Missing my spontaneity

but…Ever since my cancer diagnosis, I find myself having a hard time planning too far ahead. I’ve lost a sense of spontaneity and often have to check my calendar for any upcoming doctor’s appts. before making plans. That didn’t use to be an issue for me because I always thought I was a young, healthy woman. So timing didn’t matter. I am not saying I am not healthy today but once you’re a citizen of cancer-land you feel less confident. At least I do.

Also, priorities change.

Let’s talk about vacations, for example. I schedule all my doctors’ appts. before I go on vacation, because I don’t want to think about them while I am trying to enjoy myself. I even postpone making travel decisions until after my appointments.

When I originally found my breast lump, I saw my GYN right away. I had already booked a trip to go visit my family in the Dominican Republic for Christmas. Three days before my flight, the doctor told me I needed a biopsy because my lump was a solid mass. Of course there were no appointments available for me before my trip. I did not know what else I could have done. I went on my vacation trying to believe that what they had found was a fibroadenoma — my GYN suspected that’s what it was.

But something didn’t feel right. I knew it was something more serious. What prompted me to feel this way was the look on the sonogram technician’s face. She did not say a word to me about what she thought the breast lump could be, since technicians aren’t supposed to give patients a diagnosis. But the look on her face gave it away — it wasn’t a look of fear but a look of “this has to be cancer.” She looked like she was very familiar with cases like mine. And those clicks! She didn’t stop taking pictures of the lump. And after all the weird dreams I was having prior to me finding my lump — yes, I take dreams seriously — I just felt something was about to change about my life. I knew I had cancer.

I had a terrible time while I was away. I didn’t sleep. I had the ocean a few steps away from me and didn’t even go in. The resort was so beautiful and peaceful but that didn’t matter. I had no peace of mind. I couldn’t even smile because I was worried about the biopsy. And of course, I spent countless hours in my room reaching out to Dr. Google about breast biopsies. It was awful. I felt a sense of desperation — a loss of control.

I refuse to experience that feeling ever again while on vacation. So now my travels depend on when those doctor’s appointments are. I also make sure I get the results before going anywhere.

My daydreams about relocating have also been affected by my lack of spontaneity. The thought of experiencing life someplace else, like living on a farm, has always turned me on. Now, because my doctors are here, I find it hard to envision myself ever living outside of NYC and I can’t stand it. I fear losing my medical team at MSKCC. I am aware there are good doctors everywhere, but I am still feeling like a baby bird who doesn’t want to leave her nest — reason why I continue to see my Onco 2x a year despite her telling me this is not necessary.

Another thing that has been affected by my lack of spontaneity is when and how late I stay out. I used to spend late night hours with friends. I hardly ever felt tired. But I don’t do that anymore. By 10PM I am sleepy. Now my joints are starting to hurt from Tamoxifen too. Some friends call me “old lady” but I know they mean well. Cancer treatments can make you feel older.

One of the expectations people have of cancer patients is that, once you’ve done cancer, you have to live life to the fullest; otherwise you’re doing survivorship the wrong way. I find myself attacking these expectations because it’s the wrong perception. We are regular people and only we know how to handle our challenges the best way we can for us. I am not ashamed to admit I am not a people’s pleaser. I like to stay true to myself especially when it’s related to my health.

But here’s one thing I’ve discovered about me: I am who I am. Recently, when I was at my GYN’s office the doctor said to me, “no matter what I tell you, you will always worry. And I guess that’s OK because it’s who you are.”

To think of it, I remember my student chapter advisor repeatedly telling me during college, “poor mother of yours! You are such a big worrier!” Others have said this to me too.

I’ve realized that the way I handle my cancer has a lot to do with the kind of person that I am. I like to have control over situations — and who doesn’t? Knowing about my health before making plans has nothing to do with “giving power” to cancer, as some people say. It has to do with the fact that I am a worrier and I’ve always been. Peace of mind is extremely important to me.

In a way I wish I could plan my vacations without having to think about my oncology appts. I also wish life circumstances hadn’t drastically change the way I function but I’ve adjusted as best as I can. Although I’ve lost my sense of spontaneity, I didn’t lose my desire to continue living. And that has to count for something.

Do you have a hard time planning too far ahead ever since your cancer diagnosis?
Do you find yourself making more plans than you used to because of your cancer diagnosis?

