A Fair Question

Whether or not you’re one of two people with a cancer diagnosis or one of the 40% of that 50% whose deadly prognosis of a metastatic cancer came down like Maxwells Silver Hammer, please ask yourself one simple question. It’s fair for me to ask you to ponder this for five seconds or five decades, if youre an insightful type.

It’s also a circumstantial question with many dependencies such as family, whether or not you’re a parent, religiosity, cultural upbringing, current socioeconomic and financial positions, physical and mental health, risk aversion, spontaneous adventurer or ardent planner, shopoholic lover of material belongings, artist, creative type, traveler or homebody, number of dependents, caregiver, planning capability…well you get my point.Forget all that and give yourself a green field and ask yourself this: if you found out you had a terminal illness today and you had no real idea of when you might die but you’re going to die sooner than later given there’s currently no cure for your disease what would you change about your life as it exists today?

Would you change anything at all? Would you leave your spouse your family your children? Would you travel the world? Would you quit your job? Could you quit your job? Do you have enough money to just take off and leave to follow that lifelong dream? Do you have what’s known as a bucket list, or as I like to call it a kick the bucket list, that you’d like to check off? What would you do? For the most part I bet you won’t or cab’t change very much. “I like to change a lot,” you might think. But alas as in most situations not much can or will change. That’s because your life as it exists now is your life as it existed before you were given your prognosis of death.

A Bifurcated Mind

What metastatic cancer has taught me is that there are two worlds that exist: the one that you had before your diagnosis and the one that you had after your prognosis. Chances are you’ll have quite some time to think about this question, which may keep you up any number of nights a week. You might suffer from insomnia, wondering if you’re doing the right thing or if you’re doing the right thing by the people that you love. Perhaps you don’t think anyone loves you much at all. The fact is they probably do but maybe you have low self-esteem and you just don’t feel it. Perhaps you hate your job and you want to quit. This might be a good time to quit actually. Leaving my career, which I didn’t necessarily want to, turned out to be a rather good thing for me.

I found out that I had an artistic side and I followed it. I also followed my hunch that there was a lot of waste going on in the world and that for my own special purposes I would sell things that were not made from new materials because they’d be all antique or vintage. I feel pretty good about that. But not much else in my life changed.

Except everything.

So ask yourself this question what if anything if you were given a diagnosis of metastatic cancer and a prognosis that you would die in the next two months to two years to 20 years: what would you do differently with your life? I leave you with this question on the last day of the year. Perhaps you can write your New Year’s resolutions for 2020 with it. 2020 vision is considered a great form of hindsight isn’t it?

And yet have you thought about what you might do for the next two years or 20 years if you have them? I can tell you this much, I certainly don’t do any New Year’s resolutions anymore. In fact last year I wasn’t supposed to live past February but here I am so…

Ask yourself this question what would you change about your life today even if you weren’t given a prognosis of death in the shorter term than you thought you had. If you can change some things maybe you should ask yourself what those things should be? Then if you were given a prognosis such as I have, you wouldn’t have to ask yourself this question night after night day after day questioning the people around you looking at them as though maybe they were your enemy or maybe they were not. I’m not sure sometimes but I will say this I do have some things in my life that I wouldn’t give up for anything.

I might change small things, huge things, things that might make a difference for other people or things that might just make a difference for me. I guarantee it’s a combination of a whole bunch of things but you’ll have to think long and hard about it. Give the question justice because it’s your life.

So, you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness and you must ask yourself the following question: what would you do differently in your life or change about your life so if any given week might be your last you’d be happy with it or at the very least okay with that week?

“That’s not a fair question.”

My husband reacted with a sense of injustice, but I don’t agree in its fairness. Just as there’s no stupid questions…No, every day isn’t a great day…that much is true.

However, built upon the foundation of modern western culture insure to that, due to no fault of our own, all of us were born into a time of rampant materialism. Noting we buy delivers on its promise of satisfaction. There’s the cliché small print that spells out a guarantee of no satisfaction. What it does guarantee: you’ll never see any money back should anything go awry. A broken warranty means by simply using a product said guarantee is null and void. A manufacturer’s guarantee is akin to cancer in some ways.

