Yesterday I was filling out a medical form for a massage through the Massage Therapy Program, and I had to list past surgeries. Quickly, I listed two knee surgeries and bariatric surgery, and continued with the form.
The student therapist led me to her space and proceeded with the massage. We were half way through when she asked me about a scar I have near my shoulder: “Does that hurt if I rub on your scar?” It didn’t, but I was suddenly reminded of the lumpectomy, the removal of six lymph nodes, and the placement of a port for chemotherapy administration—all surgeries I had forgotten to mention on the form.
As I lay there, I wondered how I had forgotten—cancer was a major event in my life. During chemo, I tried to see it as a hiccup in my life—a speed bump, but it felt like a total disruption. It felt more like a road block. It took strength to get through the days, and there were some difficult days, and I remember the difficult days: the pain, the fatigue, the bad dreams, the terror of having cancer return. These were days when I wanted to give up.
Now, as I think back, it was a speed bump, and it did exactly what a speed bump is designed for: it slowed me down. It forced me to look at my health and make some changes. In the end, the experience impacted me more positively than negatively, and it’s those positive experiences I remember most.
I remember the people who rallied around me at work and helped me get through the tough days by letting me cry on their shoulder.
I remember my husband who held my hand during every treatment and held me close when I needed comfort.
I remember my family who called regularly to check on me and encourage me to keep fighting.
I remember the support group that listened when all I could feel was self-pity.
I remember the nurses and the support staff at the Welch Cancer Center who saw me at my worst and still smiled, welcomed me, and treated me not as a patient, but as a human being.
All of these people, and those I have met since, are the real heroes, not me. I might have survived without those people, but not with grace, and certainly not with the positive experiences I have left in my heart after that little speed bump.
Incidentally, today is World Cancer Day. The purpose of World Cancer Day is to raise awareness of the facts of cancer and to dispel the myths. On a personal note, I would also like to encourage you to hug a survivor today. You make the difference in a cancer survivor’s life.