Everyone has heard that which does not kill us, makes us strong? Or God doesn’t give you more than you can handle? How many of you believe that? I for one do not believe in any of that. Life is life and no one knows what cards you will be dealt. I do think we learn from diversity and I do think that we learn coping skills through all our experiences.
I often think of a very dear family in my life that I babysat for and remained friends with throughout the years and I will say if you know of Job and the trials he faced in his life that this family was the modern day version. They faced so many trials and tribulations beyond what you would ever expect or think that anyone should have to deal with and throughout it all they remained strong in their faith and remained hopeful, open and yes, even with smiles on their faces. They exuded warmth and love and caring every time I saw them. I can only say, I wish that I had that kind of fortitude.
We all face challenges in life and our life experience and coping skills grow through the diversity we are exposed to. I had twins and what was once thought one of the greatest challenges of my life, I learned was also one of the biggest and best blessings. I was devastated and felt guilty when I learned they had to wear glasses and that I hadn’t given them perfect eyesight. At that time, I thought of that as a challenge. Years later they had Lasik surgery and were able to do any and everything without limitations. Since then, one son broke his neck when riding a wave at the outer banks and after two surgeries, then had Guillian Barre and now a recurring type of the same known as CIDP and is no longer capable of handling the high power work he did as there are many neurological symptoms he deals with on a daily basis and is now on disability but he has restructured his life and now coaches swimming and loves it and he is quite good at it as well as the fact he had been an ALL AMERICAN SWIMMER. His twin was in microelectronic engineering and after years of high pressure, 24 hours day on call job, he continued teaching at the collegiate level but decided he wanted to work with high school students and is teaching physics in New York and has authored two books.
I have yet another son that has a profound hearing loss( of which we have never been able to determine the cause) and we discovered that at the age of 2, the whole family learned sign language in the event the day would come he would lose all his hearing. I doubt that those of you that know my family would have been aware of that deficit as he handles it quite well but we became proactive instead of reactive and he is currently employed and living in Dubai and traveling the world.
I have one more son that certainly gave me a run for my money growing up and although he has had learning difficulties, he entered the Armed Services and has pursued and has received his associates degree and is working towards his bachelors and hopes to have that completed by the time he finishes his service time. Yet, I can remember months of sitting with him each night and counting to three and working to getting him to be able to complete that task and after about 7 months we finally made it. He is a caring young man that has all the patience in the world when it is a task he loves and works extremely well with children and the elderly.
My remaining child is a very verbose, active young lady and I joke as she is just over 5 feet and the runt of my litter. She took a giant leap and moved to Florida on her own and is working and teaching there. My obstacle loomed over me in regards to my daughter and the fear that it might become her obstacle as well, my fear being that I had passed the gene on to her in regards to my having breast cancer. The good news is that there is a test to determine that and the better news is that I did not pass it on. Realizing that only 5-10% of breast cancers are actually hereditary also helps to put into perspective that people that don’t have a family history get breast cancer too.
I was often told growing up that I couldn’t lie as everything I said and did would come out on my face and even to this day, I have been reminded that same trait continues. At the ripe old age of 60, there are a few wisdoms that I have learned that I can pass down including:
1. Never, say never as you will wind up doing that which you said you would never do.
2. Things normally work out the way they should and often times better than expected.
3. Faith is not something invisible, you have to put it on and wear it each day.
Having said those little tidbits I will head into what got me to where I am today:
I found myself back to work at Meadville Medical Center after years of teaching at the VO-TECH and a few other side jobs along the way as well as working on weekends for Hospice. I also became involved in the breast health task force long before I knew that I would be the one that would need the services in the future. The opportunity came up after my diagnosis of breast cancer and treatment, to move into a position at the Yolanda G. Barco Oncology Institute as a newly designated position called: Clinical Nurse Breast Health Educator. Here in lies the bridge from my obstacle to an opportunity but, having breast cancer did not look like an opportunity to me at the time. My breast cancer came in 1995 and my new job in breast cancer education, years later.
