Mammogram is done. They want to do ultrasound now. I’m a little bit shaky. Am I scared? I can’t name my feeling but I’m very cold. They take everything away from me, my bag, my clothes, my shoes … but I hold on to my phone hard. The nurse asks if I want to put my phone inside my bag. “No! my husband is texting me.” She smiles.
A few minutes after the ultrasound, the nurse comes to the room and says the doctor wants to do a biopsy now! “Now?! Right now? But I need to tell my husband first.” He comforts me as usual.
I squeeze my phone as hard as I can. Biopsy is a painful procedure, but as long as they don’t take my phone away, I’m OK. I’m lying down on the bed and they push needles into my breast, I just squeeze my phone, as though it’s my husband’s hand. Oh! Sue Johnson is right! It works. I smile and I think about the “Soothing the Threatened Brain” video.
The nurse avoids eye contact with me. The doctor doesn’t seem happy, but my phone vibrates, it means he sent me another sweet message. I’m not alone!
After biopsy the nurse asks me to meet the doctor in the consultation room. I know what that means. I wonder how bad it is. I can’t walk, I feel my knees are like playdough. I don’t want to cry, I don’t want to faint, I need to be strong. I walk very slowly. I’m sitting in the consultation room and waiting for the doctor. How many people here heard that they only have one more year, six more months, three months? How about me? I am very busy. I don’t have time for cancer.
The doctor comes in. “I have good news and bad news… It’s cancer but it’s curable….” I don’t hear the rest.
I think about my boys, they are 19 and 14. How should I tell them? What will happen to them? It is curable, I am not dying, but will I traumatize them? I am a psychotherapist! I should know how to handle this situation. How about my clients? How will they handle it? My family, my friends? I hate this. I don’t want to bother anyone with this news? I won’t tell anyone…
I won’t tell anyone… I won’t tell anyone… every time I repeat it, I feel more and more power. I feel calm, I feel in control, I feel numb … no more fear, no more shame or even sadness. This is a secret between me and my family. Everything seems fine. All emotions are gone. I leave the hospital feeling strong, powerful!
I keep the secret for two weeks. Even my mom doesn’t know. My husband is my rock, my boys are strong and happy. Everything is OK. I just don’t understand why I am angry all the time. That’s the only feeling that I have now.
I have a dream. I am in the middle of a war, I am scared, I can’t move. I see people but nobody can see me. I try to shout but I cannot, nobody hears me. I wake up sobbing. Oh my god! What am I doing to myself? Am I scared of my emotions? I am trying to hide them, numb them. By keeping a secret, I am protecting myself from being emotional. Now all my emotions are turning to anger, because I can’t deal with them.
Human connection has been the biggest value in my life. Why do I isolate myself? Cancer can knock my body down, but not my soul. I won’t let cancer make my life miserable. I’ll make the best of this experience. I am going to talk about it, write about it. Laugh at it! I’ll use my cancer for a deeper connection with my family and friends. I decide to share.
As soon as I let my friends and family know, I am surrounded with love, flowers, cards, fresh food, supportive messages… and I feel overwhelmed.
Why is helping others so much easier than asking for help? Maybe one always needs others to think that all is well. No need for help. Maybe I’m scared of being vulnerable. I remind myself, “vulnerability is the birthplace of love and connection.” My sorrows echo in the life of others, that’s how we connect. I don’t need to impress people by being strong. My vulnerability is my strength.
I discover many beautiful people around me. Ordinary people who make me feel loved. People who accept me the way I am. They let me be mad, scared, anxious, powerless, but still loved. The moment I talk, fear goes away through the window, love and connection come through the door.
I deeply believe any trauma is an opportunity for growth. Illness, losing a loved one, divorce… help us learn so much about ourselves.
A traumatic event becomes a trauma when I deal with it by myself. When I am surrounded with loving people it becomes a life experience. I never thought that I could see cancer as a gift. My cancer changed my life in a good way, made me a better person, helped me appreciate my life and my world and helped me learn to live in the present.
