Too often I hear people saying that my generation takes things for granted, that we act entitled and expect more than we’ve earned from life. And like all youth before us, we believe ourselves invincible, unstoppable, immortal. And while logically, I know that this is not true, I am guilty of acting like I have an endless string of tomorrows, too.
I like hamburgers. A lot. I have a thing for classic American food, like fried chicken, milk shakes, and French fries. I love McDonalds. And I’ve been known to down four Red Bulls one right after the other and still yawn at the end of the night. I don’t sleep enough. I push my schedule to the limits, suffering small breakdowns, edging out relaxing activities, and parsing out tiny increments of time to family once a quarter.
What I’d been doing was waiting until tomorrow for well, everything. I’ll just have a hamburger today, tomorrow I’ll eat healthier. I’ll see my family next weekend, when work is less stressful. I’ll start leaving the office sooner after this quarter is over; I’ll take a do-nothing day sometime later, once my business is off and running.
We treat life like bottomless chips and salsa – there will always be more when we run out.
Somewhere around the time Date #4 and I were splitting up, I got some unexpected news from my doctor. I needed a biopsy. I’ve had two biopsies in the past and some minor surgery to catch some low-level growth on my cervix before it progressed. No big deal. So I had the biopsy and waited, rather impatiently, for the results over the long Thanksgiving weekend. [I'd like to note that Date #4 drove me to and from my appointment and took amazing care of me. He even baked cookies.]
My doctor’s office called and said the results were normal. No abnormal cell growth. But we want you to come in and talk to the doctor anyway. Sure, sure. Great. No worries. I hang up the phone.
Why does the doctor want to see me if everything is fine? My sister the nurse reassures me. “She probably just wants to talk to you about getting everything back to normal and keeping it that way,” she said.
Instead, my doctor tells me that the biopsy was normal. For my outer cervix. What that means is not that there are no problems – it means that they are deeper. In fact, the problem is so deep that the kind of biopsy required could compromise my ability to carry a pregnancy to term. [I assume by now I’ve lost most of my male readers.]
I had a decision to make. I could move forward with the more invasive biopsy, which will require hospitalization. Or, I could wait and see. Sometimes these things can go away on their own, my doctor tells me.
The bargain I strike goes something like this: I have three months to boost my immune system and then I have another test. In the meantime, I run the risk that the growth, which we know nothing about, is bigger or faster-growing than we think.
I’d like to say that things have changed in my life since that day. That I’ve learned the fine art of doing nothing, as one of my retired friends likes to say. That I’ve slowed down, eat healthy, exercise regularly, and am on the whole less stressed.
Pretty much the opposite is true.
I’ve read a lot about cancer and seen the effects of stress on family members and their health. I took a class in college all about how our minds and bodies are connected. I know that the more I believe I will be fine, the more likely I will be. But what a mind-screw.
What’s happened instead is that every time I realize how stressed out I am, I think, “Oh great. I just gave myself cancer.” And then I get more stressed out. Because what if I do want to have kids? What if the partner I haven’t even met yet wants kids? What if I freaking have cancer? And the lump in my throat grows.
Every one around me tells me it’s not a big deal; lots of women go through this. Yes, I know. But it’s not your ability to bear children, is it? I always think. It’s not you with the crap medical insurance in the hospital, is it?
And I stop and realize that none of this is helping. It’s actually making it worse.
Here’s what I should be doing, and my hope is that by putting it out here I can somehow make this next month go the way it needs to. Because in some sense, my life depends on the way I live.
Eating right – Cut out the crap. Insert the fresh. I prefer to eat six small meals throughout the day, and already have a meal plan for this. Guess what’s not on it? Fast food or junk food. It’s all about the many colors of veggies and fruits, with a healthy dose of lean proteins and whole grains. Bring it on.
No caffeine – I love my lattes. I was able to cut out caffeine for three weeks before I caved into Starbucks, aka the monkey on my back. It’s a comfort thing for me, and thus I won’t cut it out all together. Once a week shouldn’t hurt. But I’m glad to say I’m off my three-cup-a-day habit. I can honestly say I have more energy.