By living in our bodies with the environment at a time of great threat to its own mere existence, we are swimming in chemicals and stress and we’ve not evolved to handle it nor should we.The point I’m trying to get across is that by merely living in a physical body we are very highly susceptible to illness and specifically cancer. The warranty on our physical body while living in the post industrial, sedentary, sugar infused world with melting ice caps and chemicals in our air, water, and food there’s no guarantee of any kind. Now, keeping that in mind, ask yourself what would you do differently if anything given your own personal special circumstances even if you’re not hiding “a cancer” if you were to be diagnosed with a terminal illness?

By the way, I deplore that phrase – the article in front of cancer removes it from our body’s boundaries giving it a life of its own of sorts.

Regardless of all this philosophical pondering just be happy. The year 2020 is my year of hindsight, to help me find the foresight, to live in this moment in a way that’s just right for me.

Stay Tuned…

You’ll find my answer to this question in: A Fair Question Part II.

My heart and my soul go into this blog and these words and to the people who read it I thank you and I hope you continue to do so. I hope you leave a few more comments in the next year. I love your feedback. I really like hearing from you so I can feel as though I am not writing a little vanity blog. It’s healthy to receive both criticism and accolades. Your interactions let me know writing on the cancer bus isn’t for nought. By the way I consider you my friends and my extended family so here’s a big hug.I mean, for fuck’s sake, if you read this you know some of the most personally intimate things about me. So I trust you’ll ask yourselves this question and put some time into answerinng it. I guarantee if you’re not metastaticly inclined, you’ll have a much better idea of what it’s like to have a death sentence. Most of us can’t do much but focus on remaining alive, keeping a few people around us who care, keeping our lights on and some gas in the car.

If we are lucky.

All my love,

Ilene

The history of Metastatic Cancer: written by the losers

The documentation of metastatic breast cancer is written by those of us who lose our lives to the disease. No one gets to write the end of our story with “she lived happily ever after” – but we aren’t losers. We struggle with the language to describe how our bodies ultimately succumb to a terminal illness. No war, no fight, no metaphorical discourse makes sense. The fact that the medical community focuses on prolonging the time we get to spend in our diseased bodies, rather than prevention of progressing to stage 4, evades understanding with the exception of profitability. Each of us walks around with a dollar sign attached to our backs instead of a bullseye. There’s no gun fire heard in the end, instead the cries of pain and anguish, fear and loneliness, and finally one last breath of life exhaled into the atmosphere.

There’s parts of our stories that arise out of discourse between one another in our tweets, our Facebook posts, instagram photos, and our blog comments.

As Churchill stated: ‘History is written by the victors.’ Further, the answers to any questions regarding history are delivered to us by the living, so who can really say how truly corrupted the cannon of medical information we digest is by those treating the people suffering from this disease. The honest and most dependable information comes from the losers who leave behind the richest historical record of all. The gift of our stories tells the truth that should become the data to help inform the people who come after us. Unfortunately there’s very little light at the end of a very long tunnel to lead the newly diagnosed to a better prognosis than death.

Perhaps it was Winston Churchill’s novel thinking about his own dangerous words and bloody victory as it applied to the war through which his convictions and leadership pulled his country’s people. For the most part. Yet the end of the war left an unconscionable number of citizens dead and untold billions in collateral damage to Great Britain. None of the dead can speak for themselves about the way they died or about the atrocities they witnessed or even committed. The United States, late in entering the war, as it’s been far, far too late to fund the research to fuel its war on cancer and other interesting PR campaigns without true commitment for the good of humanity.

Cancer history isn’t written by the winners

In the case of cancer by reading my blog and the words of so many others before and who will come after me, we are creating the historical record of metastatic breast cancer. Our words will outlive us. I wonder quite often after I am dead will my words still carry any meaning. I’ll be speaking beyond the grave to what I hope are fewer and fewer people who need to know that they’re not alone in how they’re feeling.

