A Grief Fit

Sherry Russell share her personal story of invasive breast cancer.

May Column 2006
A Grief Fit

Iâ??m always reminding people to seek out the small miracles of the day. A brightly colored bird singing, a bud ready to blossom, the sound of the ocean - actually anything and everything that brings a smile to your day is worthy as being cherished. With every cloud of doubt about getting through the day, there is always a rainbow of promise that life will get better.

Today, I was looking for my small miracle of the day when I realized as I looked down that I was wearing my miracle in the form of my breasts. Thatâ??s right, you read it right. You see, I was diagnosed with an invasive breast cancer and frankly, Iâ??m ticked off. This diagnosis came at a time when I had gobs on my plate due to my interest in just about everything. However, that is only one reason. My laundry list of upsets continues with my enjoyment of my womanly features displayed in the newest all the rage bathing suits and trendy sun-dresses. I live on the beach and it is part of my daily life. Now I have to trade feeling great, long walks on the beach, jumping roaring waves, and the brilliant sun for being sliced and diced like a tomato with one of those serrated Sumari knifes and feeling like crap due to stomach-churning treatments. As you can tell, Iâ??m pitching a fit about this unexpected change in my life. Add into the soup of my concerns, my familyâ??s fear and I feel like I have no power over my existence anymore. Disease and grief both stink! They are miserable cloaked thieves jeopardizing good mental health and challenging a personâ??s internal map of how life should be.

Nonetheless, it seems shallow but I wonder if my attractiveness halo will tumble down and become a challenging hoola-hoop. The uncertainties surrounding the cancer treatment process leaves me feeling anxious and maybe even overwhelmed so I find that it is easier to focus on issues such as when can I get new boobs and how is that going to feel and look.

Iâ??m the kind of person that has a tendency to isolate myself and donâ??t want anyone to worry. In my quest to practice intensive mental awareness all by my lonesome, I have learned that I was being unjust to my family and close friends and I was robbing myself of their loving support. Their need to do something for me and participate in some way is an important action for them. One dear friend asked me if I ever read my own material. That was a very tender way of saying; you have dealt with dying people and survivors for years so you should know better than most the importance of reaching out and being truthful.

Now that I have come to the conclusion that it is important to recognize the â??spark before the flameâ?, so to speak, I am concentrating more on allowing the full experience to unfold one day at a time. I know there is a gift in this experience just as there is when you are dealing with any major life change. The gift of positive personal transformation is an endless adventure which will add to the power and sharpness of my mind and allow me to kick my ability to help others up a notch. Coping with cancer is complex and is different for everyone. The following are some suggestions from
the patient Web site of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), www.PLWC.org. They recommend several steps people living with cancer can take to cope with their disease and maximize the quality of their lives during treatment.

1. Don't Go It Alone

It is important to understand your disease. During the initial visit, absorbing the news of a cancer diagnosis and its unfamiliar medical language may be difficult. You may want to take a family member or friend who will not only be supportive but also can act as your ears and memory. A tape recorder can also make for a great substitute. Keep in mind however, that the companionship of a loved one can also help ease the stress of visits with your doctor.

2. Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Studies show that people with cancer who are fully informed about their disease and treatment options usually tend to fare better and experience fewer side effects than those who simply follow doctors' orders. Being informed gives you some control over your disease. Don't be shy about telling your doctor if you are having trouble understanding an explanation, description, or unfamiliar medical term. Your doctor should make time to answer your questions, explain your disease, and ensure you fully understand your available treatment options.

3. Confront Your Anxieties

Nearly 30 percent of people with cancer experience feelings of anxiety. It can be helpful for patients to talk with their doctor about what aspects of the treatment process they find frightening. According to Jamie Von Roenn, M.D., Chair of the ASCO Task Force on Pain and Symptom Management, the truth is often better than you might imagine. Asking your questions lets your health care provider know that you have concerns and the issues can then be addressed.

4. Get Online

Turn to reliable resources to learn about your specific cancer type and the treatment options available. People Living With Cancer (www.PLWC.org), the patient Web site of ASCO, the world's leading professional society of doctors who treat people with cancer, features a wealth of doctor-approved cancer information on coping strategies, clinical trials, and more than 80 types of cancer. The Web site also has links to other helpful cancer information resources on the Internet.

5. Address Side Effects Early On

There are more than 30 side effects associated with cancer treatment. The most common include constipation, fatigue, hair loss, nausea, and pain. Preventing side effects before they begin and treating symptoms early are the best ways to reduce discomfort. Talk with your doctor to develop a plan to manage the side effects associated with your specific cancer type and treatment. You will find that there are a wide variety of effective solutions available to you from medications to lifestyle and behavior changes.

6. Get Organized

Getting organized also allows you to take the time necessary to make important decisions. Many people find that being organized helps them gain better control over all the information they receive during their treatment. Having one place for all your care information including insurance statements, prescriptions, appointment notes, and test results can prevent frustration.

7. Don't Neglect Your Finances

Try to decide ahead of time how to adjust to your budget to deal with any loss of income resulting from less time at work, or expenses that are not covered by insurance. Consider making special arrangements with creditors. Enlist the help of a friend or family member to keep track of your regular monthly bills. Consider using a bill-paying service to ensure the peace of mind that your bills are being paid on time.

Since passion is an antidote that cures all levels of despair, I, along with my husband, am starting a Foundation that will provide treatment and diagnosis options for women who would otherwise not have the opportunity to base a decision on such choices. When you are first diagnosed with a disease, hazing thinking looms and as I have found, everyone needs help. Many women need much more help than information and research; many need help in the cost of treatments. In a short period of time, I have absorbed much information about this disease and found that as always knowing more about a subject helps you make better decisions. It also allows me to feel more in control and experience less stress. I like being the engineer of my own little world but sometimes you just have to go with the current and allow life happenings to flow over you like a stream. Doing something constructive is a life change in the positive direction.

Iâ??ve spent many years learning how to flap out a good Motown tune when jumping braless. Iâ??ve entertained myself and others with this talent of sorts. Yet, instead of focusing on the loss of such a fine talent, I have simply sent out a survey to my friends â?? should I go with small, medium, large, or Dolly Pardon size? After all moping around like a sick mouse is useless and Iâ??ve got things to do and places to be.

If you or someone you love is in war with a disease, remind them that they owe it to themselves and to you to open the admission window to their thoughts, fears, concerns, and joys. Fighting for your life takes a supportive team. And by the way, always look for the small miracles in each and every day.

submitted by: Sandy Lipkus M.S.W., B.Ed

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