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Recharging My Batteries

In June of 1985, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had surgery, including reconstructive surgery, chemotherapy, and a short tamoxifen treatment. At that point, I was not worried. I knew the surgery had been done soon enough, and I was convinced that I was cured.

However, in October of 1989, I was diagnosed with a recurrence in the ovaries. When giving me the news, the oncologist told me, "This is incurable." Thank God, I have strong spiritual beliefs. Otherwise, I could have given up right then and there. I firmly believe that God is my creator, and He knows how to heal me. To Him, all things are possible.

Again I received chemotherapy treatments and then hormone treatments, to no avail. I was going from bad to worse. The sterile atmosphere of the doctor's office added to my misery. At one point I was almost suicidal, and I requested a friend to come and live with me.

By the summer of 1991, my abdomen had swollen to the point where I looked like I was ready to give birth. I was in pain. I contacted an acupuncturist to help me with the pain and confided to him that I had had doubts all along about the treatment I was receiving. He reminded me that I should always trust my instincts and prompted me to obtain a second opinion. He asked his other patients for recommendations for an oncologist.

The physician he found for me reacted so fast that, now seven years later when I think about it, my head still spins. The new oncologist referred me to a gynecologic oncology surgeon, and I am sure that these two doctors saved my life. Their words of support before the surgery meant a great deal to me and sustained me through the entire ordeal. After recovering from surgery, I underwent a long course of chemotherapy.

I can't stress enough how important it, is to trust and like your doctor. The oncologist I found by way of my acupuncturist has an office with a warm family atmosphere. Everyone there is helpful, friendly, and cheerful. After chemotherapy treatments, his wife always checks with the patients to see how they are doing. I find this very reassuring. I also feel completely free to speak my mind and ask questions, knowing that I will always get a straight and honest answer. At various times when I was very disheartened, the doctor's wife comforted me and took the time to counsel me. All this is invaluable support for someone living alone facing a serious illness.

After eleven surgeries and more chemotherapy here and there, I am currently working full-time for a large law firm in San Francisco. I work long hours, but only three days. It is a great schedule that enables me to receive any treatment I need and still be productive. On my days off, I can watch my food intake, concentrating on eating organic vegetables, fruit, and meat and milk that are free of hormones. I also have time to exercise. I find exercise very relaxing not only for the body but for the mind as well.

I enjoy the company of my coworkers, who are an integral part of my support group. I really feel that being able to continue working has contributed to my coping with the illness.

I live alone, and yet I have a wonderful support group: friends, coworkers, my physician, his wife, and their staff. Faith in God has also helped me a great deal along the way.

Throughout these twelve years of fighting cancer, there has been plenty of depression, and at times a very strong urge to give up, refuse treatment, and just let go. But somehow, at these moments, there always has been a dear one near to remind me that I have a lot to live for -- all the people I love, and all the many things there are to still discover, all the places to visit, and all the new skills to acquire.

I have made a Dreams Envelope for myself, consisting mostly of lists: people I cherish, countries to travel to, and numerous personal projects. When I feel the urge to stop fighting and give up, I go through my Dreams Envelope lists. It never fails to bring back my will to live. There is still a lot for me to enjoy and discover. It is not time to go yet.

As to how I recharge my batteries when the going gets rough, it is somewhat varied.

I enjoy reading very much. A spiritually oriented book or one of the cancer-survivor stories I have collected over the years always picks me up.

Beauty in the arts is an important healer for me. I have taped a number of ballets, operas, and concerts. I have wonderful books of painting reproductions, and I attend performances and exhibitions as often as I can afford it.

Nature is also a favorite. Walking in the park or on the seashore energizes me. Watching a funny movie with a friend is therapeutic.

Another thing I find very soothing is to enjoy complete silence in my apartment for a whole day -- no music, no telephone, no television. Just light food, a lot of water, and reading a favorite book. It's almost like a retreat, and afterwards I always feel renewed and ready to pick up. It is like giving my mind a shower!

In a way this illness has had a liberating effect on me. It has forced me to reevaluate my priorities. I avoid negative people. I fret less over small annoyances, and I am learning to take care of myself. I no longer place the needs of others ahead of my own needs. I am also training myself to enjoy each day thoroughly and be thankful for it.

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First appeared May 8, 2008; updated June 12.2009