My blog and hundreds if not thousands of cancer blogs and the recently notable rise in cancer biographical book publishing sends an awfully different message.

Losers write history, too

The songs of the dead will play long after our voices die with our bodies. During the final week of Breast Cancer Awareness month, October 2019 A.D. I decided to look back at my comments and answers to questions posed to me by readers. Some could become blog posts in and of themselves. More often than not, the comments respond to emotional reactions to the relative post.

Here’s a few of my many comments in response to those speaking out in response my posts or on other blogs I read for information, support, and even laughter, I wanted to pull together to share here (edited for brevity) and as provocative fodder for new discussions I hope in the comments on this very post.

Many contain broader ideas about metastatic breast cancer. I hope you find these quotes, though out of context, as interesting as I did. They’re not the blog posts themselves, so you won’t get redundant content but a look back at the history of a metastatic breast cancer thriver – me as well as those to whom I’m reacting.

History is therefore written by living. Here’s part of my living record, and I hope you’ll respond to some of the more provocative comments and keep this discussion alive.

Quote Me

“Cynical and bitter” – my husband remarked on a read of the first or 31st draft, of this post. I said rubbish, my peeps will understand because it’s true. (although an ugly series of thoughts generated this puddle of poesy. A physical setback created a situation where my tendon had locked up, causing the foot to painfully turn inwards and I threw myself in a hot bath, post morning pain meds and fell asleep in the tub. I woke up crying “it’s not fair why is this shit never going to end,” and then out came some inappropriate jealousy of people who got supported because they look outwardly like they’re sick. I try to make every day as good as is possible in my circumstances. Including looking good as possible to somehow trick my consciousness into believing I am okay. Some people can outwardly smile in all,that pink light shining down on thief ‘cured’ bodies. But unfortunately these diseases give us a vocabulary and emotional shorthand that we immediately understand, making rich connections, both on the cerebral and gut levels.”

“Yet it’s important because everyone has such a different experience and it’s important to understand how to deal with things when someone is newly diagnosed especially with metastatic cancer. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring – we cannot make long life plans and our time is so valuable it’s hard at times to hear about people griping about things that mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. I’m sorry you had to go through so much horrific treatment as well – I was already with my second oncologist by the time this practice had gotten back to me. If I’d waited for them I’d be dead already. “

“Everyone must learn what they can do for themselves and try not to freeze up when things seem at their worst. I am the head of my cancer care team. No one knows me better than me and a one hour meeting once a month if I’m lucky these days since my oncologist is so over subscribed. But he listens to me and responds with real solutions that we agree together based on what I want and his knowledge. Still, I wish I could do more for you to help but I think maybe just knowing we aren’t alone sometimes works wonders.”

“Oh it was horrifying and only my persistence and perseverance paid off – I called CalMed and explained my situation and I do recall not being able to hold back my tears mainly because of frustration not the diagnosis since it was difficult to figure out, which was worse. Within 10 minutes I had gotten switched back to my original primary care physician and then was given proper treatments and taken off tamoxifen and put on to aromatase inhibitors, into chemical menopause and began Xeloda at home. I did quite well and even battled my way after changing oncologists twice and finding a surgeon to do an actual lumpectomy to remove a small leftover of a tumor and to get a fresh pathology after success with Xeloda.”

“I did not fare well on many of the injections and had severe responses to them until I was put on xgeva, faslodex and xolodex monthly. That worked but my oncologist only wanted to see me once every quarter and punted my care all over to palliative who are horrifyingly overworked. I then switched to Stanford and have been there almost two years this month. Every December because my original oncologist wasn’t watching closely enough and a mishap the following year with more insurance nightmares I filled up like an oompah loompah with ascites abs was drained multiple times. I only hope this year to be in Hawaii on Kauai as a safeguard to being put in hospital – hey if I do have to go the view will be better anyway.”

“You know as well as I that no matter what country one resides in that self advocacy will get you what you need more than waiting for things to happen to you – you have to educate yourself and make it happen for you.”

