Hi everybody! I cannot stress the importance of second, third even fourth opinions when it comes to a diagnosis of any disease. When treatment of any kind is warranted it behooves us to take the necessary steps to look at all of our choices and options. As a ten year terminal brain cancer survivor, I never accepted a terminal diagnosis even though it was constantly shoved in my face . To be frank, I was insulted when I was given a 4-6 year prognosis back in 2002. I had a lot of work to do; two small children needed me and I was only thirty years old. I had my whole life ahead of me and the conversations that I had with doctors one, two and doctor three at institutions A, B and C all left me feeling disenchanted, depressed and defeated. Regardless, I kept searching with my husband, always looking for some promise and hope. I remember leaving St. Vincent’s Medical Center on a very cold, snowy, December afternoon, just three days , after brain surgery. I hadn’t seen my babies in such a long time and I was surrounded by the spirit of the Christmas season everywhere, which, only heightened my levels of anxiety. Being nursed back to health in a Catholic Hospital had me question my faith, God and religion in general. I was completely disgusted by crucifixes displayed everywhere which seemed to find me and track me down like Jackals in the middle of the night .What had I had done to deserve such a platter of despair and painful hopelessness during such a time of joy and perfection in my life? It wasn’t just the fact that I had just given birth to the most beautiful baby in the nursery, so pretty in fact that several nurses at Winthrop University Hospital had stopped by my room just to tell me so. I felt so sad and nauseated because I had left my little three year old cheerleader at home, right at a time when she needed me the most as she was going through personal transitions with the arrival of a new baby sister. I wasn’t there to manage anything and I felt I had abandoned my three year old daughter, Emily, even though both she and Lexi were well taken care of by my family. To add insult to injury, Now, mommy had cancer and it was the mother load- terminal! Phew, that’s a lot to handle especially during the season that is suppose to give so much. I didn’t think a terminal tumor was on my Santa’s wish list- Sorry, I couldn’t resist the sarcasm . Outside my hospital room window, I could see all the Christmas trees lined up below, as families and couples both young and old selected their perfect tree to take home. After painfully being told that I had an Astrocytoma, a very aggressive form of brain cancer, associated with a poor prognosis, I peered up at Nurse Mary. I could barely speak or find the words to say. Her granddaughter was born on the same day as my baby Lexi whom I had not seen in over a week. As I choked on words to say, I surrendered and just pointed to the IV and motioned for its’ removal. I forced a little smile and nodded showing a sign of thanks and gratitude for her gentle hand and kind ways. Next, I turned my attention to the unconscious patient sharing my room; an elderly man who made little sound or movement. I placed a fishbowl filled with beautiful yellow roses, a gift from my cousin Marc and Lori. and whispered in his ear: “feel better, my friend”. I quickly exited the hospital floor and said no goodbyes , not because I was wasn’t grateful for my care and all the kindness I received; rather, I could not face anybody because I felt I wore my cancer in shame and proud, I certainly was not.
As we drove back home to the small seaside village of Atlantic Beach, on the South Shore of Long Island, Christina Aguilera’s song played on the radio: Beautiful. “Not I, I thought, as I felt damaged beyond repair, broken and shattered in a million pieces, with a heart that truly hurt, terribly. Minutes before my arrival, in preparation for seeing my precious babies and my Christmas Tree, I placed a facade of forced, empty smiles in an effort to show my family that I was okay and more important, that I loved and appreciated them. I practiced my smiles several times, with effort as I looked at myself with total disgust in the passenger car mirror. I share this experience because, throughout all the pain, tears and immeasurable hurt, which lasted for many years, six to be exact, I allowed doctors and reports to fill me with fear that essentially allowed others to define me and control me. I fought their words which cursed me like demons and hurt like swords and then one day I smartened up. It really was not about them anymore. This journey was not theirs to be had, rather it was mine to celebrate with those that were important to me and with whom I embraced and loved. On my journey, I had free will and choice. At the end of the day, I could choose who I wanted to carpool with. For years, I was my own worst enemy and one day, my husband suggested that I try healing prayer. I realized there was a way to filter out the negativity of the disease as well as the messengers whom only brought negativity as well as a doom and gloom mentality to the table. I mean brain cancer absolutely sucks but it doesn’t have to be the end. In fact, it has actually introduced a whole new beginning for me in terms of meeting many beautiful people, each day of my life. Here’s something else to consider, doctors may never tell me exactly what I want to hear and that’s okay. I can only place the expectations on myself. I have no right to change anybody but myself. I have moved beyond needing their approval for what I do to stay well. As I celebrate my survivorship with my family and friends, I leave you with something to look at. I found it very interesting as it sheds light on the importance of multiple opinions. My cousin, Dr. Justin Garcia sent it my way. Check it out and be blessed:
Believe in everything that you do!! Never stop fighting… I fight everyday and will fight for the rest of my very long life…
Sending Lhasa Love from my heart to yours…jen