Lots of water – Water flushes the body out. By cutting out all other beverages, I realize how little water I would drink otherwise. I also firmly believe my mother’s gorgeous skin is due to her water addiction. It’s all that woman drinks and she’s got the skin of a 25-year-old.
Exercise – Up until the past two weeks, I had a rigorous exercise routine. Three 30-40 minute runs per week, a day of upper-body strength training, a day of lower body and a yoga/cross-training day. This was a good mix for me. The cardio helped my immune system, the strength training builds strong bones (which important for women since we’re prone to osteoporosis later in life – how many of us think of that every day?), and yoga or whatever other physical activity like fishing, kayaking or hiking allows me to be active in my life and enjoy it.
Vitamins – I’ve been taking pre-natal vitamins from the get-go. They boost your immune system like nobody’s business, plus they make your hair and nails grow super fast. It really makes you realize your body is a machine that works harder the more you take care of it. I’ve also been taking calcium (see osteoporosis comment above) and fish oil. I drink Echinacea tea once or twice a day. Hey, man, whatever you say might work, I’ll do it.
You’ve got to believe you’re going to be OK – This is what everyone tells me, including my doctor. I remember a study from that college course that showed that terminally-ill cancer patients had a higher s
urvival rate if they were in denial than those who accepted their impending death. See also: The Secret.
Keep stress levels low – I have no idea how to do this. I thought perhaps if I could keep my schedule clearer, I would have more downtime and feel less stressed. But that doesn’t seem to work for me. I love all of my activities and have yet to learn the art of saying no. It’s hard to turn down projects when you want to grow your own business, especially when the economy is the way it is and you work in a dying industry. A friend recently told me I needed to embrace this about myself, and that would be the key to unlocking my stress. I do try to have one night a week that is clear of any activity. I spend that evening relaxing with a book, enjoying the quiet. This is definitely my weakest area and I welcome all advice related to this.
Renew – My life coach gave me some tips on how to do this. One is laughter. So I try to be around funny people, laugh at everyone’s jokes, and watch funny movies. It does help. Another is sleep. I try to get 9 hours a night, 8 at a minimum. Being in nature is another, and Date #4 has been kind enough to let me visit his country place out in the Hill Country. It is super relaxing, and I love tromping through the woods with his dogs and lazily kayaking in the river. Anything spiritually-related is good, which I’ll talk about below. Finally, believe it or not, music can be an invigorating activity. I love Explosions in the Sky for inspiring and uplifting me.
Visualization – OK, this is kind of gross, but part of what I do every day is to spend time visualizing a healthy, pink cervix. I even looked up a picture (thanks, Google Images). It looks like a fluffy pink doughnut, basically. I say to myself, I have a healthy, pink cervix. And I imagine it. Weird, I know, but again – I’ll do whatever will work.
Faith works – Numerous studies have shown that people who have some kind of belief have higher rates of survival when facing illnesses. I’m not a religious person. To be honest, it just never worked for me. I do consider myself a relatively spiritual person, however. I believe in things like karma and hope reincarnation exists. I think that there’s a reason for things to happen, and I believe that things will turn out the way they’re supposed to. I also think that there is something bigger than binds us all. So, in some sense, I just try to trust that.
Prayer/meditation – In that same college course, I found out that people who had others praying for them generally survived also. I thought this was really interesting. There didn’t have to be a connection between the patient and the prayer-er. I like to think of it as “good vibes.” You’ve got all these good vibes coming in your direction – that’s gotta help, right? Spending quiet time in meditation and prayer also helps center an individual, quiets the mind, and can lower stress levels.
If you’re facing the same situation, I’m not sure what to tell you, except that you aren’t alone. Maybe that’s why I’m writing this. Because even though my friends and family are very supportive and kind, it’s an isolating thing. It makes you question your priorities, your lifestyle, your past decisions. It makes you realize that life is not bottomless, and that the things you feel entitled to, that you take for granted, may not be there in a month.
Photo: Courtesy JPhilipson via Flickr.