Having lived now through two invasive cancers, I often asked God in my times of deepest emotional despair and physical pain, the question “Why?” Of course this was a rhetorical question, or at least I thought so at first.
I’d had, earlier in my life, a wonderful career and children. I loved my job and had my own house, the property which contained an unending array of flowering plants and shrubs enough to keep my gardening hobby busy. I enjoyed my life, for the most part, and was never restricted when it came to financially being able to do or accomplish those things I wanted to. Whether it was what I chose to buy at the grocery store or spontaneously taking the kids somewhere for fun, there wasn’t a need for hesitation.
There were a number of factors that came together in deciding to move from New Jersey to Florida, none of which are truly relevant to this story, but move we did. Life in Florida wasn’t the “new beginning” I had imagined despite my having investigated job opportunities, the housing market and other important issues in advance. Oh, I did buy another house, but my skill set had placed me in a position which future employers referred to as “too over-qualified”.
I eventually got a job, which I hated, but was necessary to pay the bills. Then four years after the move I was hit from out of the blue with something I thought I had left behind fifteen years earlier. Cancer. Well, precancerous lesions at the time, and because of less knowledgeable physicians than I had in New York, my condition became invasive once again.
Going through treatment a second time carries a whole new set of potential complications and side effects. My body had already gone through massive doses of radiation and chemotherapy, and radiation as I learned carries a lifetime maximum after which irreparable damage is done. Unfortunately, that was the outcome of my second course of treatments.
Side effects and complications kept me inside like a cloistered nun. I had already lost my job, my home, and subsequently just about all I had worked for in my life. Within a short period of time everything changed.
My son had been gone for several years, having moved across the state for college and deciding to reside there after graduation. Suddenly what choices I made, even at the grocery store, had a major impact on my and my daughter’s lives.
I must emphatically state, that had it not been for my daughter, I would probably not be here today. With no other family to rely on, she took me twice a day for my radiation treatments not to mention the help she was while I dealt with radiation fatigue and side effects.
My life had become a shell of what it was. I was living in a perpetual hell of ongoing limitations and changes in my life I never expected to encounter. My daughter’s near-constant smiling face and positive attitude about everything was beginning to get on my nerves. It all seemed so simple for this then 18-year-old.
What could she know of the physical suffering and feelings of emotional loss that I was going through? How could she think that simply having a different perspective could so easily change things?
My life was in a downward spiral and the feelings of both helplessness and hopelessness almost consumed me on several occasions, but she never wavered.
On a day that began no differently than all the rest however something different did happen. In the midst of one of my all consuming pity parties I realized that nothing was going to change if I didn’t.
Continuing on the way I was certainly wasn’t resulting in any change and never would. So, when my daughter suggested for the umpteenth time that I “Just try to get up and believe that you have the energy to do it,” I did.
Don’t get me wrong, changing my perspective didn’t make my permanent disabilities suddenly normal, nor did it eliminate the pain that I experienced or the fatigue. But making them less of a focus also made them less of a hindrance.
I firmly believe that what you focus on the most does indeed become a self fulfilling prophecy -- a reality that you create yourself through your perspective.
I stopped seeing the negative events, which I previously allowed to drag me back into a big black hole, as a necessary diversion in my plans instead. Of course none of this happened overnight and it was a constant battle mentally against what had in essence become a habit, a habit in terms of how I dealt with reality.
What I learned is that there is the reality that exists outside yourself and the reality that you create for yourself and that you can affect the outside reality by the reality you create for yourself.
There is one more caveat that I would add to this and that is the importance of gratitude. Being thankful for what you have was initially difficult when I had lost so much.
Yet focusing on those things was not going to bring them back. So I’ve learned to be grateful for much simpler things and gained a greater appreciate along the way.
I just returned from Germany, where I was invited as the first patient in the history of the International Papillomavirus Conference, to give a presentation regarding HPV and the Patient Experience.
I’ve continued to work on expanding my website and of course I have my book, Any Mother’s Daughter, which is not only endorsed by, but the foreword written by, the Nobel Laureate who discovered that HPV causes cervical cancer.
I continue my work as an HPV advocate and gain significant joy and reward from the act of helping others. Now, when I look back on that all encompassing question of “Why?” I have my answer.
Because it has led me to what I, as an individual, was meant to do. And you can’t get much greater satisfaction than that.
Edited by Jody Smith