“It’s a way to have the patient blame themselves for being a caring person? Everyone has stress. Everyone’s got some form of childhood trauma. Looks like an easy way for researchers to try and finagle their way into the spotlight. Pigeon holing and creating a way to have cancer patients blame themselves doesn’t seem fitting or fair, just cruel and wrong. People back in the 50s were far more repressed and didn’t openly discuss feelings around the dinner table, but the incidence of cancer was 50-60x less than it is today. I suppose those times when abuse took place couldn’t possibly have been as severe as today (sarcasm) but you get where I’m going. Environmental causes increased the incidence of cancer as well as other factors I’m not as well versed in talking about. If love to hear your thoughts- stress is on the increase for everyone women especially which is why heart disease is the number one killer of women today. Cancer is a close secondary
Pain like beauty is more than skin deep. The difference between the two is less than I’d imagined prior to cancer. Beauty takes lots of appointments – so does cancer. Beauty uses all sorts of carcinogenic chemicals to eradicate being ugly – so does cancer. Beauty can be excruciatingly painful- so can cancer. The end result of finding the best way to enhance oneself to look beautiful can end in disfigurement – so can cancer. The endless list in my head goes on for miles. My point, Nancy my dear virtual friend without whose support I’d echo in a wide Sargasso Sea of words, is tha the surface is all we can scratch here. The depth of the itch lies beyond what conventional means alleviates and we are left swimming in pills, yoga, and advice none of which will even touch the emotional break of a heart that knows it must stop beating from the ugly disease killing the body and taking another beautiful soul down with it. God. Cancer really sucks.”

“It’s hard to ask for help and mostly when I do ask it’s too hard for people to follow through on their offers of “call me if you need anything.” So I typically drive myself to and from chemo, and other appointments, etc. No one likes to feel like a burden but read my blog piece on learning to receive as well as give. I feel like it’s a hard lesson to learn that people want you to accept their help and accepting graciously doesn’t allow the giver to feel good about helping out. It’s rejection of the worst kind because neither person wants to say anything to make the other feel badly. It’s a tough one…”

“Your commentary on my blog never cease to inspire me to keep writing and always bring my heart to a quick stop. You remind me of why I started this blog – so those with terminal illness and cancer diagnoses know they’re not alone in their experiences, emotions, and high and low points. While not the same, dimensionally similar enough to feel a virtual hand holding yours and have someone to walk with even if just for a little while. I love you and I care about what you feel and how you feel. Your feedback means so much to me. What a day too – I have my last Taxol treatment Monday next week and then a little break and back on the Ibrance. Maybe the lighting of fatigue and chemo brain can give me the strength I need to write more and start the first book. I thought it would be poetry but it won’t be. And as the draft starts to take form I’ll reveal the type of book and why I chose to focus that aspect of cancer.”

“How it’s it so hard to do this some days and others it seems so easy like nothing’s ever happened, nothing is wrong. Like day into night…I slept less than an hour last night thinking a lot about where my friends are, who I am as a result of their involvement in my life, some had a huge role especially people who I’ve remained in touch with for many years, people who I can see if I hadn’t seen them in 5, 10, 15 years and pick up where we left off. I think there are people I want to see regardless of cancer but in spite of also, if you know what I mean. My relationships have shifted so much, that instead of intimacy I have people I can rely on…it’s so strange. I would much prefer intimate, warm, relationships. Some friends have that some do not. I’m naturally a hugger and a physical person and I give love to people I care about very naturally. I suppose it comes down to not thinking about it as if we have terminal diseases when we see them. That said – If we didn’t I would not be in the company of women who I’ve come to appreciate as my peers and my friends- you included – and I absolutely think I may want to get over to the UK and maybe we all can get together for a day or two and I don’t think it’s out of the relevant range to believe that women like us cannot get a weekend together some by plane, by train, by car, to laugh and talk and actually meet. Wow that’s a thought. And given six months and some funding potential for rooms and such I bet we could do it. Have a think on it…I believe in anything I want to manifest can come true if I put my all into it. And speaking of all, time to get ready for chemo and oncologist appointments! Yikes”

“Terminal diseases will turn a coward into a superhero, a shrinking daisy into a tall redwood, and push us to the edges of ourselves that we never dreamed we could see. There’s no other way than to put it all out there regardless of the facet of cancer that I might focus on that week or day. There’s a lot of layers of emotional pain and energy to explore, though the tendency is for the most prevalent to wind up on my blog. Yet there are so many issues if I have the time I will try to cover – I wonder what people want to read about and would love any feedback regarding topics you find most helpful or interesting to read.”

