I’m always pleased to hear that my blog has reached people. Especially those on their own versions of this journey.
Today, I heard from Alex in London, England. She asked if I had any advice for post-treatment life. I thought I’d share my response here…
Congratulations on completion of your treatment and thanks for your very kind message.
Hmmm. Advice for life after treatment? I guess my advice would be: lower your standards, enjoy each day, face your fears, exude gratitude and try not to stress about prevention.
It seems easy to find tonnes of advice on how to try to prevent recurrence and I made a tonne of lifestyle, food, habit changes during my treatment. But the best advice I have for myself (or you) is probably to be good to myself: and that can mean to remember to be moderate about the anti-cancer stuff. Not to beat myself up because I go weeks or months without eating brazil nuts or almonds or ginger or green tea or flax meal. To accept that I drink coffee and red wine etc. That I have the occasional run of late nights.
Oh, and unsubscribe from all cancer blogs! (I do check in on my cancer-friends from time to time, and catch up on their stories, but getting a steady stream of daily cancer-news was not having healthy results for the post-treatment me)
The stories of cancer survivors reveal a common thread that runs through all their experiences. After the initial shock of being diagnosed with cancer, their worlds turn black. But, as they go through the journeys of cancer treatment, all the colours of the rainbow become more vibrant against the dark background.
The journey exposes the importance of family, friends, colleagues and the caring medical community. As the circle of life closes, many survivors find a need to give back to the community and begin to help others through their own journeys.
Unfortunately, there are still those who do not survive the disease. Many of these patients have tried experimental procedures that were not successful for them and the lessons learned helped many others to survive. These courageous people must never be forgotten.
This quilted wall hanging is dedicated to all those who have had cancer touch their lives. It was made by the women of the Country Club Quilters group in Beacon Hill under the leadership of Thelma Robbins and was presented to The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre on April 19, 2010.
Born just one month before me, my cousin Kelly was my very first friend.
From toddlerhood through tweendom, we spent countless weekends and vacations playing, chatting, imagining and growing up.
I was painfully shy, socially inept and my family life was rocky. Kelly’s constant, generous friendship likely kept me sane.
Somewhere in our teens, though, our paths diverged. We did school, got jobs, found partners, and raised our own children to tweendom — without ever crossing paths.
Then, almost by accident and just days before I found that lump, we reconnected.
Luckily for me.
Kelly’s warmth, wit, wisdom, exuberance, understanding and support throughout this journey have been absolutely astounding. She has become the loving aunt we always craved for our girls — her beautiful children the spunky, loving cousins we thought Luba’d never have. And her super-hero husband rocks too.
We’re going to enjoy getting our grandkids to tweendom together. And lots of happy family memories until — and after — that.
This journey has led me to think a lot about family.
My Family Is Not
My family has not been my sister, Linda, from whom I’ve heard word zero for months, despite my email updates and her easy access to this blog.
My family has not been my brother, David, who popped into my life briefly following my diagnosis, who is, apparently, able to send me good vibes but has not bothered to follow this blog or to correspond.
My family is not my parents, Keith and Josie, whose only reaction to my journey has been self-pity, blame, hostility and poison.
My family has not been Mark’s sister, Barb, whose correspondence has been a total of two terse email responses to two of my email updates in the early days of this journey.
My Family Is
My family is Mark, Lucy, Bayla, Mark’s parents, Rhoda and Bert, my cousin Kelly and her family, my Aunt Barb and Uncle Wilf, our dear friends near and far, those of you out there with whom we’ve shared friendship, support, laughs, ups and downs before and during this challenge, and those with whom warm friendships have recently started to sprout.
And with whom we’ll continue to share friendship, support, laughs, ups and downs for years to come.
It’s been a painful learning but I am grateful for the realization and the healing which I hope will follow it.
Prior to this journey, I had a long-standing, comfortable, mutually supportive, fun, close relationship with exactly one member of my family.
My sister, Linda.
In Boulder, Colorado.
Three thousand kilometres away.
That’s one out of 78++ family members:
4 direct family members of mine
4 direct family members of Mark’s
18 maternal first cousins of mine (a hint of one promising relationship)
52 paternal first cousins of mine (one friendly but distant relationship)
my 35+ aunts and uncles
not to mention Mark’s cousins, aunts and uncles.
