Here I am, writing a blog, five days after my face was sliced open to extract a very small cancerous cell that formed right in the smallest space between my left eye and nose. It was basal cell carcinoma, and my dermatologist explained that this was a skin cancer that wouldn’t kill you. That put me at ease. As I got a better understanding of the different types of cancers and I learned more about what this meant, I began to find pieces of gratitude wherever I could. I knew that….
I was lucky this was all I had.
But I was afraid of what this meant.
I know of many people have suffered much worse.
But this was happening to me, now.
Through all of this, I felt every range of emotion – fear, frustration, anger and much sadness. Thanks to all the work I had done on myself over the past two years, I knew enough to allow all these emotions to appear and not push any of them down. Not hide them, not run away and not judge myself for having these emotions. When I wanted to cry, I cried. When I was angry, I went to the gym and punched the bag. When I got frustrated and anxious, I took deep breaths and meditated. Because I gave myself the grace to just be and accept all the emotions, the situation didn’t swallow me up. I didn’t catastrophize and my thoughts didn’t spiral out of control. I was able to engage and interact with my family and friends in a positive way, and I looked forward to getting the treatment done and over with just as it is today.
I am a fighter and I will always be a natural fighter. When I am triggered, I will immediately go and find ways to face my challenges head on and conquer them. But I knew going into this that I had to allow my mind to heal before I could take on my body. I focused my energy on seeing my thoughts, acknowledging them and I spoke to myself with compassion so that my mind would be calm. After all, I have three young girls, a husband and a household to look after. With a calm mind, I took the first step.
Echoes of the mind
In December I realized that the scab in between my eye and my nose wasn’t healing. It took a couple weeks to get an appointment at the dermatologist, due to the holidays and my own travel. The moment she saw it, she called it by its name – Cancer. If a single word can strike fear in a person, this was it. I felt warm tears fall seamlessly from my eyes. In my mind I took the role of the observer and automatically named the emotions I felt and the way my body was reacting to the news. I told myself it’s just a word. Don’t create a story around the word. Get the facts and then you can act.
The dermatologist did a biopsy and after a long week passed, I received a positive result. She then recommended me to another dermatologist that did the extraction, as he specialized in a type of surgery called MOHS, which basically means they take out a chunk of skin at a time and check to see if they got all the cancer out. If not, they keep digging until they do.
Now this second doctor told me I would need yet another doctor to do reconstructive surgery, because he couldn’t just sew me up. There wasn’t enough skin in that area to do it. That’s when I went to doctor number three, the Ophthalmologist.
As you can see, there were many steps involved in getting this surgery done, even more happened than I think is useful to share here. The planning weighed on my day, occupied my mind and time, between phone calls with doctors, appointments, insurance and organizing the logistics for my three very young girls and husband while I was out of it.
The good thing about being lucid now, is that I only hear echoes of the way I used to think resounding in my mind. I hear but I don’t listen. Years ago, before I shifted my perspective and became lucid, I would have been telling myself things like, “You should have been more careful when you were younger! What an idiot you were!” “You shouldn’t feel bad for yourself, it could be so much worse,” “don’t you see how lucky you are? You have no right to feel sad about this, so many people suffer so much worse,” “don’t jinx yourself by being upset about this!! You could get something else right after,” “now that you have this, who knows what else you will get! Another cancer cell could be growing right now!!” But this time as I navigated this challenge, I noticed the echoes, but they couldn’t influence me because at this point in my personal growth, I knew so much better than to listen. The echoes have no impact on me, they don’t affect me as they once did. But I am glad I see them. They are like old friends, a reminder of how far I’ve come and who I am now; I say hello, wish my thoughts well and just like that they fade away.
The picture of health
I told a colleague that because of a medical condition I wouldn’t be able to attend certain meetings. She looked at me and said, “But you are the picture of health!” She spoke the words that I had also thought, upon learning this diagnosis. I exercise at least five to six times a week. I had just won second place in my second ever tennis tournament. I had hired a nutritionist months before receiving this diagnosis and had been rigorously following a clean eating diet that had my skin glowing and my waistline shrinking. I really am the picture of health.
This shouldn’t have happened. Yet it did. One thing I have been in the past, is incredibly hard on myself. I heard yet another echo of a thought, that said, “no matter how hard I work, and how hard I try to do the right thing, things will never go right for me. Life is hard and I will always struggle and always have to fight.” As I had this thought, I decided not today. Today I chose not to believe this. In that moment, I chose to focus on all the good in my life and that at this very moment, I am safe, my children are safe, fed, clean, we have all that we need and access to the best medical care to get through this in the best way possible. This was where I chose to focus my thoughts. And even though I had skin cancer, I am still healthy and strong. I used this as an opportunity to reflect on how others must see me, as a healthy, vibrant woman in her prime. This IS who I am and how I want to continue to be.
Everything is a gift
As I went through this challenge the loudest thought, what evoked the strongest positive emotion, the one thing I was always coming back to is this: Your life is a GIFT.
In a worst-case-scenario, if I end up with a nasty scar, a bumpy nose, lose an eye or any other such disastrous result of surgery, I know I get to live at the end of it. No one ever died from this kind of cancer or from this kind of surgery. Ok, maybe there’s a .01% somewhere but I sure as hell wasn’t going to be it. And even if I didn’t get to look like I used to, I was alive to enjoy this life for another day. I am fully grounded in the fact that every day I get to open my eyes and live in this glorious world, I am grateful for each moment because it is all a gift. I also know that I am not my body. My body is a tool, a vehicle for me to experience this world, but it is not me and I am not it. As I reflect on this experience, I’m proud of the way I handled it and what I take away from this is that wow, I have grown and evolved as a person. Ever grateful for every lesson.
If anyone reading this is facing a terminal illness, I can’t imagine what you must be going through, but I would still tell you to relish every breath. Every second on this earth is not to be wasted on terminal thoughts about a terminal disease. It is another chance to savor the richness of our air and skies, the birds and squirrels and trees and a chance to eat bacon. I love bacon.
Skin Cancer Awareness
I’ve learned some things about skin cancer that I would like to share:
1) My scab looked like any other scrape or cut to me. I had no idea it was cancerous. I just didn’t understand why it wouldn’t go away, so I had it checked. It was very small, about the size of a teardrop.
2) This skin cancer on my face was the result of a sunburn or multiple burns I received about 15 – 20 years ago or more, when I didn’t care about sun block and I used tanning beds. Nothing I did now caused it.
3) There are three types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma (the one I had, the least dangerous and the most common), squamous cell carcinoma (the second most common and also not terminal), and melanoma (this is the most dangerous and typically requires chemotherapy to treat).
For more information about skin cancer visit: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/index.htm
But most of all – protect your skin! Always use sun block, hats and glasses when in the sun!!