01, 2006

Being a Survivor

Every now and then my favorite cancer support network, The Wellness Community calls and asks if I will speak on their behalf to a symposium group or a board of directors dinner. I simply cannot say no. They were wonderful to me when I was sick, and I will never forget it. They gave me group support and a safe haven when I needed it most. It was the one place I could walk into and everyone there knew exactly what it felt like to be faced with life altering change. Often when people are diagnosed with cancer they can feel immediately isolated even among their family members and best friends, because no one knows exactly what is needed or how it feels unless you've been there yourself.

The Wellness Community called a few weeks ago and asked me to speak on the topic of my "survivorship" choice at a local symposium. It is tomorrow. I have procrastinated with my 6 minutes of soap box time and now I need to show up at 9am with cue cards in hand. It's almost show time and I have some convoluted ideas swirling but nothing ready for a platform.

I tried writing some notes on post-it notes but they seem too lengthly and sticky. I will try my outline here. If it works out to anything of substance I could always print the blog page. Is this how the presidential speech writer's work? My guess would be no.

Wellness Community Symposium
6/2/2006 - Survivor Story 6 minutes
How to end up with your grandmother's grace and wisdom; while still living in your 36 year old body. It's a push in the right direction when you've been diagnosed with cancer.

I. Intro
Diagnosis at age 31 with Stage II invasive ductal carcinoma
Breast saving lumpectomy surgery, 4 rounds of Adriamycin/Taxotere chemotherapy, and
35 radiation treatments, followup reconstructive surgery 2 1/2 years into remission

II. Changes
All this change in one gal's life causes upheaval. Physical changes are obvious.
Sick for 6 months, hair loss, weight loss, port-a cathater management, GI troubles, hormonal
imbalances caused by chemo, dehydration management, large lesions in mouth etc....

Physical changes for me were mostly temporary and merely a catalyst for real change.

The important changes were in my head first in my soul forever after. This is what I want
my 6 minutes to be all about.

III. The physical changes in my experience brought me to question my life's existence, my

IIIa. Why would I be given such a great and important hurdle? What was the meaning?
Sensed from beginning that it wasn't time to die, it was time to live.
But what did that mean, aside from showing up on chemo days at the clinic.

IV. Choosing how to live.
Conscious choice to slow down, although I was helped with that one feeling crummy.
Appreciate breath.
Look at the sky each day and say thank you for one more day. It became that simple.
And, not at all hokey or cliched when dealing with life altering change.
Then, say thank you for lots of small things, the ability to walk 1/2 length of the local mall
at Christmas time to see the decorations. A good wig. Walk to see the trees not to burn
calories. A day without nausea. A kiss from the dog. A kiss from husband. The promise to
walk a different path to build a family once in remission.

V. This is how I found meaning in my gift of cancer. Gaining old lady wisdom.
Saying thank you to the universe gave me perspective.
Several months into the experience I found myself less concerned with what others thought
of me. I was merely concerned with my behaviour, doing my best was ok.
I became less angry when little things did not go my way. Life's little problems
became unimportant in relation to my overall experience.

VI. It is now 5 years later. Sometimes I forget to say thank you for all that I am blessed with.
But more often I remember, this is what makes me think I am a little closer to having old
lady wisdom in a 36 year old body.

I'm a little more clear completing that outline exercize however cryptic and unreadable it might be for anyone else. We'll see how it goes tomorrow morning. I think I get a free bagel and coffee for my efforts. For that and a lot more in my life I say thank you.


jaj said...

It's beautiful!

Johnny said...


Julie said...

I had no idea. You are a remarkable individual!

Stephanie V said...

That was incredibly powerful.

Traci said...

I wish that I could sit in the audience and listen. You are quite an inspiration. Thank you for sharing.


Jessi said...

Very moving. Thank you.

Colleen said...

And I know exactly what you mean! I've told my husband before that surviving a near-fatal illness gives you the widom of an old woman. You've learned the lessons it take most people a lifetime to learn. That's the positive side.

I hope it turned out great!

Lee-Anne said...

Hope you inspired your group. You've inspired me!!!

Old lady wisdom? Nothing better.

Sandy said...

Awesome. I have chills just reading it and can only imagine the opportunity for those that get to hear you speak it.