Posted in Coping after cancer | Tagged , | 18 Comments

My colposcopy results and my constant doubts

My favorite Looney Tunes character is Sylvester the cat, who, as you know, is always trying to eat Tweety bird. Tweety is no angel – perhaps he deserved to be eaten. At least I wanted him to be. But Sylvester always fails.

However, there’s one Sylvester and Tweety cartoon that I’ll never forget because it was such a happy surprise for me. Sylvester chomps the annoying Tweety. I remember jumping off my chair with excitement and yelling, “Yes! Finally you ate that little shit!” I felt so relieved that poor Sylvester had finally accomplished what he always wanted.

But that excitement only lasted a few seconds because Granny, Tweety’s owner, rescues the bird. Sylvester’s excitement is over.

This week, my excitement after receiving a good report about my pap/colposcopy results lasted about the same time as Sylvester’s victory, until my mind started to wonder.

tweety bird animated GIF

I had a reason to feel discouraged when poor Sylvester didn’t get to eat the bird. But I realize that I have no logical reasons to feel discouraged or doubtful about my good test results — so why am I always over-thinking? Let’s just say I know what I am dealing with here: cells are tricky. Plus, I’ve heard too many stories about false test results. My mind often travels to the dark place.

When my GYN informed me that, according to the biopsies performed last week, I do not have cervical cancer, I was so happily surprised and relieved. In a way, I was already preparing myself to deal with another cancer, which is why I had made that appt. with a GYN oncologist at MSK. I am still planning on seeing him in a couple of weeks to get a second opinion. Or is this my third opinion now?

My excitement when receiving the good news about my results only lasted a few seconds because my brain decided to start wondering how accurate those results were.

reb_2If I wasn’t a cancer patient already I would have let denial do his job and allow my mind to rest at peace. I would have held on to the good news and kept going. I do that sometimes. But ever since I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer I tend to question many of the tests that are done to me and their level of accuracy. I do try to hold on to good news, especially when there’s nothing else that can be done to prove something is wrong with my health. I mean, tests can only go so far, right?

I sometimes have doubts after getting good results and I am not sure if I am being sensible. After hanging up the phone with my GYN this week, I started to wonder if those biopsies were taken from the same spot(s) the original samples were taken from – when the Pap smear was performed. What if she missed the spots? Yes, getting tests done is very important but you also want to get accurate information from those tests. No tests are 100% accurate, are they?

I know — this is the part where we need to stay “positive” and hope for the best. Keep the faith alive. But it’s a little challenging for me sometimes because I am already a cancer patient.

Why were my cells abnormal to begin with? I asked myself.

I need to be followed up again in 6 months with another pap smear.

I do feel a level of relief that the colposcopy report did not show cervical cancer, of course. Again, I don’t want to sound ungrateful. It is unfortunate that after being diagnosed with breast cancer, I just don’t feel like I can trust my body anymore. But I also need to learn to trust a little more because I am doing everything I possibly can to monitor my heath, while realizing I have no control over what can happen. My medical team is always on top of things, but there are limits to how much they can do as well. This is about all the control I can have when it comes to my health.

I need to hold on to the good news as everything can shift from one day to the next.

Posted in Paranoia | Tagged , | 16 Comments

Sharing a positive experience (because there aren’t enough of them on the internet)

Dr. google

Image credit to KCLR96FM News & Sport

So I admit it, I seek medical advice from Dr. Google. I like to prepare myself mentally before going into any medical procedure. I spend countless hours searching. And even after listening to close friends telling me not to worry, I keep searching. I need to know the worse-case scenario.

Why do I torture myself? The unknown can be scary.

It’s not always wise to look for answers on the internet. Not all sources have accurate information and you can’t trust everything you read. But when it comes to people sharing their experiences with medical procedures on the internet, I find that there are a lot more bad experiences shared than good experiences. I sometimes feel the internet was created so people can complain about everything they are unhappy about. We should share our positive experiences too.

If you recall from one of my previous posts, I decided to go for a second opinion after being told by my onco hospital that I did not need yearly pap smears. Sure enough, after receiving an abnormal pap result early this month, my GYN told me I needed to get a colposcopy to rule out cervical cancer. I felt scared.

