On April 10th, 2008, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As you would imagine, the diagnosis shook my foundation and brought my busy life to a screeching halt. In the moments after hearing the diagnosis, I remembered that I had the power to choose my attitude for how I would handle the situation. My instinct was to react as I usually do—seeing the glass as half full. I tend to look for a silver lining, even in difficult situations.
We have only so much control over the events that take place in our lives. But what we DO have control over is how we respond to those events. It’s like a switch in our heads we can choose to flip: to wallow in woe-is-me despair or take the lemons and make triple-layer lemon meringue pie.
I made a decision: I would turn my healing journey into a celebration of life.
Four hours after hearing the words “You have cancer,” I picked up my camera and started videotaping. I recorded an entire year: through my double mastectomy, 17 sessions of chemo (Sacred Juice), and several reconstruction surgeries. I videotaped tips and advice to help, encourage, and empower others who go through a similar ordeal. Being of service to others, through my own dance with cancer, gave me purpose and helped me heal.
I surrounded myself with the love of my family and my friends. I kept away from anything or anyone that was negative or toxic. I gave myself no option other than being positive and looking at this cancer as a gift that would bring about many blessings in my life. And so, it did.
In 2010 I created a support group, the Link of Hope Sistas, which grows by the day. The “sistas” are beautiful and courageous women from around the world who are on their own healing journey. We came together organically, and we meet several times a year to empower, educate and inspire others who are going through a healing journey.
It’s been four years since my diagnosis and my mission continues. I just released my new book, The Cancer Dancer: Healing One Step at a Time. In it I share my personal journey through cancer, plus I offer more than 400 patient-to-patient tips to helps others on their own healing journey.
Here are a few tips....
Start by creating sacred spaces to help you heal throughout your healing journey. Feed your spirit and connect. I’ve always been spiritual, but I shifted into high gear when I was diagnosed. Make time for your spiritual connection—at least one hour per day to meditate or pray. I have a little corner in my bedroom where I have things that are sacred and comforting to me: inspirational music (try Native American flute music), sage, soy candles, cushions to sit on for meditation, sacred stones and other sacred objects, journal/books with affirmations, meditations, and uplifting messages.
Before your surgery, here are steps to ensure an easy homecoming.
• In the kitchen, move things you use frequently to lower levels so you can reach them without having to raise your arm(s).
• Divide food items into small containers. For example, if you have a gallon of milk, divide it up into four small containers. You won’t be able to pick up any weight.
• Stay with someone if you live alone or have someone stay with you for at least 10 days.
• Cook and freeze foods prior to surgery.
• Pre-pay bills. I knew my brain would be fried and I did not want to think.
• Set up a chair outside for the times you feel up to sitting outside.
Here’s a handy pre-op shopping list:
• Comfy slippers for the hospital.
• Clothing that you can easily get in and out of when you can’t raise your arm(s).
• Have buttons on the front of everything: pajamas, shirts, dresses—all of it.
• Buy large sizes for comfort and buy clothing with soft material so it won’t be uncomfortable resting near your stitches.
• Robe with simple wrap belt at the waist so you can adjust as needed.
• Silky pajamas. The silk will feel soft against your skin.
• Travel pillow. Perfect for resting your head and arms in the hospital and at home after surgery.
• Seat belt shoulder pad for cushioning the seatbelt in your car.
• Large safety pins (to attach drains to your clothing).
• Pants with pockets (to put drains in when you don’t want to pin them to blouses). Get only pull-on pants. Zippers and snaps are difficult to manage.
• Sweatpants. Be comfortable: that’s my motto.
• Nursing pads: they sell them everywhere; they will cushion your breasts
• Electric toothbrush (easier to brush)
• Hand-held shower so someone can shampoo your hair at home easily
• Long-handled hair brush (easier to brush)
• Soft cami tops: you’ll start to wear them a few days after surgery.
Within the first four weeks after surgery, go to a physical therapist who is certified specifically in lymphedema so he or she can assist you in performing range of motion activities and exercises in an effort to keep moving and stay strong. Get in a habit of comparing your arms. After surgery it is normal for the affected side to be swollen over the quadrant. Occasionally the arm will stay this way until you start moving it and regain your range of motion and strength as mentioned. If the affected arm or quadrant does not decrease in swelling within a month, have it reassessed by your doctor or therapist.
CHEMOTHERAPY—OR SACRED JUICE
Before your first chemo, go wig shopping. Make it fun. Do it before you start to lose your hair. Synthetic wigs are easier to care for; they already come with a do. Check with your insurance company to see if they will cover it. It is called a cranial prosthesis.
Here are a few more tips:
• Cut your hair before chemo starts or after your first chemo. It will make the transition to baldness easier if you cut it short now. Believe it or not, you’ll look cool bald.
• Organize your pill bottles before each chemo treatment. Sign up a friend to help you organize the meds. It can be overwhelming.
• Get a manicure and pedicure. You can’t have them during treatment due to a risk of infection.
• Get long hair cut as short as you can stand before it starts to fall out. It won’t be as traumatic that way when it falls out.
Once chemo starts, remember everyone is different. Here are a few things that worked for me and/or for friends who went through chemo. But listen to your own body. Ask your doctor before doing anything.
• Before each meal, I was told to drink 8-16 ounces of water. Sometimes I could do that, but other times I just couldn’t.
• Do 5-10 minutes of breath work (yoga if possible) before each meal.
• Wash your mouth with warm water and baking soda after every single meal. This kills bacteria in your mouth.
When you undergo cancer treatment, you can develop a weakened immune system. Avoiding food-borne illnesses is essential. To help prevent food borne illnesses:
• Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly with a veggie scrubbing pad, even if you plan on peeling the fruit or vegetable.
• Wash your hands and food preparation surfaces before and after preparing food, especially after handling raw meat.
• Thaw meat in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter.
• Avoid raw shellfish and sushi.
• Pre-packaged salad mixes are NOT germ-free. Triple-washed may still have pathogens lurking in the greens, so wash them before eating.
You’ll find many more tips in my book: The Cancer Dancer: Healing One Step at a Time. My mission continues: to spread care and compassion into the world and help each other heal and thrive through our words, our intent, our love, our commonality, and our caring. Maybe together we can all learn to flip that switch to the positive side, every time. And just maybe if we continue to take this amazing sense of compassion and purpose into the world, the legacy we leave will be generations that need not be concerned about breast cancer as it will be a thing of the past.
Remember....joy is a choice!
For more information, please visit my website: www.PositivelyPat.com and join the conversation on Facebook at Positively Pat.