My head was swirling with the doctor's distant and echoing words: cancer, biopsy, lumpectomy, mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't think. I wanted to be someone else. I wanted to be somewhere else. I staggered about those initial appointments, surgeries, and chemotherapies. I cried more than I have ever cried before. I cried for the loss of a life I would never have again, a life without cancer. I cried for what I would have to endure, for what my family would have to endure. I cried because I didn't want it to be me.
My feelings would change from day to day, hour to hour, or even minute to minute. Some days I accepted that I had terminal cancer just like someone else might accept having the flu, no big deal. This too shall pass. But then it would just hit me. Oh my, this is not going to pass. And, this was such a shock to me, as if I was hearing the news for the first time. I will never get better. How does one ever understand that? Then, there would be days when I did understand and I treated it as an event to be planned. My death I mean. And, I would make lists of things I needed to make sure I got done before my time came, very logical, very matter-of-fact. It was like planning for any occasion in life. But, this occasion would be my last. On other days, I understood where I was headed and I'd be incredibly sad. I was sad for what my family would feel when I was gone. I was sad that my daughter would have to grow up without me. I was sad that all the plans my husband and I had made for the future would not come to be. Gradually, the swirling stopped. I began to realize that if it had to be me, I might as well do it right. I would redefine my life and play by the new rules.
Altering the setbacks in life require courage to push beyond the fear of the unknown. After making the initial decision to attack my cancer with courage instead of panic, I began to realize that courage is something to gather from people and experiences. My family and friends told me that I was brave. They pointed out the courage they saw displayed in my daily living. I began to believe them. I started collecting quotes on courage and reading them daily. I began telling myself what a courageous person would do, and then I'd do it. I began listening to my doctors and viewing them as lifelines. I took charge of my treatments, medications, and cancer education. I became courageous.
Even though I felt that I had always been a compassionate person, I found that my own tribulations helped me to better understand people who had problems, different from my own, but troubles nonetheless. Feeling sorry for oneself is debilitating. There is always someone else who is dealing with problems that are more difficult than your own.
Remembering that everyone has challenges that are big and real to them helped me to put my life's problems in perspective. I became compassionate.
Sometimes I forget. I forget that I have stage 4 terminal cancer. I forget to appreciate everything and everyone around me. I forget to slow down and enjoy. But, most days I remember. When I kiss my husband as he leaves for work, I am so aware of the strength of our love. As I drop my daughter off at school, and she looks back at me to say her quick goodbye, I smile because she is so beautiful and wonderful. I am thankful for my life, the people I share it with, and the world around me. My morning walks aren't just exercise for my dog and me. It is a time where I really look around and appreciate the sunshine, or the coolness from the clouds. I am aware of sights, smells, and the little things; a young child on a park swing, squealing as his mother pushes him higher, two laughing high school students with pink and purple hair walking to school, a grandmother pushing her grandchild in a stroller, birds flying from tree to tree, the family of ducks living in the neighborhood pond. I am grateful.
Children, bless their hearts, hope for a new bike, hope for hamburgers for dinner, hope for a good grade on a test. I remember those days of hoping. Wanting something so bad that I even dared to pray for it. Those childish hopes were so important and genuine. Today, I have different hopes. I hope my cancer doesn't keep me from seeing my daughter graduate from high school. I hope my lab tests show that chemotherapy is working again. I hope my next PET scan shows complete or partial remission. I hope that my mother doesn't have to bury a daughter. Without hope, there is no happiness. Without hope, there is no reason to continue trying. Without hope, the spirit is broken, so I continue to hope and I dare to pray.
If there were a magic pill or potion that would bring courage, compassion, and gratefulness would you take it? Of course you would. These are qualities we seek and are often illusive. If, in order to take this pill, you found out that you would have to experience fear, anger, and uncertainty, would you still take it? The answer might be that if you didn't have to live with the fear, anger, and uncertainty forever, then the prize at the end is worth the price. We will all face major life setbacks. We can allow the negative to take control and simply wallow in self-pity. We can blame others for our tribulations and expect them to fix the problems. Or, we can view each and every setback as an opportunity for growth and rebirth. Breast cancer patients can make a choice to live with or without fear, anger, and uncertainty. Gathering information, support from family and friends, organizing a trusted medical team, and experiencing a sense of wonder and delight in daily living helps breast cancer patients to move from panic to bravery, from aloofness to compassion, from oblivious to thankful. We are left with a gift that some are not capable of attaining in their lifetime. I will always mourn the loss of my life before cancer. But, my new life, cancer and all, is a blessing, and worth living to the end.
Lucy Knobloch is a proud mother, wife, retired teacher, and breast cancer warrior. Refusing to let breast cancer become a negative event in her life, she has instead embraced the illness and found a balance between fighting the disease and living life to its fullest. Lucy fills her days with reading, writing, quilting, walking her dog Riley, cooking, and making a happy and joyful home for her husband Alan, and her daughter Taylor. As a family they enjoy hiking, biking, movies, and traveling. Lucy and her family live in Phoenix, Arizona with many weekends and summers at their condo in Pinetop, Arizona.