I got my colposcopy done yesterday. Going in, I was terrified. I was scared because I did too much reading on the internet about other people’s experiences. Based on that reading, I was expecting this procedure to be painful. I was expecting to faint or throw up, because that’s how I react to pain.

I am happy to report that the procedure was a painless experience. My GYN used iodine to numb my cervix, which I highly recommend if your doctor is performing biopsies. I also took an Advil and an Ativan prior to the procedure. Even if your doctor isn’t performing a biopsy, the procedure itself is just a little uncomfortable, like getting a pap smear without the swab.

The ironic thing — a lesson I wish I would learn for the future — is that my obsessing about the procedure for two weeks online created much more pain and anxiety for me than the procedure did.

As it turned out, my GYN saw some minor spots. Then she took some biopsies from those areas in question. She also performed an endocervical curettage (ECC) to be thorough, because she is just wonderful in that way. ECC is a procedure in which the cervical canal is scraped to test for abnormal, precancerous conditions, or cervical cancer.

I am expecting to receive the results in two weeks, maybe sooner. I have scheduled an appt. to see a GYN oncologist at MSKCC. He specializes in uterine, cervical and ovarian cancers. I may not have cervical cancer but if further treatment is needed for me, he will take over the case from that moment on. I also want to speak to him about the possibility of doing a hysterectomy. Sounds drastic, I know. But, to be honest, I am tired. I already have the anxiety of getting frequently checked for my breast cancer.

I need to understand what getting these results mean for my health moving forward. Do I need to be monitored more frequently for this too? I also need to understand what my risks are if I decide to keep all my reproductive organs. I want a child but I am scared of facing a gynecological cancer. So here I am again, needing to make important big decisions. Who said we’re ever done with cancer?

We all know what the worst part of all of this is, right?

THE WAIT.

I will be sure to update you all about what challenges I may be facing next.

Now, let me go back to why sharing our positive stories is so important. I am sure there are thousands of those good stories out there but no one seems to spend time writing about them on the internet because most people want to move on after learning they are OK. But I think it is so important to share these good stories too. These are the stories that encourage people to keep going. They bring us hope. So I encourage you, if you have a good story to tell about a medical procedure you experienced, please share it. Go online and look to see who is scared out of their mind wanting to know about other people’s experiences and connect with that person.

The same goes for illnesses such as cancer. If you have a good story to share, please do so.

I had an idea today: I think there should be a website dedicated to only good experiences people have with medical procedures. You can go in and share your story so when others come visit that website, they can read them. The stories can be categorized by procedure type. This can help people with their anxiety and know they are not alone. Does this already exist?

Knowing myself, even if such a site existed, I would still search for worst-case scenarios through Dr. Google.

Posted in Fertility | Tagged , , , | 17 Comments

Caregivers need support too

I sometimes wonder how intensely people worry about me when it comes to my health. Often, others don’t want to show us their real emotions during cancer – and even during post-treatments – so as not to overwhelm us. I am so caught up with my own cancer mess, finding ways to cope and moving forward, that I forget that others around me are also trying to do the same. I am referring to those who hold our hands when we walk the cancer path. We often lean on them, but who do they lean on?

I will always have so much respect for caregivers. It’s a very difficult job and, when someone commits to doing it, it’s not only a sacrifice but a big act of unconditional love. Sometimes the commitment of being a caregiver goes beyond cancer treatments. My fiancé was and continues to be my caregiver.

I often wonder if caregivers get dismissive comments about their emotions and fears, the same way we cancer patients do. My guy does. His loved ones have wondered why he – we— haven’t fully moved on from this cancer mess when treatments are now behind us. But I am not done with cancer and he continues to be my caregiver.

Unless you’ve been a caregiver, I am not sure you fully understand their level of commitment and fear, because they’re scared too. Lately, I’ve been trying to ask more about my partner’s feelings. I don’t recall us ever talking about his emotions because we’ve been focused on my well-being. What I know is that he hasn’t moved on after my cancer diagnosis because he can’t. He struggles the same way I do at times. Every oncology appointment I go to he experiences anxiety with me.

He hasn’t been himself for quite a while now but neither have I. What really prompted me to question his state of mind was something that happened in the middle of the night while we were away recently. We were trying to sleep but the room was chilly. I was too tired to move. He covered us both with the blanket. I still wasn’t moving but I was awake. I noticed he gently touched my shoulders as he leaned forward to see if I was awake. When he saw I didn’t move, he placed his fingers in front of my nose to feel my breathing. He did this for a while too, to make sure. I eventually moved so he would know I was alive.

