Actually, question all you like. There are some things that we all sort of universally want to know about living with cancer. It’s a collective nightmare scenario, really. So I asked friends on Facebook if anyone had anything specific they wanted to know.
One set of questions (hey, Jon!) centers around whether there are foods and lifestyle choices that may have increased or decreased my cancer risk and what lifestyle changes I’ve made since diagnosis. Well, there’s good news, bad news, and a bit of human psychology that will make my non-answer a bit less dumb.
First, the science. There is evidence that both points to certain lifestyle choices (diet, exercise, and alcohol intake among the top factors) contributing to higher incidences of cancer and also playing no part. There are as many very healthy women who develop cancer as those who make more questionable choices. Is it possible that I contributed to my own cancer? Of course! But It’s not like I was bathing in vats of carcinogens, either. So, you can do all the right things and possibly reduce some of your risk (for shits & giggles I’m making up a number for the sake of clarity) maybe from 1 in 100 to 1 in 1,000. That’s still a pretty high risk. And from what I’ve read, the average woman in the US now has approximately a 1 in 3 chance of a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lives. That’s a lot of otherwise healthy women getting cancer along with the rest of us.
As for what I have changed, ooh. Mixed bag. First, let’s be realistic. My husband is a good guy, but he admittedly eats more like a toddler than a grown-up. And we have 5 kids. Every time I’ve tried to overhaul our meals, even gradually, I am met with a mile high wall of impenetrable resistance. It sucks. Usually, I’ve given up after a few weeks. It made my natural tendencies to go through cycles of “better” and “worse” eating much worse, lead to significant weight gain and loss cycles, and all of the negative emotions involved. Right now, in addition to being almost completely sedentary since my mastectomy, I have over indulged considerably. So I’ve gained, which is associated with poorer treatment outcomes. It’s very circular. Anyway, I’m trying to eat mostly plant-based most of the time. My goal is 80% of the time. It’s a long-term project that I have to actively work at every day.
I have a history of shooting myself in the foot with things that I want, though. I tend to psych myself out. So there’s that.
Ok! Next question! What items helped or have I found to be the most useful?
Oh! Love this! First, let’s reiterate that I don’t use words like blessed often. I can go years without using that term, in fact. But the one thing that is true about this entire experience is that my friends and family have rallied around me, and I am #Blessed with their love and care. I’ve been sent some care packages and to be really honest, they made me cry each time. The best thing about a care package is that someone took the time and energy to send something, even if it’s a month old magazine, to remind you that you’re loved.
Some of my favorite things have come from those care packages, things that help tremendously. Here are things that I was surprised by because I either use ALL THE TIME or they are part of my chemo bag, or that help in some indefinable way:
CG attached inspirational notes to several items, like a jar of glass beads to visualize counting down to the end of chemo. They really spoke to me and her optimism is infectious.
Mints. All the mints. My mouth tastes weird.
Fleece and knit wraps and blankets. Lightweight and easy to throw over the shoulders or the legs during treatment, I always take 2.
A Bag! Yes, a bag that is dedicated to the stuff you’ll bring to medical appointments.
Coloring books, magazines, puzzles, things that will keep your mind busy but that if you lose focus you won’t get frustrated at.
A few types of head gear. I love my wigs, but have a favorite knit beanie (that was donated) that I wear at home almost every day as well as a couple of favorite handkerchiefs and wraps to keep it fresh.
A really long charger cable for the phone, because you can’t always sit near an outlet, and when you’re sick with anything there is a lot of waiting, so you want a charged phone.
Cups and insulated bottles that are hot & cold safe. Sometimes you need an icy drink, sometimes hot tea.
Slipper socks. Soft, comfy, fluffy socks. You tell me the last time something soft on your feet didn’t make you happy.
Lotion that isn’t heavily scented because sometimes smells are overwhelming.
My very favorite thing is time. The time that others spend with me in one way or another. Time is the best. A quick message is the best gift. There are other little things that I love, that make me happy, but the real deal is just letting someone know that you care, that it’s Tuesday, whatever. A simple Hi at the right moment can make my day. To CG, MFN, LDM, LTR, my Gamma Phi’s, AD, CC, AWP, CRR, KR, MS, JSB, & everyone who has had a little something to pass on, bought a lunch and shared laughs, or who has dropped by, dropped off, or chimed in, thank you! It shows my kids what friendship really is, the ways people have stepped in to help, and what that really means. If I flaked on a shout-out, don’t be irritated, I’m having a hard time keeping my head together tonight. I’ve found each thing that I was lucky enough to be gifted to be a joy, though. I’ve really appreciated each item.
Third line of questioning, something that really hits home for anyone with a health condition or chronic illness, but seems to be especially bad with breast cancer, is
DUMB THINGS PEOPLE SAY. And do. But mostly say.
95.87% of the time when someone says something boneheaded or asinine, it’s pure ignorance mixed with really good intentions and a dash of too much tv (screw you, Sex & The City & Parenthood for using breast cancer as a storyline). It really tends to be very well-meaning, but gets under the skin pretty damn fast. the remaining 4.13% of the time it’s because the person is an actual asshole. True story. So here are some things to remember when someone gets sick (some of this is breast-specific.):
It’s all part of God’s plan.-If you say this, you’re a jerk. You’ve literally just told someone that God wants them dead. Find a better platitude.
Oh! you get free new boobs!– It isn’t the same. Not even close. THIS ISN’T A BOOB JOB. If you think it’s an opportunity to get free boobs, go away.
Well, when my mom/friend/aunt/fictional character had cancer…-First, thank you for sharing, second each person’s experience is unique. Literally. No body, no physiology, no treatment plan, no diet, no recovery is the same. Too! Many! Variables! Please don’t assume you get to be an expert on the health of any other human besides yourself and those who live in your home. I know it sounds crazy, and I know you want to help, but insisting that you know better than the person going through it isn’t ok.
How did you catch it? -Previously touched on, but basically if you are alive, something can go wrong with the billions of cells in your body for a million reasons. It happens. And for some people, it causes a lot of stress to relive their diagnosis over and over in casual conversation. (Not me, obvs) It’s normal to want all the details of shocking news, but not everyone is comfortable sharing. Also, it’s not really anyone’s business if you have a genetic mutation, or if you like to bath in a vat of nuclear waste. Not your beeswax.
On a side note, one of the things I hate the most about my cancer is that it is *always* assumed to be breast before anything else. I hate that! It would have suited my personality far better to have had something people haven’t really heard of, something off the beaten path. Next time I’ll choose a cooler cancer.
And finally, for CM, honey I haven’t the slightest how that wasp got in your pants but I’d LOVE to hear the story!