Does love heal cancer? I am not sure, but love definitely makes it a unique experience I could not have otherwise. Love does have the power to heal.
I can’t control my cancer but I can control how I deal with it, this is the deal, the cancer’s job is to make my life miserable and my job is to make the best of this experience. I’m excited to see how this game goes! I know we both will win! Cancer may knock my body down, but not my soul.
The surgery is canceled for this week. They found a new tumor. We don’t know much about it yet. I feel powerless, scared and helpless and, of course, at the darkest moments, I feel lonely, then I reach out. The moment I talk, fear goes away, love and connection come in. It’s really hard to talk about your fears. It seems like a big risk every single time. But every time, it turns out more gratifying than I ever hoped. Vulnerability is the key to joy.
The world is full of nice people. I deeply believe our world is filled with loving, kind and nurturing people. Sometimes people act mean because they are wounded, they don’t know how to deal with their pain and they hurt each other, but even those people become kind when they feel safe.
My Genetic test is negative! Yay! Ready for the surgery!
When I heard the result of my genetic test, I cried. More than anything I was happy for my boys and also, the fact that I might not need chemotherapy and there is less of a chance for it to come back… My boys were happy for me, they got me flowers, my husband said we have to celebrate. He hugged me and said I love you, I love your mom and your dad and their genes, I love your ancestry!
We were laughing and excited and suddenly I said to myself, “wait! It’s not my parents’ fault. Does it mean I did this to myself?! Did I create this cancer in my body?” I felt sad, I felt shame and guilt. Oh boy! That’s why Brené Brown says, “Joy Is the most terrifying, difficult emotion”.
Focus on here and now. Who started this? Buddha? Zoroaster…?
In past years I learned a lot about this, but honestly, I never practiced it like now. Maybe I didn’t need it as much. I had a routine life and it was not out of my control. It seems cliché but it really works.
Do I need chemotherapy? I still don’t know, but I feel it’s not my business anymore. My business is focusing on today.
I’m happier than ever. Yesterday two people told me they were exactly in my situation and they had had to undergo the most aggressive chemo, but it didn’t bother me. I was sorry to know they went through that tough experience but not for myself. I know I’m ok today and that’s enough for me.
I’m telling my clients that I can see them today without any promise for our next session and surprisingly they are fine with that. I feel very present in my sessions. This is all new for me.
Some friends are concerned about me when I talk about focusing on here and now. I appreciate their concern, it shows me how much they care. Living in the moment is a complex concept. It doesn’t mean that I give up or I’m in denial.
Cancer is a scary disease. I was fearful and I’m happy I was. Fear has a valid message for us, “you are in danger, take care of yourself!”
Living in the moment didn’t prevent or delay me in taking the right decisions and actions for my own good. I consulted with many doctors and surgeons, I researched and I talked to many cancer survivors, maybe more than I should have. I put all my information together and made the best decision.
Living in the moment, the here and now, made me a happier person, helped me bring back under my control areas where I could have had any control.
Living in the present doesn’t mean I don’t think about my future, it means I am aware and conscious of what I am doing, feeling, and thinking, at the present moment.
I believe love and connection is the greatest healing for our body and our soul. So, I let my doctors take care of my body and I take care of my mind. I want to trust them in spite of all the limitations I know they have. They are human and they make mistakes for sure, but I need this trust, because they know more than me. I just accept our world, imperfect as it is.
When I am frustrated by waiting and waiting and waiting … I invite a friend and we make a collage together. I enjoy it so much.
When I’m scared please don’t ask me to be brave. Don’t tell me it’s not scary.
Don’t ask me not to worry. It makes me feel like I’m not enough.
Don’t try to change my thoughts and emotions.
Don’t give me advice about how to change my lifestyle. It makes me feel like it was my fault.
Don’t minimize my experience, it makes me feel weak.
Come with me to my darkness, sit with me and hold my hands. Tell me I’m not alone, you are with me. Tell me it’s ok to be scared and let me be myself. It’s ok to tell me you are scared too. It’s ok to tell me you don’t know what to say. It’s ok to show vulnerability.