This made me reflect about his fears and how he really feels about being with someone who has been diagnosed with cancer. Although I have my assumptions, I am not sure I fully understand the complexity of his emotions because I am too busy trying to understand my own.

I worry about his state of mind because he basically doesn’t have anyone to talk to. I am lucky that I have other patients who provide me with a lot of support and understanding. I am also not afraid to reach out but he is the type to keep things inside which can be unhealthy. Could this be a testosterone effect? I don’t know but I need him to be mentally well. I may need to help us reach some level of confidence.

Thinking about my partner’s fears, I’ve come to realize I didn’t know them all – and how intense his feelings were. He is the type to not want to burden anyone with his problems but this isn’t helping us.

I’ve also realized that I have abandoned him in some way. I have even suggested he doesn’t have to be part of this cancer mess if he chooses not to be out of my own frustrations. These words hurt him.

I feel guilty because I am not sure I am there for him as much as he is there for me. I depend on him emotionally and he is so focused on me but I haven’t been able to offer the same level of support. I sometimes hide through my blog and my writing because I guess in a way I am also scared to reach a level of normalcy and get too comfortable in a situation that isn’t promised. Ever since my cancer diagnosis, I am afraid to hold on to anything too tightly. And I am afraid of what might happen to my guy, holding on so tightly to something that may not be there forever.

My guy is afraid of losing me. Everyday. I wasn’t even noticing his deep fears. He says that even when we are home together, I go away. I am often absent from him. I hide on my computer. He is right. I do. This isn’t helpful to our relationship. After some reflection I’ve decided to try to not be afraid to live a normal life with my partner. To hold his hands the same way he held and continues to hold mine.

Do you currently have a caregiver? What things have you done to support your caregiver?

Posted in Coping after cancer, Reflections, Support | Tagged , | 34 Comments

The importance of getting a second opinion and my desire to “grow some balls”

second_opinion_shutterstock_153048527A while back I wrote about an experience I had at MSKCC where I had a mouse moment with my GYN — feeling like I was being picked for research purposes. I was due to get my pap smear and to my surprise the GYN stated she was not going to perform one because they were no longer doing yearly pap exams. They are now doing these tests every 2-3 years—and I have learned from friends that my hospital is not the only one doing this.

When did they change the protocol for these pap tests? Here’s one article related to this subject.

Apparently a lot of the cases of cervical cancers are linked to the virus HPV, and because I had tested negative for HPV, my GYN at MSKCC did not feel the need to repeat another pap test even though, technically, I was due for one. But HPV is not the only cause for cervical cancer, so why the drastic change? This change may be related to insurance companies wanting to cut down on costs while risking the lives of some women.

I decided to go back to my regular GYN — outside of MKSCC — and explained the situation. She decided to do the pap test for me because she thought it was important to continue to do them every year, even if insurers are trying to cut down on cost, which could be the real reason the protocol may be changing.

The test happened last month. I received my results this week (right after I had a breast biopsy (skin) to rule out any malignancies – another second opinion). My GYN sat me down in an examination room and explained that they had found abnormal cells in my cervix (I hope this is not related to Tamoxifen). The report stated: Atypical Squamous Cells, cannot exclude high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion/HSIL (ASC-H). I need a colposcopy to rule out cervical cancer.

I have a lot of worries with this possible new development. I am thinking about facing another cancer, the possibility of losing my uterus — which would be the safest thing to do if it turns out there is cancer, but then I won’t be able to carry a child. How am I going to react during this procedure – will it be too painful? As some of you may already know, GYN-related stuff freaks me out so much. I am scared.

The way I think about it, my original breast cancer hurt my intimacy. This intense gyno stuff hurts because it exposes my intimacy in other ways. It really affects me mentally and emotionally. I also can’t help think about my grandma who died from ovarian cancer – not cervical but there’s still a connection. This is all very overwhelming for me. So overwhelming that I haven’t thought about my breast skin biopsy once. I worry about the possibility of dealing with a new cancer.