During the first five months of this journey, long lost cousins Tracy, Kathi, Betti and Stephanie have found and chosen to follow this blog and have offered hints at new beginnings and good vibes.
One very special cousin, Kelly, has become a pillar of emotional support, providing frequent and dependable doses of cheerleading, wisdom, humour and good company. She has become a huge part of our little family.
And without a single physical meeting or even a phone call, my long lost Aunt Barbara has become as much an aunt to my own girls as they have ever known.
This burgeoning renewal of faded childhood connections has been nurturing, healing, educational and warm. And I am immensely grateful.
Yet even the failures at reconnection have been educational.
Some of the most intriguing and thought-provoking phenomenon have been the reverberations — both positive and negative — of my diagnosis on the most painful, ever-present histories, lurking hurts, disconnections, uncommunicated expectations and disappointments of the relationships with 7 of our direct family members.
This morning, as Mark joined me for my morning Gratitude trek, we tossed around our impressions, observations and feelings about the dances that have grown out of my diagnosis and the five distinct Patterns to Peace which have naturally emerged:
It was February, 1998. I was healthy, happy, fit and in love. I was having exciting adventures. I had good friends, a great relationship and a satisfying job. Life was fine.
There was just one tiny, huge problem: I was getting dangerously close to thirty-five, my biological clock was thrashing wildly and my twenty-something live-in sweetheart was firmly rooted in Funville. Kids and commitment could wait. And for him, they really could.
I made myself miserable. Sure, our daily life was fun but when my youth had fled, he’d gallop off for kids and commitment elsewhere.
And my young beau didn’t get it. For “christmas” that year, he’d flippantly dug the dagger deeper, presenting me with what was obviously a gift-wrapped ring box. But wasn’t. And very much enjoyed the joke.
Back to February, 1998. My young partner becomes an uncle, again. He’s thrilled and proposes we drop in and meet the new baby.
I thought I could do it.
But I couldn’t.
I couldn’t face the beautiful new baby. I couldn’t face the joyful mother. I just sat in their kitchen. And waited. And felt wretched for doing that. And felt wretched for the envy and hurt and despair that made me.
And all these years I’ve hung onto that shame; cringed at my inability to suck it up and at least fake some happiness for the mother and child.
I’ve forgiven Mark for the engagement-ring gag. I’ve forgiven him for carting me over there.
It’s time I forgave myself.
Andrea Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer October 6, 2009 and intends to survive and thrive. You can read more from Andrea here.
A huge thank you to Sean McGaughey and Daniele Rossi for gathering good vibes for us at PodCamp Toronto 2010 and to all the fabulous friends who contributed great wishes — and favourite children’s book titles.
You can listen in to Daniele’s messages here and to Sean’s using the inline player, above.
Under normal circumstances, Andrea and I would be in Toronto this weekend to attend the fourth PodCamp Toronto (PCTO2010), a social media “unconference”. It’s one of two annual events we make a point of being a part of at which we reconnect with longtime social media friends, make new ones and get exposed to new ideas about connecting and engaging with people online.
These are not normal circumstances.
Andrea underwent her fourth chemo treatment yesterday. That’s right! We’re two-thirds through her chemo program. By the way, she’s doing amazingly well. Throughout most of this process, Andrea has exercised, walked, skated, baked, cooked and even organized our house. I thank my lucky stars each day that she’s doing so well.
It’s difficult for us that we can’t be with our friends or our daughters this weekend. We really need this time to recover from chemo, rest and take care of ourselves. At the same time, it’s nice that the PCTO speaking sessions and panels are all live streamed on the Internet. Andrea and I have been watching the sessions and even participating by exchanging Twitter messages with our friends at the conference.
Something that’s particularly special is our friend Daniele Rossi has been running around collecting good wishes for Andrea and posting them online under the name JustOneMoreVibe (I love it!). It’s really nice to hear our friends’ voices even if we can’t be there with them.
If only we could virtually be at the social events, too.
Mark is primary support, cheerleader and project manager of Andrea's recovery. You can read more from Mark here and on Mark's real blog, MarkBlevis.com.