There’s something magical in numbers. When we we do something in a quantity, massively, consistently, patterns emerge. We start see more clearly in a very different way – in ways of patterns. Chaos subsides, patterns emerge. And with that, life shows its yet another side of beauty and complexity.
This is what happens when we read on the same topic and are exposed to a voluminous material of facts, cause-and-effect and many other interconnected stipulations and facts.
This month, we’ve got so many powerful stories from the women who were diagnosed with breast cancer and had to make their decisions on how to continue with life. Besides, all of them had to run their companies and lead the people in business decision-making. A powerful pattern emerges throughout these stories. Here’s the one from Julie Barthels.
Breast Cancer October Relay
Illuminate. Encourage. Shine!
Campaña de Concientización Contra el Cáncer de Mama.
Alienta. Incentiva. Brilla!
My story begins on a sunny July day, when I leapt out of bed to go to a staff retreat and felt a sharp pain in my right breast. I ignored that pain for two weeks, but within a month I learned the devastating news that I had HER2 positive breast cancer.
From my original diagnosis, I would have a radical mastectomy and one year of weekly chemotherapy. This would be followed by daily oral doses of Tamoxifen that I continue to take to this day. I would have blood transfusions, opportunistic infections, and numerous scans. It was one of the darkest times in my life and yet, it brought me some of my life’s greatest gifts.
Focus On Other People
At the time of my diagnosis, I was the Clinical Director at a rape crisis center, and I had my own private therapy practice. Many people encouraged me to close my practice and resign as Clinical Director, so I could rest. But deep inside, I knew that was not a good fit for me.
After all, I had been training for a triathlon before my diagnosis. I had the heart and mind of an athlete.
I also knew that I needed to balance out my life by focusing on other people’s needs and not ruminating about the cancer.
Sitting home thinking I might be dying would have been a disaster. It is not because I feared death, but that I loved life. Someday, that idea would become a book. But that is down the road.
Join In the Conversation of Breast Cancer Awareness
— Celebrate Woman (@DiscoverSelf) October 28, 2017
Do Inside Work
Fifty-two weekly chemo treatments made it easy for me to name that time, “The Year of the Inside Work.” That theme became how I dealt with all the physical losses of that time and refocused my energy on who I was as a person. Who was I emotionally and spiritually? Who was I as a partner, mother, therapist, and friend? Who did I want to be? It gave my year of chemotherapy a purpose, a way for me to find meaning in it.
It also gave me a way to cope with the darkest days, when my body and emotions felt battered by treatment. Those days when I could not get out of bed, I had a little stack of audio books from the library and I pushed a button and listened to books about mindfulness, spirituality, and healing. I also had some relaxation CD’s so that the sounds could lull me to sleep.
Working during treatment taught me how to let go. There were days I needed help from others and that was painful for me to admit to anyone, much less myself. Maintaining a business during treatment means figuring out what you can and cannot do and being willing to communicate that to others. It also means being flexible with your assessment about your abilities.
If you have a tougher week, it is good to ask for help and during weeks you are feeling stronger, give yourself permission to “Carry On!” You will have fluctuations in your energy and pain levels. Listen to your body. It will tell you what you need.
It is essential to keep your sense of humor. Laughter is healing (except maybe when you have drainage tubes hanging out of your chest). It allows us to connect to other people and to know that life goes on, even after a cancer diagnosis.
One day I was driving to the office and was overcome with a strong hot flash. I took off my hat to cool down and clearly forgot to replace it. When I pulled into a gas station to fill up, a woman was so startled by my appearance that she walked right into a pump. Her expression still makes me chuckle.
Follow Your Life’s Path – Be Flexible
Know that your life may change, but that does not have to be the end. I have never completed my triathlon, and biking is limited to about five miles. But the entire five miles, I have a cheesy smile on my face. I’ve grieved for who I was as an athlete. But now, I spend my time writing.
My first book is titled, I’d Rather Love Life Than Hate Cancer. It started as a love letter to my daughters, but morphed into a book available at a number of major books sellers. I also have a blog, where I talk about what it means to live with cancer.
I am committed to helping other breast cancer patients and writing has become my avenue to doing that. This shift from athlete to author has its own unique blessings. Be open to those shifts in your life.
Reach Out To Others
Last, but far from least, it is important to know you are not alone. Reach out to people within your health system and the online cancer community. Communicating with other people who understand can be invaluable. I found a therapist who specializes in treating cancer patients, and her support got me through some very tough times.
Cancer is a part of my life for the rest of my life. But it is not me. I’m still Julie. I still do therapy. I still garden. I still strive to make a difference in this world. I still love life.