With all my worry, though, I have also been thinking that it’s time to grow some balls. I am always scared of exams. I shake and sometimes throw up in the examination room. And I think, seriously, if I want to have a child, I need to find a way to be tough and cope with pain and accept the reality of being a woman.

But also, literally speaking, I really wish I had some balls. More than ever, I wish I were a guy and not a girl. We women go through so many headaches health-wise, starting at a much younger age than men, and it is all scary and tiring.

But regarding these pap tests, what’s going on with the medical system these days? If the protocol for these pap tests has changed there will probably be a rise of cervical cancer cases. That would be unfortunate considering these pap tests have been helping us prevent that.

And, what if this turns out to be a secondary cancer for me? What would have happened to me if I had waited another year or two for the pap test because insurance companies decided to cut down on cost? Doctors want to get paid – they deserve to get paid. But it makes me sad that at the end of the day money is a lot more important than saving the lives of some women. It is so unfortunate that we have to adjust according to what these insurance companies find beneficial for themselves.

Have you had an abnormal pap test? Did you have a colposcopy? Please email me at thesmallc@yahoo.com if you would like to keep your responses private. I would like to hear from you.

 

Posted in Fertility | 22 Comments

15 Random Facts About Me

Nancy Stordahl just shared her 15 random facts about herself and challenged her readers to do the same. I enjoy a good challenge so I decided to join in. Plus this should switch things up a little bit. After all, cancer is just one event in my life and it doesn’t define who I am.

So here are 15 random facts about me:

DSC_0691

Bigwig

1. My fiancé got me an animation cel of Bigwig from the movie version of the novel, “Watership Down.” Bigwig, who was the toughest rabbit of all, is my inspiration in life. I look up at him on my wall, every time I feel like giving up.
2. I am scared of coming down escalators and steps. I imagine myself falling into the abyss.
3. I am fascinated by dreams, and treat them as if they have real meaning. I even yell at my guy for things he does in my dreams.
4. I was raised on an island…and I can’t swim.
5. I want to produce animated films based on my own fiction stories. I sometimes act them out when I am alone at home.
6.  Arrogance is my least acceptable attribute in people.
7. I want a pet rat and to name him Templeton.
8. I love cartoons and still watch Looney Tunes. My favorite cartoon character is Sylvester. My least favorite character is Tweety.
9. I met my dad for the first time when I was 26.
10. I dislike drinking cold water. I only tolerate room-temperature water.
11. I am shy, but I am not shy about confronting the inconsiderate people who smoke in the hallways of my apartment building.
12. I don’t want to live in NY anymore. I want to live on a farm, far away from the city, and have a lot of animals—especially goats.
13. I fear vomiting more than just about anything. This was the #1 thing I was afraid of during chemo. I lost 30 pounds during chemo because I hardly ate. My mother told me I was going to disappear and I told her that sounded better than throwing up.
14. GYN-related stuff creeps me out. A lot! I fear ovarian cancer the most because my mama died from it.
15. My inner child never died. I just hide her to protect her.

IMG_1696

Marionette

What the heck! I’ll include 3 more:

  1. I collect all kinds of dolls. I love the hand-carved marionette I found in a flea market last year.
  2. Any time I eat finger food— french-fries, chips, toast—I never eat the part that touches my fingers. I leave the french-fry crumbs, toast crumbs, etc., in a pile on the table, even at restaurants.
  3. I love ambient music. I am obsessed with the video from the track “Breathturn” by Hammock. It reminds me of my childhood so much, and I use it as inspiration when I write stories about by childhood. And because of my obsession, I am playing it again, here:

Marionette asks: Please share some things about yourself in the comments. I would like to learn more about you.

 

Posted in Reflections | 32 Comments

“Culturally Disturbed”

punsihedEver wonder why some people don’t like to talk about their cancer? I was one of these people, at least at the beginning. Many patients don’t want anyone to know except for maybe those closer to them.

You see a lot of this attitude in the Dominican Republic where I grew up, and where Catholicism is the main religion, and the idea of “punishment” for your “sins” is part of our upbringing. For example, just the other day a family member in DR told me that a friend there had died from cancer, and no one had any idea she had it.

Unfortunately one of the reasons some people keep their cancer to themselves is because, in some cultures, it is perceived as a punishment. Because cancer patients are afraid of been judged, they don’t reach out to many people for support.

