Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I have a surgery date. Yeah! The scheduler gives us one of the dates my husband requested. Guess it pays to slow down, keep your wits about you, and ask for what you need.

A sudden calm melts over me when I hear the news. I haven't felt this focused since before I learned my mammogram was weird. It's amazing how having "a plan" brings with it such a feeling of control. It's like stumbling on a well-worn trail when you've been lost for weeks in the woods.

But in order to keep my calm, I have to learn how to manage my chaos. I took cancer from an angry rolling boil down to a simmer by determining the who, what, when, where, why and how of my diagnosis. This not only gave me a path and a direction, but a sorely needed compass.

Once you figure it out, managing your cancer chaos gets much easier.

The who, of course, is your medical team — who will your surgeons and physicians be? Your life depends on your choice and their expertise; choose wisely. Make a list of every question you can think of (I found The 10 Best Questions for Surviving Breast Cancer, by Dede Bonner, M.D., to be very helpful).

Take someone with you to your appointment who is a great listener and note-taker, and afterward, listen to your gut instincts. Get more than one opinion if you feel unsure about anything. Remember, you know yourself and how you process things; this is NOT the time to shortchange yourself. Give yourself as much time as you need to think things through and talk things over with your trusted confidants. As my surgeon wisely said to me, "Your cancer has been growing for years. Waiting a few more weeks to make sure you are making the best decision for you will not make any difference at all in your treatment."

Ah, the what. Uncertainty is a killer of the soul — and cancer courts uncertainty with devilish and unbridled abandon. Waiting for results that reveal whether or not you have "The Big C" is excruciating and, honestly, the worst part of the whole dang process. 

Once you know what you have, you can proceed to the biggie, when — everything hinges on knowing when surgery will happen. Don't have any procedures you are not ready to have. Doctor's offices will work around your schedule. (See OPERATION WIG-OUT for more on that.)

Next up, where will surgery be? Once you know the hospital, you can start stringing all the missing medical pieces together and making sense of the cancer process. 

Last but not least (and forever shrouded in mystery) is the why and how did you get cancer? My friends, you will never know. But you'll still spend countless hours contemplating what you might have done differently. If only you had exercised more, eaten less, taken vitamins, lived in a less-polluted area, worked at a less-stressful job, had more fun, never used a cell phone, left a bad relationship sooner, started menstruating later, used a different antiperspirant, thought more positively, felt less negatively, meditated more, partied less, prayed more, worried less, slept more, feared less... blah, blah, blah. The list is, well, endless. 

If not getting cancer was as simple as not doing this or that (or even a combination of this or that), then the people that already aren't doing "this or that" wouldn't also have cancer! (And we would have a cure.)

As one who has swum in the wicked whirlpool of why, my advice to anyone struggling with a cancer diagnosis is simple. Save your energy for the positive things you can control. The entrance to crazy land lies just beyond the moment we are living in right now, so stay in this moment as much as possible. Oh, and make time for meltdowns.

Like a 12-Stepper, I have learned to dance with my cancer one day at a time. I make an effort not to get mentally ahead of myself. And in that small space, people, is where my peace resides.

What's next? Pre-op Road Trip!


  1. I love your writing, it's so beautiful even when you're talking about such a devestating topic.

  2. Carrie, thank you! As always, you are so kind! ;-)


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