Your genuine expression of care is the best gift. Love has the power to heal.
Surgery was successful!
I deeply believe we cannot survive without love and emotional connection. We naturally seek the companionship of others as part of our wellbeing. We are wired for connection.
My mom used to say, no matter what you have, you need health for happiness. Now I believe, even if you lose your health, if you feel love and loved, you can be happy.
Reaching out, taking someone’s hand, crying on someone’s shoulder, laughing out loud with someone, walking together in silence… that’s happiness.
Having cancer has been an amazing experience, and I’m deeply grateful for my family and friends and for every minute of this experience.
I am still wrestling with my cancer but I am having fun too. I am getting ready for radiation therapy and the pills for ten years! I am not happy about these hassles at all. But something in my heart tells me ‘you will be ok, Jila!’
Radiation sucks! I feel physically and emotionally drained after each treatment. Every day you go to a room that has “danger” signs everywhere. You need to lay down under a huge machine and you don’t know if it is supposed to kill you or heal you and for at least 30 minutes you just think about cancer. It’s depressing. I thought that I needed to do something new to boost my energy level and I saw a Belly Dance lesson flyer! That was the last thing that I had thought of trying but I did it and I loved it. It’s a rich, meaningful and fun dance. Cancer opens new doors.
Last day of my radiation!
It’s hard to believe it’s over. It was almost four months but it feels like years. Unlike any experience I have ever had. Painful, scary, sad, eye opening, exciting, full of love and closeness …. deep, deep, deep.
I am a proud survivor!
I feel nothing can bring confidence and trust in a relationship more than going through a trauma together and come out successfully. I’m proud of my choice for my life partner.
I am proud of my boys. They didn’t let my illness affect their lives. They allowed themselves to be happy while I focused on myself.
I am a very proud mom!
My family, my friends, neighbors showed me what support means. What a real friend means. They taught me how to be vulnerable but still feel loved, to need but not feel needy, to have pain but not suffer.
I won’t change this experience with anything in my life.
I am done with my treatment. Everybody congratulates me except myself. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be excited. My body is tired. Maybe I don’t have energy to celebrate my victory in this battle. There is a voice inside of me that bothers me deep down and I don’t want to hear it. It tells me I am not old Jila anymore and I can’t be, ever!
I am a cancer survivor. This title will always stay with me. It will be part of my identity. How sad! It makes me angry. I want to be myself, my old self. I think it is like age. When you are 20 you can’t be 19 anymore, it doesn’t matter what you do or how you live.
I know I am grieving. Grief is the normal process of reacting to a loss. The loss may be physical, such as a death, or social, like divorce or job or health or identity. Emotional reactions of grief can be anger, guilt, anxiety, sadness, and despair. I am experiencing grief for many things, losing my health, my free mind, even my identity.
I am grieving and somehow, I don’t want anybody to know about my grief. There is a shame behind that. I think people expect me to be happy and energetic like before and I feel mad at myself when I realize I can’t. Not physically nor emotionally. I don’t want to disappoint them.
It is all about my expectations. The fact that I can’t function well frustrates me, my bad memory, my poor focus and attention, my low energy level, …. is killing me.
In the past six months I have been fighting with full energy and hope. Now there is nothing to fight for anymore. But I am not who I want to be. I want my old body. It doesn’t matter what I do, it is gone. Now I need to work on acceptance. How depressing is that!
I have been thinking about death deeply for the first time in my life.
I wake up in the middle of the night with a sharp pain in my breast. The doctor told me it is normal because the tissue is healing, but is it really a normal healing pain or is the cancer coming back?
I am anxious, I can’t go back to sleep. My husband is sleeping. I slowly reach for his hand. It is comforting. He notices it. He holds me tight and says I love you, and falls back to sleep again. In the morning he is reading his morning newspaper while eating breakfast. I don’t know if he remembers anything from last night, I don’t know if he knows that he is my healer! Jila Spring/2018