In writing the first two post of this series I spent some time reviewing previous journal entries and updates I had shared during that period of my life. It became clear to me then that the experience of chemo had been transformative. The woman that went through chemo is quite foreign to me. I have learned so many lessons since then. I can see the woman who suppressed her emotions and while she showed joy with her fake smile, she felt little joy inside. In truth, I was being traumatized. Each treatment was another trauma I allowed to be inflicted on me.
It isn’t like this for everyone. People can go through chemo with little to no side effects. Chemo provides us with great examples of the placebo effect at work. Some people actually exhibit side effects before having their first treatment. Doctors will downplay side effects in the hopes that patients won’t even be aware of possible symptoms. I find it very interesting that if you offer a patient complementary “alternative” therapies and have them harness the power of their mind they can experience chemo with little harmful effect. Even more survival rates are lengthened, and others are healed. I didn’t know any of this during my first experience with cancer. It wasn’t in the brochures I received.
At one point they substituted my chemo drugs without consulting me. I overheard them discussing it and when I questioned what was being done to me I was greeted with annoyance. It was one of my early experiences of “don’t questions us”. I’ve come to understand that their attitude is largely because of us as a society. Most of us are fine with this type of healing where we do as told, with very few questions. Many of our healers are responding to our attitude of disinterest. Our healthcare providers are being conditioned not only by the healthcare system, but also our very acceptance, our lack interest in our own well-being. I didn’t know it then, but I would slowly come to learn this lesson.
Back then I was still “toeing the line”. I hadn’t realized I hit my self-destruct button. I didn’t know that I had a self-destruct button. I was ignorant of many things. If I could tell that woman anything it would be to start listening to herself. To stop and start researching. I had survived with this cancer for over two years. Waiting three months to process this news, for the shock to dissipate some, and carefully look at my options – that was an option. None of my healthcare team or any of the people I was close to would ever suggest this. I was in shock and so was my family. Not only that, but normal behavior has us following doctor’s orders, even to our death. Still if I knew even a fraction of what I found out later, I could have lessened the trauma of chemo, and surgeries, and radiation, and even long-term pharmaceutical use.
Question everything and start researching. Start down the google rabbit hole. I don’t care if there is a stigma with learning about your affliction. You need to be prepared when doing this. When I first started down this path despair would often accompany me. Sometimes the information you find can be disheartening. Keep going. I started looking into healing. If you google cancer you’ll get all sorts of information, instead google healing cancer (or whatever your affliction). When you get overwhelmed, stop. Walk away. It will be waiting for you later. If it becomes too much ask others to help you. I had a wonderful friend during one period of turbulence and the research he did for me was invaluable. People want to help, you just need to ask and be willing to accept it.
As I walked down many corridors in our healthcare system, each left me more disturbed than the last. Few of my encounters were healing. Most left me feeling scared and helpless. I would speak to my doctors about a side effect and I would be told that it wasn’t the chemo, or I just needed to manage the issue as well as I could. Chemo brain hadn’t been acknowledged by the cancer community yet, at least not to the patients. When I complained of it I was met with a blank stare from my doctor. It wasn’t until a year after I had finished chemo that it became a nightly news story and I felt some validation.
Chemo treatments were the beginning of my loss of trust in the healthcare system. That is what I see now when I look back at that period of my life. Chemo was the beginning of me waking up and taking responsibility for my actions, my decisions, and my health. I am no longer that woman, I am someone much stronger.
Are all our lives filled with wake calls that we either heed or don’t? How many wake up calls do you ignore before you lose your right to life? My journey through chemo was a wake up call. Little did I know years later it would empower me to choose another path. One that has led to hope, excitement, and love.