Translated letter from Maria Del Carmen Matos – My Sister and Proud Cancer Survivor. Original text in Spanish at http://sepaciente.blogspot.com/
Being patient, no matter under what conditions, is very important. Not only for what you will receive from others, but because your own recovery will depend on it. Some say it is easier said than done, but I experienced it and I’m living it in the flesh. I’ll tell you a little story, for those who do not know me.
Since 2001 I knew I had the possibility of having breast cancer. However, I put other things in top priority and it was not until 2005, when I felt a lump in my right breast, when I began to worry. Still, I put other things in higher priority and until the summer of 2006, when I began to undergo studies I realized the painful process of facing the steps involved to remove a breast cancer.
The word cancer gives you goose bumps, but thanks to God and scientific advances today, cancer is pretty much a condition like any other serious condition, one has to submit oneself to treatment and follow to the letter the instructions from your doctors. However, you must keep looking for current information about your condition, because there are many personal and individualized protocols and processes. Your personal treatment is established through the tumor pathology, that information will not be given to you until a few weeks after the tumor is removed or a biopsy is taken. Let’s take it in parts.
In the process I learned to be patient (I’ve always been in high revolt and willing to help others, now I had to reserve my energy for recovery); I learned to ask (if you do not speak, people can not help you as they will not read your mind); I learned to give thanks (something we very often forget); I learned to be grateful (no matter what you already have, it is a blessing because you’ve got it, you do not have to ask or search for it); I learned to share with others the knowledge I gained in the process (this is what lead me to write this letter); I learned to forgive, to tolerate, to endure, to be much more positive, to mourn or cry (whenever necessary) because it is not healthy to keep inside any feelings, and that does not help you improve your condition; I learned to say NO (you can’t always say yes to please others and compromise yourself, because your life depends on it. Despite appearances and what others could think, your are not being selfish for thinking of you at this time, we only need to know how to say a polite NO, and not offend those who are trying to give us a hand).
I underwent a partial mastectomy or lumpectomy, on December 6, 2006. In January 2007 I got a Med-Port for treatment, which began in February of that year. My first treatment step were 8 chemo’s of Adriamycin. My second stage were 35 radiation therapy sessions, then returned to chemo with Taxol for 12 treatments, and starting in early February 2008 received Herceptin every Tuesday for 52 weeks. Then continued with 5-6 years of Tamoxifen, a drug taken by mouth (thank God). This drug was then replaced with Adriamycin in March 2010. You may think, God, that is a heck of a process! And it is so, but if you take it one day at a time and do not focus on what still has to be done to be over, you realize what you’ve overcome. The first year since your diagnosis, it’s hard and tiring because you have to be constantly on doctors’ visits and tests. You might feel like your head is huge and perhaps explode with so much information and data you receive on each visit, but it is necessary.
You need to take control of the decisions made regarding your health and treatment, read, search the Internet, and do not stay with what doctors tell you. If you educate yourself you cannot ask what interests you, write down all your questions so that you can remember them when you see your doctor. These treatments are protocols that depend on the pathology of your tumor, but there are things that do not apply to your particular case and that you will not know if you do not read and educate yourself. It is important to take note of the drugs that are given to you. You should be aware of their administration (remember that we are human and can make mistakes), carry an organized file of your medical examinations, laboratory tests, invoices and/or receipts, requests copies of all documents that record your condition and request a copy of the pathology of the tumor. This is important because it will keep a complete record of your condition if you have to change doctors, and many doctors are going to be working with you at the same time and everyone needs that data to give you the best help available at the time.
Do not rely on the medical system. Take charge of the process. It may also be possible that you can be included in a study (or protocol) of a new medicine that applies to your condition and you do not have to pay for it. Be ready to provide all the information that you have at any time. You might see a new doctor with incomplete information.
Almost all health plans cover most of the treatment costs as cancer is treated as a catastrophic condition, yet, if your health plan does not cover most of the expenses, there are institutions that can help. Fear not about knocking on doors. All you need is a copy of your diagnosis and unpaid bills, they do not ask anything more.
On a personal level, rest, eat well, meditate, pray, take plenty of fluids. Take a notebook and write down how you feel each day, whether a single word or a full page, it helps getting rid of negative feelings and emotional burdens that do not help you improve. Listen to good music or as much as you like, read fun stuff, see funny movies, go to the movies or the theater (you might have to cover yourself with a mask to avoid infections. If there are too many people, sit in the back row or go to a place where there isn’t much public to avoid becoming infected with a cold or other illness. Anything you get could create complications).
Use gloves in the kitchen, patio or when cleaning, to prevent cuts and/or infections. If you have lymph nodes taken out (underarm, armpit), you should use compression arm sleeve and hand gloves to prevent stroke when traveling. Remember that your arms no longer have the same movement and blood flow as before.
This condition changes your life and that of your family, but everything is completely manageable. Do not get bogged down, take it easy, remember you’re not the first person who goes through it, nor will you be the last. Learn all you can, so you can help others, you will be amazed at the amount of people you know who have been there or are going to approach you because they are beginning to face the process. Unfortunately, the incidence of cancer has increased alarmingly and more and more young people are affected.
I hope I have been helpful, you know that everything is possible if you put all your will, faith and optimism into it. Remember, every situation we face in life is to give us a great opportunity to learn something that will be useful for us and for those around us. Do not miss the opportunity to learn because God does not give anyone a load one cannot carry. Be brave, take control of your life, accept and execute whatever you have to do for your own good. Usually, we can’t understand at first why things are the way they are. Do not look for a five-legged cat because you might never find it. Take time. There is nothing better than time to heal wounds and clear your mind. When you do not feel 100% of positivism, and face just a 50%, cry, scream, punch the pillow with your fists and then come afloat again. Try not to stay long in the 50%, and get out of the funk, because it will not help you in your recovery to stay there. Above all, remember that everything in life has an end. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing. So, dream with reaching the end of the process, with faith, and full of love and hope.
In 2010, I was hospitalized and had to repeatedly visit the ER because of the effects of drugs had affected my internal organs. THANK GOD, thanks to my wonderful family, my doctors and my friends, because alone it is more difficult to deal with this wonderful healing process. Even today (2012) I continue to struggle with the side effects of medications and an ocean of medications that, even if I wanted to, I cannot abandon. I take care of myself and yet once in a while I have to face scares, hospitalizations, biopsies and situations where even my doctors (which are many) do not get to determine what is going on with me. I’m used to be an experiment, to be rare, to be a machine and an instrument for medical studies or laboratories.
Those that do now know me might think I am just peachy, but only those closer to me and those with whom I have shared my condition remember that once you or loved ones are diagnosed with cancer, cancer will remain in your life forever. You get involved and your life changes. That is why it is preferable to see it as a condition and not a disease.