I put my heart and soul into this new job and worked days, and evenings, and weekends and got into homes, colleges, nursing facilities, senior citizen centers, sorority and fraternity meetings, service organizations, health fairs, rodeos, county fairs and garnered baked goods, buggy rides, and lots of lunches and pats on the back along the way. I went any and everywhere someone would listen and hopefully I dispelled myths, increased awareness, and understanding and knowledge and put a face to the name of breast cancer. I laughingly refer to myself as the boob lady if they forget my name. I have listened, laughed, and cried with others during their own battles. I have gone to the hospital and taken a wig or held a hand or listened to someone just unburden their heart to me on their cell phone while excusing myself from the dinner table to take the call. The obstacles I face are similar to all those of you that have experienced this battle. It is self doubt, fear, insecurity, courage, determination, and an ever present awareness that I don’t have cancer now but that doesn’t mean I will never have it again. Being a nurse did not give me a step up on any of this although I will say I give a lot of credit to the great family support, medical support, friends, faith, and inner strength as well as my own bizarre sense of humor. I try to laugh, A LOT and OFTEN. I look for humor in most things and to enjoy each day as it is a gift. Some gifts are not quite as nice as others but still I am here and I am looking ahead to further opportunities to work with others. I would be lying to say all is well, some days are just too much and some moments even more. I work with it each day and I bolster myself on some days to be able to do the work I do and I love it but not withstanding its challenges. A dear new friend that has struggled for years with breast cancer and has had recurrence, in her final days showing me the strength and acceptance and peace that she had found as she dealt with what lay ahead was one such example. I also had to find a NEW NORMAL for me… I had cancer, which makes me different than other people. I often tell people that once all the treatment and interventions are done that is when you lose your security blanket and maybe gain a little depression as you are back to your life but it is not quite the same and you have to make new goals and sometimes even new friends. You will never be as you were before but you may even be better, you may find new meaning in your life and new directions and appreciation for things that you took for granted before. I for one have great difficulty with negative personalities and will often excuse myself from that kind of environment as I don’t have time to be negative nor do I want to be. People do tend to talk to you differently or sometimes even look at you differently. You question the new aches and pains and your medical team may be more prone to test to get quick answers. You may even find that some people don’t even want to talk about it as it just makes them too uncomfortable. Body image changes, outlook changes, goals may look different, and opportunities open up or maybe you are just more willing to step up and out. I find it interesting that cancer is not called terminal but chronic these days and many are living with cancer, for years and years.
Each one of us has obstacles that can hold us back if we make those become excuses to keep us from our true potential. Obstacles started early in my life and most of you will say that I am strong. I became strong, at least on the outside. I have learned and grown, persevered and I am not a quitter even though my first marriage ended in divorce. I vowed that my kids would not let the failure of my marriage be an excuse for being less than their best. Great People rise above their circumstances, and I hope to achieve that in my lifetime! Obstacles are only bridges to better opportunities if you are only willing to step up. Many things happen in life that we have no control over but we do have choices in how we plan to handle the diversities that life has given us. There is no room for poor me, as none of us get a free pass in life; everyone faces major challenges in their lifetime. For me, I want to celebrate each day and enjoy the moments that make life worth living and when I am struggling, I chose laughter, friendship, and love. If today gives me a kick, I will call and talk to my granddaughter and listen to her rattle on to her Grammy K. Or look at pictures of my new granddaughter or my grandsons or a talk on the phone with my kids that are scattered all over the world. I will go visit someone that is alone or take some food to someone that is struggling. Giving of yourself is the opportunity to fight back the obstacles and when my day does come, I hope I am laughing on the way out and my room is filled with friends and family remembering the fun we shared in life. My heroes aren’t on tv, playing sports or a celebrity of any kind. It is the everyday person that smiles and works through whatever is on their plate with honor, and compassion and shares those strong and weak moments. Those people are defined in how they face obstacles and realize there are opportunities in disguise. Through my experience with breast cancer, I have been able to reach out to others and share a journey that should never be an endeavor for just the person that has the dreaded disease. It is a burden that we can all help and share in carrying the load. Maybe it is doing a load of laundry, helping get someone to an appointment, a small dish of cookies, walking their dog, or spending time laughing and crying with them. There are obstacles for us all but there are also opportunities that will help fill you up when you are riding on empty.
(I presented this program a year ago to a group of ladies and was somehow led to it this morning again. I am not sure why or who needs to hear it but I hope it helps