“A “cure” is a misnomer make no mistake. However to cure each person based on their individual types of cancer and the millions of permutations that caused our bodies to not recognize cancer cells it heretofore killed off with our own immune systems is the key to survival and treating chronic not terminal cancer probably won’t make enough money for research in pharmaceuticals but for the hospitals, cancer centers, and teaching hospitals that tirelessly and for less money work on this very problem. Maybe the arrest of the opioid pushers will bring to light the corruption of such awful people who profit financially on our backs.”

“I wish you peace in your grief. Anyone lost to cancer is one too many. I believe the journey the living make after the death of someone dear never comes easily, and no amount of words make the time go fast enough to find the day when you’re not feeling those awful pangs of the indescribable when a song or some other reminder brings their memory rushing back. I cannot listen to certain music without immediately recalling memories of my dad. I try not to become tearful when I sing along. But any fear of my own death is in leaving my dear ones behind. Love is the tie that bounds life. I’m hopeful to be certain with regards to a curative process and hope that we will find a way to access our own powers of healing through immunotherapy in my lifetime. It’s a strange case when the pharmaceutical companies cannot use a cookie cutter, one size fits most approach to maximize profits. We won’t see it soon enough.”

“As for pain – I’ve had a palliative oncologist both prior to and since I’ve been with Stanford. Palliative medicine is so greatly misunderstood- I am grateful but I am also using opioid based pain meds as well as meditation and mind body deep work. But I hurt pretty constantly. It doesn’t show but boy it hurts. Bone metastasis is just crunchy painful if you know what I mean. I think it’s deplorable your oncologists don’t look at the whole patient and palliate your pain with integrative medicine, such as ontological massage, acupuncture, medication, and CBD/THC. CBD doesn’t work well topically and – opinion only – wastes money I don’t have. Further my palliative oncologist has recommended smoking the oil 3:1 or 2:1 CBD to THC ratio. There are medical marijuana growers who specialize in these types of tinctures. It also helps with my appetite and with sleeping though it makes me a bit goofy, it’s better than most other addictive things we can ingest.”

“It’s often difficult when terminal or chronic illness doesn’t comprise ones daily work routine to remember we all end at some arbitrary time stamp in the future. While feeling sorry for myself over the last week or so, I thought a lot about my loss of identity – and the therapy of writing got my mind to shift as always to a more positive way of viewing what I honestly thought about as wasted time in a career. All the work to climb every last rung on that still male predominant corporate ladder – especially in high tech without missing a single one. But not really. To your point our strength is redirected to navigating the tangoes of paper, contracts for insurance, finances etc. it’s like being the CEO of MyCancer, Inc. Do you miss the daily grind? Maybe I just was glamorizing whats no longer available? Death is death. Everyone’s life ends the same way and it’s the only thing no one has any assurances of what happens once we do die. At a visceral level it’s hard to accept although intellectually we bravely deny any fear. It’s uncertainty I think.”

“The statistics are completely different from the reality regarding the mean lifespan from the time of diagnosis and mortality/ end of life. It’s as individual as the cancer itself. There’s too many influential factors such as stress and environment to really understand. The fear of death never weighed me down much, and I find myself interested in what happens to our consciousnesses after our bodies fail but not interested enough to lose my gratitude for the hope of another day of life. My commentary has far more to do with the questions I’ve heard from others, their fears, and their legacies. My legacy, I hope, is to depart our mortal coil with a couple of written documentations/ books reflective of my consciousness while I was here. A way to travel to the future and bring the past forward for as long as people need to read the thoughts of their predecessors. In that my respect for you and your accomplishments exponentially increases as my familiarity with your grace and your talents increases. Our lives will go on and not have been in vain for having the courage to use our voices to yell out drink the past so that others may benefit from our unnecessary and early deaths due to a disease that’s not only on the rise as a statistical result of the illness we both unreasonably suffer from but that we both use as a platform to grip those who can’t find the words to express how they feel and how precious life becomes after the gauntlet drops.”

