It's been 3 months since my mom was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. It's crazy to think that it has been that long already. She just started chemo over 2 weeks ago and she is doing well so far and keeping a positive attitude, just experiencing the hard bits that we were expecting. I feel like I've finally gotten to calm place of dealing with it in the last few weeks. I guess you could say that my initial way of dealing with the facts at hand were by going a little extreme with my research on health and wellness. But thankfully, during the last 3 months, I have been very aware of how I was trying to cope and tried to remember to humor myself as I got a little OCD about things.
I know myself pretty well. I am my best when I am busy, and the healthiest way I have found for me when I am dealing with deep sadness or depression is to get into action by being productive in someway. I'd rather do that than sulk non-stop. I knew that when my mom told me that she had breast cancer that this would shake me up in a few ways. So I also knew I needed to find some sort of way of coping that would make me feel like I was doing something good with my heartache, even if it was anxiety driven. I think letting myself just experience mourning and worry in the ways I best understood how to was important. And I hope sharing my experiences might help other people who have, are currently, or will go through seeing one of their loved ones being diagnosed with cancer.
I cried. Of course I cried, because sometimes when you can't fully understand a situation the water works just come. It took me awhile because I was in combination shock of her diagnosis and expecting the impending passing of my grandfather at the same time. So it did take awhile for everything to hit me, but once my grandfather died and I had done all I could have done to prep for my trip to his funeral and to see my family, it all hit me really hard.
Coping for me found it's way through trying to learn more about my body and my health. I started going to yoga. I went back to my therapist for a few sessions. I decided to do the DNA test 23andme to learn more about my body and health on a genetic level. One week I went on a Netflix binge of watching tons of documentaries and movies about health, vegetarianism, veganism, how food is grown and processed, and more. I switched to using organic/natural deodorants. I impulsively bought 4 books about vegetarianism and about the food industry. Have I read more than 10 pages of each of them? Nope. But I just needed these actions to feel like I had some sort of control or connection to by body when I suddenly felt so disconnected from it.
When my mom was diagnosed, the hardest part for me was that I really see my body in hers. We have almost identical bodies in their bone structure, curves, our allergies and more. We both are, ahem, well endowed with a lot of boobage. And because with my mom's breast cancer it felt like her own body was attacking her, I suddenly felt for the first time that I couldn't trust my body, even though I've felt so in tune with my body the last few years. My anxiety over cancer and how it's like this thing within ourselves that just pops out and attacks us was really overwhelming for awhile. The only way I felt like I could handle the whole experience of trying to process all this was to get a little obsessive compulsive about trying to understand my own body and genetic traits. Now, three months later, I haven't learned that much about my own body and health, but I needed to go through these set actions that I had created as a map in my mind to come to a healthier mind space. And I think that that obsessive way of thinking is something a lot of people can click into with trying to cope with trauma.
Two months after my mom's diagnosis, I got my test results back from the 23andMe DNA test. Thankfully, I have never been freaked out by tests about health or genes and was more just incredibly fascinated and excited to discover things about my health & body that I didn't know before, things that had always been there. But a week before I got my 23andMe test back, my mom found out through the hospital's genetic testing that she is a carrier of the BRCA1 & BRCA2 genes that "belong to a class of genes known as tumor suppressors. Mutation of these genes has been linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer." as stated on the National Cancer Institute's site. Learn more about BRCA1 & BRCA2 on the National Cancer Institute's website. That was when I just really wanted to know if I was a carrier too. I've heard from lots of people that they would never want to know if they are carriers of things like this. But I'm the sort of person that would MUCH rather know so I can at least try to help my body out in whatever way I can and heal my mind from the worrying.
I got my 23andMe test back and it said that I did not have any of the common strains of BRCA1 or BRCA2. There were plenty of other fascinating things I learned about my genetic traits from the test but I'll talk about those another day. The fact that I don't have common strains of BRCA1 & BRCA2 didn't actually relieve me of tons of suppressed anxiety or anything because really, I still could have a less common strain. But just simply getting the test results back gave me a sense of peace, knowing and trusting that I had made effort in my own life to learn about my body in more depth. After excitedly obsessing over my test results for a day or two, all of my anxieties and obsessive feelings faded away.
In addition to sending my mom gifts and telling her I love her and care about her more than I did before she was diagnosed, I had also really needed to process my own relationship with my body in a deeper way. I needed to regain some sense of control, and for me that came in an expansion of knowledge. In all that I do, what brings me the greatest sense of peace is remembering that the more I learn, the more there is to learn. The more I understand, the more mystery there is in the world. And going through the obsessive and anxiety filled motions in February, March, and a little of April did help me get back to a healthier place.
I don't know if you can call coping in itself healthy. But it is something that most of us experience when we are amidst trauma or deep sadness. And hopefully, each of our ways of coping eventually come to an end in a way that puts us on a new healthy path of living and thinking. If you feel like you are just in a state of coping right now, try using a productive attitude and actions to push you along. I can't even express how PRO therapy I am. In the most traumatic times in my life and during the quiet times when past traumas started effecting my day to day in unhealthy ways, therapy was a huge sense of comfort, release and healing for me. You are not pathetic for seeking help and guidance. You are wise and strong for allowing someone outside of your experience to help you on your path. Allow yourself to morn, allow yourself time to cry, time to get a little obsessive like I did. But know there is a way to heal from every painful experience. And you have the right to pursue it.
My mom has her second chemo treatment this week. And she is going to a class about how to feel beautiful while experiencing the physical losses due to chemotherapy. She will get to play with some more of the goodies I sent to her in her chemo care package which she has really been enjoying. I am SO proud of her for her positive attitude and her trust in this all of this. And I KNOW that your thoughts, prayers, and kind words have mean't a LOT to her. One of my blog readers was sweet enough to send me a card to deliver to my momma. It made my mom feel so very special knowing that people all over the world are thinking of her.
So if you would like to send her a card, please feel free to send it to:
PO Box 31686
Seattle, WA 98103
Thank you everyone for your love over the last few months especially. And keep sending your warm and comforting thoughts our way as she keeps going to chemo over the next 3 months. Let's hope that chemo works it magic and gets that cancer into remission asap.