This journey is not the road trip that I planned nor did I intend to take. This road trip began with a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer in July, 2014. I took off in a valley of tears. So many in fact that I substituted the kleenex for a small green towel as my “crying towel.” There were tears when I first received the diagnosis and also others such as diabetes, thyroid nodules, and a goiter. While on this trip, I cried most of all seeing a dentist due to my extreme fear. This seemed more fearful than mu chemo treatments.
After the tears subsided, out came a map, my health care plan that my journey was going to take. The side trips to my best health care team, including a mammogram, biopsies, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery in that order. These trips were overwhelming and emotional at times with some bumps in the road.
Now it was time to proceed with caution entering the road to chemotherapy. This was the time to drive with precise attention with no distractions except for small, fun side trips between treatments … a few overnight stays in the area instead of a week vacation that year.
I started my chemotherapy with a companion on the journey. My sister, Linda traveled along for the entire trip. She provided me with snacks of support of both emotional and spiritual support as well as encouragement and humor.
My first chemo treatment I experienced a panic attack. I never had one before. All of a sudden I was up out of the chair for ne reason saying, “I can’t do this.” A very compassionate nurse settled me in the chair and I continues treatment peacefully.
On the road to comfort came prayer, the prayer of others as well as my own helped me greatly along my journey. Reflecting on the Scriptures and journaling helped me to express my fears as well as gratitude to God for assistance through to the light at the end of the tunnel.
One bump in the road I experienced was the loss of my hair which was traumatic for me. I went directly to the wig salon with my sister. I became more of a blonde that the brunette I was. I wore it home to the convent where my sisters in community thought it was my own hair. I was beautiful once more.
On the route to radiation I encountered a few hazardous conditions such as sunburn, dry skin, and fatigue. Topical cream and rest became my traveling companions. I also needed treatment for my thyroid and goiter after their removal. The custom-made mask was frightening and when they placed it on me I began to cry. I realized I was unable to dry them and prayed for the courage to get this treatment. I did and the ones that followed were much easier to get through. I was even able to remove my wig without embarrassment in front of the technicians.
Humor can be an important tool in dealing with cancer. Smiles, jokes, and laughter help to relieve stress and keep a positive attitude. I laughed at myself when I noticed my lack of eyebrows and eyelashes for the first time. I was standing in front of a rather large mirror in the changing room in the radiation clinic.
Along the hills and valleys on my journey with cancer, I am now on the home stretch, not necessarily cured but am now a stage four with N.E.D. (no evidence of disease) or N.E.A.T. (no evidence of active tumor). I like being neat! Healing from metastatic breast cancer is a long road since I continue to be monitored with doctor visits, mammograms, scans, and blood work. Each day I put on my seat belt of joy and drive with a positive, joyful, and hopeful attitude as I live my life to the fullest.
Sister Mary Zaenglein, O.S.F.