“Technology…changes with the will of how frustrated the steel-nerved steady user can tolerate. I’m so sorry you had to go through some irritating stuff to simply post a kind comment. Imho WordPress is the best platform, after TypePad, and far above blogger and the corporate blog software I endured during my short 28 years fighting the good fight as a woman in high tech. I suppose in some ways I hope to leave a similar legacy in the works of metastatic cancer. Working with my words (see my personal tech blog https://techronicity.typepad.com/blog/ – which I no longer keep up but keep online for posterity I suppose if nothing else.) Good news: C is better, and my hope improves with each day he regains his humor and his memory. In some ways depression is a lot like the effects of cancer and chemo, the deathly combination that sticks us like a stamp on a paper envelope. Sometimes my essays ramble on because they can. But this blog comes with too high a price for the expensive toll it takes to walk on a path with the freedom to speak my mind. But speak I must, and for the kindness of your expressions of gratitude I am humbled.”

“But it’s all those yes’s that turn yesterday’s into
Tomorrow’s and waking up to say
Yes I’m still alive on this new today.”

“This particular poem was written in response to a “yes” writing prompt on the Journey Beyond Breast Cancer @JBBC blog. It’s wonderfully rich in content as it’s author is an expert marketeer, writer and one of my online #cancertribe who supports me from a distance, as so many of the writers and readers who have touched my life and for whom my blog has value in our shared experiences.”

“Say Yes, A Toast
To Hope and to help
And to healthier food
To exercise, to water are really good
To Cats no doubt oh positively
But I suppose, i guess, dogs are fine, though sniveling
To Hugs, to expressing ourselves creatively
And to Travel to places, some close some a far
And ommmm… yes to your Breath and for seeing the stars
Friends, new and old even those left behind
It’s for Advocacy and even acting immature
And binging on when you want to unwind
It’s for soft socks, sunshine, and the perfect hat
Yes for Family (including by blood and by choice) who love us and our crap
A big yes for our Carers
Even still my chemo port
To oncologists and nurses and behind the screen support
That’s including our blogs through which we’ve “met”
But pardon the pun, is it coffee time yet?
And lastly but not leastly, a big YES to Marie
For compiling our posts nearly every weekly
With wonderful, bravely honest and willing
To openly share to the lonely, the scared
And say yes we really do care about you and we dare
Through our comments and emails that we always answer
So fewer people feel must feel all alone with cancer.
And I can think of a thousand more YES’s
And probably equal a number of NO’s
But yes isn’t just about false positives
It’s about letting our lights shine and glow.”

Dear Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer Patient

My friend, hold onto my hand. I have you firmly in my heart and in my thoughts. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reminding me why I keep up this blog. Yet I’m one of many who choose to write for therapeutic reasons and to share my feelings so people who look for help can find it in the form of shared experiences. There’s a group of strong women out here who will make a strong network in which we can support you and hold you. Once the feeling of confusing despair dissipates a little, everything will fall into some random combination of slow, blurry, painful, lonely, disturbing, isolating, uncomfortable, weird, surreal, and a host of emotions no one but you and this club you joined can understand – a club we joined unwittingly to which none of us wanted to belong.