Imagine how lonely it must feel when you are surrounded by people who view you as a sinner who deserves cancer. Not everyone feels this way of course, and I don’t want to beat up the DR. It’s not the only country where SOME people share this belief. Here in the US, some people feel the same way too although I haven’t encountered as many.

When this idea turns cultural, how can we change that culture, and how long would it take? There are so many elements that make up a culture: religion, social habits, patterns of behaviors, education, family attitudes, communication styles, etc.

When we introduce such ideas in a society, patients start blaming themselves for getting cancer, making their experience more unbearable. I’ve even had moments of feeling guilty about my own cancer, thinking that maybe I was being punished, although I never view other people’s cancers as being a punishment. This feeling of feeling guilty didn’t last long because it was unfair and unkind to myself to feel this way. It would have made my recovery process a lot more difficult. This behavior would also suggest that those who don’t get cancer, or any other illness — the non-sinners — have control over me.

This idea of being punished is introduced from a very young age. As a kid, I used to climb trees, and once I fell. The first thing I heard from my grandparents was, “que bueno! That way you learn your lesson to stop climbing.” My grandparents were wonderful parents to me but this is the culture we have in the DR, like in many other places. We are taught about punishment and often feel the need to judge others (because this is a lot easier than blaming ourselves). So anything that hurts a person at a mental or physical level may be considered a punishment caused by a bad behavior. This idea has always bothered me, especially because I have a family history of cancers and it has made me feel isolated at times — maybe more from people in the DR than in the US.

I have been approached by people who have insinuated that there is some kind of karma situation impacting my family. That we should ask God for forgiveness. I even had a family member tell me that she is trying to find out what our ancestors did to deserve our family’s punishment of cancer. She is looking for answers for something no one has control over and no one really understands. I’ve also been counseled to forgive (this is a challenge for me I admit) and to choose a church I can commit to going to, or else my soul will not be saved from this cancer.

An old friend, also from the DR, once texted me after finding out about my cancer and said, “don’t worry my friend. You will have good karma soon.” So I must have been quite the bitch in my past life. But at least other people were slightly kinder to me. They blamed my parents. Someone was praying for me and suggested that because I was born out of wedlock, it wasn’t really my fault— I was automatically “a sin” and this could have attracted all kinds of punishments from hell. Because we all know cancer comes from hell. Was I a child from hell too? This brings back “sweet memories” from Catholic school.

Another instance that really bothered me was the time I came across a cancer patient online who was beating himself up about why he got his cancer – interesting that he was originally from the island too. He wrote, “I deserved to get cancer because I was unkind to women.” The fact that he was a jackass toward women has nothing to do with his cancer. Not only is he telling the world that he deserved his cancer but he is insinuating that every person who gets it is paying for something they did (or did not do). Is it his fault to think that way though? I blame the culture.

It especially hurts me when people blame my loved ones for their cancers. My aunt, who was diagnosed with leukemia a year and half ago, who by the way was a Christian worship leader in her DR church, and a wonderful mother and aunt, was even criticized about her cancer. I got into an argument with someone on the train who thought that, because I was “done with cancer,” I was not going to take his comment as offensive. He said that God put my aunt in that situation so she can straighten her life. I said, “Are you suggesting I deserved my cancer too?!” He right away tried to fix it by stating my case was “different.” God was testing my faith. I thought to myself, “yea right!!” then proceeded to defend my aunt. How unfortunate and unkind.

And what about children who get cancer? What are these children paying for, exactly? How inhuman can you be to blame these children, or their parents, for the child’s disease? What about the trees whose only job is to stand and provide beauty and life to our planet? How about the animals who get cancer? Two of my pets died from cancer and all they ever did was love me unconditionally and bring me happiness.

Why do people feel the need to judge all the time and to assign blame?

It is so sad that there are such “culturally disturbed” people out there, to the point of having the sick people feel horribly guilty about something they simply had no control over. This is NOT helpful in any way. It makes the patient feel awfully sad, hopeless and alone. But it also says a lot about those people who believe in such ideas. They are in complete denial. Do they think they are immortal?

Do these culturally disturbed people realize they will face mortality one day too? I wonder what their sin will have been? Maybe arrogance. Or lack of empathy. Probably mostly ignorance.

