Up to this Summer’s Blogging Challenge

Posted on: August 11th, 2017 by
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This week my friend Nancy Stordahl, who blogs at Nancy’s Point, announced a new summer blogging challenge, where bloggers answer 10 random cancer-related questions. This challenge is a great idea, so I decided to participate.

As is the case in Nancy’s challenge blog, feel free to provide comments addressing any of these random questions, or even a question not on this list. Or, if you participated in the blogging challenge, provide a link below to your blog.

After all, sharing our stories makes us a special community.

So without further ado, here are my answers to the questions Nancy provided.

1. Share anything you want about your cancer diagnosis (or your loved one’s). Share your age, cancer type, stage, when you were diagnosed, family history (if any), your reaction, how you learned the news, or whatever you’re comfortable sharing.

I found my own breast cancer in 2001, only a short time after a mammogram missed it. I noticed an abnormality during a monthly breast self exam, which I always did religiously. Although I felt no lumps, I saw a very slight dimple at the top of my right breast. I urged my gynecologist to take another look, and he said that it was probably nothing, but I should get a diagnostic mammogram just to be on the safe side. His words reassured me, but deep down inside, my gut told me it was cancer. The diagnostic mammogram revealed an abnormality, which my surgeon confirmed with biopsy results. Cancer. Being told I had cancer was the shittiest day of my life.

2. What is the most outrageous thing someone has said to you about your (or your loved one’s) cancer?

I’ve had too many outrageous comments said to me. Probably besides the annoying “You look great,” and “You can beat this thing,” the most awful thing said to me was by the HR manager of my then-company. She said, “Since you’ve gotten sick, our insurance premiums have gone up.”

3. What is your biggest cancer pet peeve? I know it’s hard to choose, as there are many to pick from, right? But what irks you the most?

Yes, there is a plethora to pick from. Out of all of those pet peeves, the one that irks me the most is saying, “There’s a reason for everything” in relation to my cancer. As if some sort of divine providence had chosen me as some kind of ambassador to self-improvement after cancer. Like I was the special one chosen to have cancer so I could become a better person. That comment makes me call bullshit.

4. What is something you want others to know specifically about breast cancer?

That breast cancer is a serious disease that kills massive numbers of men and women each year. Breast cancer is not an opportunity to party it up. There is no cure. Yes, breast cancer is marketed a lot, but cause marketing does not donate much, if any, to real research. We need to find a cure.

5. If applicable, do you worry about recurrence rarely, from time to time or a lot? What is your biggest worry today, right now, this minute?

I used to worry about recurrence a lot. In fact, I still do quite often, especially when I have aches and pains. Yet, lately, I’ve worried less about recurrence and try to live the best life I can. My Achilles heel is being exposed to too much cancer information; this gets in the way of my mental health. My biggest worries today are about maintaining my physical and mental health. I’m always struggling to find a balance, particularly with my emotional health.

6. Do you feel cancer has made you a better person? Yes, I know this a loaded question. If you do, specifically in what way?

No, cancer has not made me a better person, but it has made me a different one. Cancer was the catalyst to get rid of my pre-cancer miserable life and trade it in for one that matters more to me (before cancer, my life was unbearable). After cancer, it became even more unbearable. In many ways, my post-cancer life is better than my pre-cancer one. However, in many, many ways, my life is worse because of cancer. This question has been difficult to answer; I have a complicated relationship with cancer. Then again, who doesn’t?

7. What is your favorite cancer book?

Because of my PTSD, I must actively limit how many books on this disease that I read and handle. I love Audre Lorde’s work, but I try not to read books on cancer in general.

However, I do read books on the aftermath of cancer and on recovering from the emotional distress that cancer causes. Some of my favorites in this genre are Hester Hill Schnipper’s survivor-focused book, After Breast Cancer: A Common Sense Guide to Life After Treatment and Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Close to the Bone: Life-Threatening Illness as a Soul Journey (it sounds like the book is about cancer-as-journey, but it’s not. It has helped me tremendously.)

My favorite book that doesn’t focus on the cancer experience, but applies to any sort of tragedy has to be Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. This book is a must-read, and it’s the one I’ve bought the most as a present for friends. I’ve read it several times and keep returning to it in times of stress. Awesome book.

8. Besides your family, where do you turn for emotional support?

I had few family members’ support. My husband revealed he wanted to leave me shortly after diagnosis. It was horrible to have no support from my spouse. I turned to the American Cancer Society’s Reach for Recovery program. One support outside of family turned out to be a wacky support group who, in reality, did more damage than good.

My aunt and brother, who are both in New York, were vital in helping me. My aunt happens to be a breast cancer survivor, so she knows the terror. She was there when I sobbed to her on the phone. My brother is my hero. I also have wonderful friends, and their support was so helpful.

I’ve had psychotherapy and am on psych medications to calm down the anxiety and depression that resulted from having had cancer. These treatments have been a blessing to me. As well as my dear cat, Cosette (now deceased) who gave me love during the darkest times when I felt unlovable. Our online support community is fantastic, and has been so wonderful to be a part of.

Cosette: my special helper during my cancer crisis.

Cosette: my special helper during my cancer crisis.

9. How many cancer blogs do you read and why do you read them?

Not enough. At my best, I was reading as many as possible, but then time got really short with heavy work obligations and commitments. It was impossible to read many blogs. However, I do read several blogs for so many reasons — for connection, validation, and a feeling of not being alone, as well as to support the blog’s author.

10. Do you call yourself an advocate? If so, what drives you?

Yes, I’m an advocate, through my words and trying to educate others through sharing my experience. What drives me is all the deaths that keep piling up from metastatic breast cancer, and our culture really doesn’t get it.

In particular, I advocate for self-advocacy, trying to help others find their voice and advocate for themselves in an often harsh, uncaring medical system.

Now, my readers, it is your turn. I look forward to reading your answers!


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4 Responses to Up to this Summer’s Blogging Challenge

  1. Nancy Stordahl had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    Thank you for taking up my challenge and for the mention, too. It’s always fun to learn more about one another.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Nancy,

      I totally agree that it helps us find out things about each other. Thank you for your blog challenge!

  2. Rebecca had this to say about that:

    Beth,

    Again, we have a lot in common! It makes me feel like I am not going crazy. Thank you for sharing about your breast cancer reality. I love the picture of your kitty. She looks like my cat, Nelly. I also read “Man’s Search for Meaning” – what an excellent resource. And like you, I also hate the “everything happens for a reason” statement. I am sorry we both went through this painful experience but I am grateful to have found people like you to connect with. xoxo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      The feeling is mutual, Rebeca. I am so glad to have crossed paths with like-minded people like you.

      And, no, you are not going crazy. Breast cancer sucks and the reality of it is that this disease affects every aspect of our lives. People in the non-cancer world don’t seem to get this.

      I’m so glad you’ve read “Man’s Search for Meaning.” It is truly THE book to read to help provide comfort to us who suffer.

      Take care, dear friend.

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