Every Day's A School Day 
courtesy of Melody Davis - Breast Cancer Survivor


 My suvivor story isn't a gee whiz, wow, poor you story.  It's kind of average.  I was diagnosed at age 62 with Stage II Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, ER+, Her-2 negative.  I was a confirmed workaholic who routinely rescheduled, or forgot to schedule, mammograms.  I got called when I was 6 months overdue, and slunk in guilty as charged to get up to date.

Yup.  I fit the statistics.  In that whirlwind of time, still in a state of denial, I met my 'team', found that I had a good prognosis, and after many questions - and answers,  I'd have a lumpectomy, followed by 6 rounds of chemotherapy, and another 17 rounds of Herceptin infusions, and 6 1/2 weeks of radiation.  By my own brilliant reckoning, I'd start in May and be done with everything by October.  And, I figured I could take a couple of weeks to recuperate from surgery and return to a busy work schedule during the rest of treatment.   Type A's think we are indispensable!

So here is some of what I learned, since EVERY DAY'S A SCHOOL DAY.  First, the schedule isn't dictated by your wishes.  Your body determines it.  So many variables can and do upset the timing, right?  Ihad 'variables' ... enough to make me rethink my decision to try to balance working with getting through treatment.  Some of us CAN and DO work through.  I was urged to work at getting well and was so fortunate to have both short and long term disability.  Others aren't as fortunate.  I learned LUCK plays a role in our lives.

Secondly, treatment is as individual as we are with myriad diagnoses.  It ain't a one size fits all, right?  Some breeze through surgery, through chemo, and radiation.  Others struggle mightily with one of more or ALL phases of treatment.

Again, I was in that middle.  A speed bump here and there, an infection, a reaction ... and the schedule got longer and I was counseled to go with the ever-lovin' flow.  Tough for a Type A.

Looking back, it wasn't the worst of times, but it wasn't the best of times either.  I had a very cautious surgeon.  She removed 20 lymph nodes, and since I was sort of sedentary and doughy, I developed Lymphedema toward the end of chemo.  That delayed the schedule even MORE, with a month of Complete Decongestive Therapy and compression bandaging.  Watch for this, my friends.  It is insidious and you may not notice, but DO SOMETHING if, or when, you notice it.  I have become a disciple and a compliant patient, and that condition is under control.  While it IS lifelong, it can be managed.  If YOU have it, wear those sleeves and be very careful with your limbs! 

One time, during that therapy, I ventured out - cmpletely mummified in compression bandages and bald as a baby, and a store clerk asked me what happened.  I looked in his eyes and said slowly .... knife fight.  He turned pale.  Humor helps!  Keep your sense of humor!

I learned that the THOUGHT of chemo is often worse than the REALITY.  Sure, I had days when I thought I'd been gang tackled by Patriot's linebackers.  I was pooped, but learned that the BEST remedy for that tiredness was exercise.  I walked 4 miles a day - and I got more fit.

I learned a big lesson that most of us experience:  it is FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN.  If we don't know what's going to happen, we can spin that into insanity.  Ask what you should call your team about!  And when!  We've all had those incidents where we ask ourselves "WHAT IF it's back' ... and we think, after treatment ends, NOW WHAT?  And some of us, me included, have many more ultrasounds and scans and palpations.  And abject panic. Most importantly, DO NOT CONSULT DOCTOR GOOGLE.  It'll make you CRAZY.  Absolutely all of us are unique - our diagnoses, our treatment plans, our abilities to get through treatment.  ASK YOU TEAM. They are the ones who can help you.

The first time this hit me - I had a weekend of fear, by the way ... I realized I already KNEW what to expect.  I had been through it.  I had complete confidence in my medical team.  I could approach the panic intellectually and not emotionally.  I still feel this way.  This took me a little time, but I learned how to be a good patient -  and a functioning member of my care team.  We all know how EPICALLY busy our doctors and nurses are.  When you show up, come prepared.  Make notes in advance.  Go back and prioritize your biggest concerns in those notes.  Hand them over at your appointments.  Your team will appreciate that thoughtfulness.  And the efficient use of time.

A favorite nugget of learning comes from a bumper sticker.  Really.  DON'T POSTPONE JOY.  When your life is seemingly in shambles, I have learned that you need to look for the good, the lovely, the peaceful.  Look for the JOY in your life.  Find something to laugh about every day.  Find something to smile about.  While I was under chemo-induced house arrest, I found joy in how fast the hosta grew!  How many kinds of dragonflies there are.  How intent a spider can be when spinning a web.  I actually had the TIME now to notice the wonder of nature and the inherent goodness of people.  Had I not had cancer, I might have postponed joy.  Not anymore.

I returned to work - reduced schedule, and OFF the hamster wheel, about 10 months after diagnosis.  I was a changed woman.  I had completely different priorities.  I worked another two years and retired.  Happily.  Joyfully.

I am now a Type A minus.  I've learned to say 'no', but don't very often.  I'm just as busy as ever, but now it's doing things I want to do ... and my great joy comes from helping other people.  How?  I volunteer.  I give back with time (and some money).  I have learned that the very best thing you can do for yourself, is to do something for others.  Bring JOY.

I have learned that we should NEVER STOP learning, and so I learn every day, even though I'm pushing 70.  And mostly I've learned to be thankful.   I'm reminded that we often think we can NEVER repay the help and support we receive when we are faced with going through cancer.  But I have learned that I, in fact, CAN repay that.  By paying it FORWARD.  So can YOU.

A special thank you to Melody Davis for allowing us to share this with you.  Melody spoke at 'Pink Lighting the Way' at the Hanover Theater on October 11th, and for those of us who were in attendance we can still hear her lighthearted approach to sharing what she learned, laced with wit and laughter, and sprinkled liberally with wisdom and insight.