Cancer is no punishment to anyone. It is a sad reminder that we are not eternal in life. We will all die one day; some will go earlier than others. There is no way of us knowing how. Sometimes there are no answers. Sometimes there is just luck and no luck. Please be kind to those in pain. If you are one of the “culturally disturbed people,” just keep things to yourself. Think of others more, and less about yourself. No need to share your beliefs with the sick people or their family.

Keep in mind that one day, the cancer patient may be you. I only hope you don’t blame yourself.

Posted in Awareness, Coping after cancer, Support | Tagged , | 20 Comments

In loving memory of my pet Layla

layla kiss

“How can the light that burned so brightly suddenly burn so pale?”

After being diagnosed with breast cancer, I participated in a medical study about “finding meaning.” One of the concerns is that there is a high instance of depression among cancer patients. Psychologists at Sloan wanted to learn more about ways patients were able to cope with cancer through finding meaning or creating meaning in their lives — creating reasons to want to exist.

There were several 2-hour sessions where each patient was asked multiple questions. One of the questions was, “what gives your life meaning and how does it help you cope with your illness?” The answer came naturally to me; I said “my pets,” and among them was Layla. Layla gave me reasons to want to exist. I am not saying my pets were the only reasons, but they were a very important one.

I am not going to go into details about the difficulties I’ve faced in my life or my lack of support. Honestly, that topic deserves a blog of its own. What I want to talk about is how my sweet Layla helped fill that empty space in my heart and in my life.

Layla was the last of my three guinea pigs. She outlived the others by over a year. What makes losing Layla so difficult for me is that she was always there for me no matter how dark my world seemed to be at times. She was a representation of home in my life. She never made me feel like I was alone. Layla was my confidant and made me feel like I had a family. I even saw her as my baby.

Layla passed on June 18th at 6:37 AM in my arms at home. It was very difficult to see even when her vet told me there was no treatment for her condition (musculoskeletal degenerative disease due to her old age). Can we really prepare ourselves for losing someone special to us even when we know there isn’t much time left? I know I can’t.

I have celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas with my pets — just us. I remember one holiday I prepared a plate of different veggies for Layla and sat her next to me while I was having my dinner, alone. I had my pet companions and felt loved. That year, I mostly celebrated having them around. I felt grateful I wasn’t completely alone.

It didn’t matter what I was facing in my life, I always knew Layla was there to remind me that there were reasons to smile and to keep going. Her gentle and undemanding character allowed me to give in and just be myself, a risk I am often skeptical of taking with people. You know how sometimes we’re too careful to love because we fear getting hurt or being rejected? I never felt this way with Layla or any of my other pets. What you saw is what you got with Layla. There was no agenda and her love was unconditional. Yes, guinea pigs do love. Layla actually liked to cuddle with me and often fell asleep in my arms, especially after she got older.

Layla was not my only support but was part of my home. I can’t remove her cage or any of her belongings from my room. It is hard for me because in a way I want to continue to imagine she is still here. I was lucky she lived with me for this long, but at the same time, the long time I spent with her makes my grief more difficult because I got so used to having her around. Is there a perfect way to grieve? It is difficult for me.

I understand nothing is eternal in life. I tried hard to extend Layla’s life as long as nature would allow me to with the help of her vets at the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine (Dr. Pilny being her primary vet). That’s what I need to keep reminding myself. I tried preparing myself for her death because I knew she didn’t have that much longer. Guinea pigs rarely make it to 8 years and Layla exceeded those years.

I continue to tell myself this is it for me. I cannot have more pets (I still have my cat Nelly). It hurts too much to lose them. This is the burden I have to deal with as a loving pet mom. But even though it hurts, I realize I wouldn’t change a thing! I would rather have loved Layla and suffer through her loss than not to have loved her at all. This is the price I have to pay for loving her so much. When I commit to an animal I invest everything in them, including my heart because they are so worth the investment.

There are still reasons for me to smile. My memories with Layla will always remain. These memories are proof that it is possible to feel happy and hold on to love when so many other things are missing and when life seems so dark sometimes. Layla was one of my lights during my difficulties.

I want to thank Layla for all the time and love she gave me. She was a very special and pure piggy. I loved her to pieces. I hope to see you at the Rainbow Bridge, Layla. Meanwhile, eat all the fruit and veggies you desire.

This song is for my sweet Layla, “Bright Eyes” by Art Garfunkel:

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