Stage III certainly is a mouthful to say, let alone think about all weekend. Call them if they don’t call you. Be the best self patient advocate you can. There’s no one closer to you than yourself. Keep a pen and notebook with you at all times – next to your phone, your bed, in the car, in your purse. Take notes, write down questions that come up. But try hard not to get too deep in the web of info on the internet. You’ll have a hard time getting rest. No two people have exactly the same cancer as the next. Genetic, environmental, and other causes, but god the one things that didn’t cause it was you. You’ve not done anything to bring this on…

As for the first few months you’ll feel like no one is taking your situation seriously and you’ll push for immediate action although it’s very unlikely anything much will change – either in the progression of your cancer or with the medical treatment you’re receiving. You have a nurse navigator and use the NN to help you as much as he or she are able – questions, answers, appointments, notes from doctors appointments, find out what they can do for you and take full advantage. Monday isn’t too far away, but by then I’m sure you’ll have gone on the internet to see what the dependencies and prognosis look like. If you can at all help trying to dig until you hear from up your oncologist.

A small but very awkward discussion is a second opinion – after your oncologist goes over your pathology with you and initiates a line of treatment protocol, get a second opinion, as I wish I had done earlier in my journey. I did eventually and I’ve changed oncologists twice – I like my team at Stanford a lot and they’ve gotten me through the hardest health challenges.

I know it feels like the world collapsed and there you are standing in the midst of the apocalypse that’s destroyed everything in your past and future and nothing is known, you don’t know who’ll respond of your family if friends, and you cannot understand why yesterday was okay and today is really the farthest thing from okay you can even imagine. Helpless, unwell, sad, frustrated, alone, angry, distressed, full of doubt, overwhelmed by fear, uneducated…

It took almost six weeks from my initial hospitalization and diagnosis as stage IV metastatic breast cancer, HR+ (hormone receptor positive where the cancer feeds on my hormones; more estrogen than progesterone). I will let you read elsewhere if and when you want to in the blog about my initial diagnosis and subsequent treatments, although I bet they want to start you in some form of chemotherapeutic medication while you go through tests, CT scans, PET scans, genetic profiling, and…

It’s going to feel like too much to take in at once, and it is. Get a pen and a sturdy notebook out ASAP. I’m here for you and I can give you as much or as little of my personal experience to guide you. Listen to some podcasts to keep your mind occupied and stay in the know – personal ones like Thanks Cancer – there’s a link on my site – a podcast that two friends wish they’d had when they were going through each of their separate cancer journey. The stuff that’s about to come up in your life will make it seem like a dream. There’s Karin Seiger’s blog and podcasts. She’s an excellent resource of both calm and strength and is a licensed therapist with two breast cancer diagnoses of her own so she knows what it truly feels like, just as Mimi and Leanna the two aforementioned cancer friends.

But you’ll be okay no matter what the outcome. You will find a way to peace with your diagnosis eventually, could be sooner or later but you will. You’ll find parts of yourself you never knew existed, and you’ll grow emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually to heights you never thought you could. And no path is wrong, no steps incorrect because it’s your path and your feet and no one can walk in your shoes. Some women immerse themselves in family, kids, etc., some in exercise and nutrition, some in writing and reading, some in meditative practices, eastern medicine, yoga, Qigong, peer groups at a local cancer center, and a you’ll find your balance using a combination of some, everything, or none at all. Invariably however, you’ll be met with open arms wherever you go.

I read my husband your note with tears and said to him – this is the reason I keep my blog going. I need to focus on writing to her what I wish someone had written to me after my diagnosis. So this is the best that worked for my journey so far. And without going down too many confusing roads, I hope to have given you an asynchronous hug from here in California to your time zone – and I will not let you go it alone if I can help you at all, I will. Stay in touch, even if it’s just a once in a while single sentence because more pressure you don’t need. But, let me know how you are doing. Ask me about things you need a simple pointer towards and if I have answers I will give them, experience I will share it openly, referrals if I know one, and love unconditionally.

I’m not the only one out here. We all love each other in a sister and brotherhood of strength and support. Use Twitter and Facebook. Feel free to check my follows and followers on Twitter especially and there are two online groups – whatsnext.org and inspire.org – I have a listing of some links I’ve used in the blog, too.

Sorry for the delayed response; having not had a good health week culminating in todays fun stage 4 spectacular. And finally, keep your humor because it’ll keep you going in those very dark moments. You’ll have some now and then but laughter’s a medicine that no oncologist prescribes and you can get it over the counter for free. With cancer neither of those adjectives pervade the situation unless you seek them out and find them yourself. But there’s sunshine after the tears subside and remember that even though daylight hides the stars, the starlight is just on this side of night ready to shine even if you have to imagine they’re there.

❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Ilene

This was a letter to a reader of my blog, who’s also a virtual friend, in response to her personal email to me. I wish someone had written this letter to me when I was diagnosed in 2015. I felt alone, afraid, and as though things were happening in a time warp. I’d love to have your comments on what you’d add to the letter or what you’d like to have heard when you were first diagnosed.

Death and the Paradox of Happiness

Recently reblogged as a follow on to Karin Sieger’s (karinsieger.com) moving and deeply honest discussion to losing a dear friend to metastatic breast cancer, was my post on hope even in times of grieving. Integrative Hope, a post I wrote back in February, touched on losing my best friend to AIDS at the age of 37 and to my father’s death as a result of a large mitochondrial brain tumor in 2013. When faced with the issues surrounding my own terminal illness and my attitude towards death, I noticed that even on such deep and weighty subjects my philosophy emotionally matured. Perhaps the processing of my evolving attitude towards death and dying came to me more quickly having been diagnosed with a currently incurable disease.

I believe this is in no small part how honest I’ve become inwardly with myself in facing the ultimate of uncertainties, what happens when we die?

I’ve had the honor of being by the side of my best friend and my father and my perspectives on death and dying were strengthened by these two life altering experiences. My mourning wasn’t so much a sad experience as it was a humbling one. Oh, I did cry for the loss of each of them in my life and occasionally still do. But I also laugh, smile, and feel lucky to have had them in my life for the time they were here. While thinking of them now during specific times of the year, hearing songs we shared a love for, or that especially reminds me of either of them, the scents and tastes of favorite foods or restaurants, or an experience in places we’ve visited together. Immediately, dear memories bring them both rushing back to my side as though they’d never died. They’re integrated into my soul in so many ways.

Time also heals and bends our perspectives. The mind protects itself by recalling happy experiences over sad ones. I think of my divorce to my first husband. It’s not the fights I recall but the great times we had, the places we traveled, and the wonderful ways in which he enriched my life. Divorce is a kind of death, too. As for those who I can no longer contact because I’ve lost them to diseases, my life in a sense extends their own, although neither is still alive. I’m grateful to have all of them integrated as part of what makes me, ‘me.’ I only hope when I die that there will be as positive an experience for the people I love in this life.

Unlike divorce, where we know what happens when a marriage dies, we just don’t know what happens when we die; the great mystery I believe humanizes all of us and is the only thing on which everyone can universally agree. No one can buy this knowledge either: what happens to all that energy we create while we are alive after our physical bodies have ceased living?

The paradox of happiness

I do believe this philosophical issue makes me more resilient in my own terminal illness and helps me survive with my disease: I’m not carrying any fear of dying. I focus instead on living. For instance, I’ve found peace and happiness where we recently moved and these feelings drive me to want to stay alive. The photo attached to this post is the view in our new home and where I will write my blogs and start writing my book. I want to live longer to see what a true state of happiness feels like. It frightens me to think it may change my philosophy of the dying process.

Therein lies the paradox. I’m grappling with this existential question now and some days it makes me quite angry and sad, which to me is counter intuitive. But that’s okay. It’s all a learning process. I suppose that’s one of the many beliefs as to why we are alive in the first place.

Well must attend to the rolling blackout here in California where the electric utility has determined its bankruptcy allows them to endanger people who need electricity to run medical devices or have air filters or heat on. Fortunately once we move to our new house we will have a generator that switches on and we are converting to solar in the next 3-6 months so as not to rely on such a horrible service. In fact it’s so costly some families have lost their homes or even their children to social services as a result of not being financially able to pay for their over expensive power bills. You legally must have power on to live inside. But bills can exceed $2000 a month and not for mansions, either.

Such a morbidly sad and strange time to live in. Yet all the same it’s still wondrous to wake up every morning with the opportunity to be grateful for another day.

Even if the powers gone out.