How I Turned My New Normal Into A New Life

Le plus important en fin de compte, ce ne sont pas les cartes qu’on vous a données, c’est ce que vous en faites…C’est la leçon que j’ai apprise de mon expérience avec le cancer et c’est le sujet de mon nouvel article pour I Had Cancer! Ihadcancer.com
 
What really matters in the end, is not really the cards you are dealt but rather how you play the hand…This is the lesson I have learned from my experience with cancer and that’s the topic of my new article for I Had Cancer! Ihadcancer.com
 
unsplash_-_jbriscoe-min
When I got diagnosed with cancer in the midst of my 30s, I did not let the news bring me down. Instead, I immediately turned into a brave little soldier and accepted all the treatments that were thrown my way without flinching. I was convinced that I would win this fight and that life would just be brilliant afterwards.

But unfortunately this is not what happened… Indeed, when the euphoria that followed the end of the ordeal died down, it finally hit me. My body was still not in as good a shape as it has been and no matter how hard I tried or wanted it to happen, I just could not fit back into my old life. And, if at first I was just happy to celebrate my friends’ weddings, baby showers and professional successes, I began feeling like my life was passing me by and that I was becoming a mere spectator who was not allowed to have their share of the cake.

It was as if all the repressed fears and pains were slowing coming out. I started suffering from insomnia and getting stressed over menial things. I became angry more quickly and began losing interest in some of the things I used to love. I basically felt that I no longer had any control on what would happen to me and was terrified that my cancer would come back. Mostly, and it took me a while to admit it, I was feeling vulnerable because of what had happened to me.

I felt ashamed because I was one of the lucky ones. So many of my fellow cancer fighters had lost their battle while I had been given a second chance, so who was I to complain? And with nobody around to listen to my worries, for my family and friends had already turned the page and moved on, I had to find the resources within myself to give a new meaning to my life. And this is how I adopted my 3-way plan to make the most of what I had been left with.

It started with taking some baby steps. I first had to accept that I was no longer the same person I used to be, and that it was okay if I was not able to bounce back in a day. I had been through a lot and I needed to acknowledge the changes cancer had brought to my life before I could accept them. I was no less of a person because I needed time to grieve. I therefore allowed myself to cry, and I did cry a lot at that time, or vent my frustration. But at the same time, I also made sure to pat myself on the back when I was making progress, or to be forgiving when I did not.

Little by little, it became easier to start planning a future based on my new reality and, as a consequence, to lower my expectations. That was the second step. I had always been one of those girls who dreamed big and always wanted more. I now knew that I had fewer options but did not want to let those unfortunate chances hold me back any more. Life is full of opportunities once we no longer let ourselves be burdens by the standards imposed by society. It is way easier to take a new direction without the pressure to necessarily make the most of our existence.

It is way easier to take a new direction without the pressure to necessarily make the most of our existence.

I thus left the stressful corporate world and a job that had become meaningless for a position in a small governmental entity. This may be less glamourous on paper, but it gives me the impression that I am finally making a difference in this world.

With a new purpose in life, the third step was to simply count my blessings. I now make a list every evening of all the good things that has happened to me over the last 24 hours. If I first started with some very little things, I now have the impression that my life is made of many beautiful moments – whether it is simply a splendid sunny day or a nice lunch with a friend.

After all, what really matters in the end, is not really the cards you are dealt but rather how you play the hand.

What have you done to take back your new normal?

Photo courtesy of Jason Briscoe.

Advertisements

Dear Doctors, Thank You For Your Beautiful Bedside Manner

Mon hommage à l’incroyable équipe médicale qui s’est battue avec et pour moi (Article publié sur IHadCancer). My tribute to the amazing medical team that fought with and for me (Article published on IHadCancer).

importance-of-bedside-manner_1

I was once a normal thirty something gal with a hectic life and full of dreams. But then I heard the word “cancer” and just like that, my life as I knew it was over. I was a cancer patient faced with an uncertain future.

From the day I had found a lump in my left breast to the 5 nerve-racking days spent waiting for the results of the biopsy, I had been in limbo, unable to think about anything else.

But then, with just a few words, delivered in a calm and confident tone, my radiologist helped me feel as though I could handle whatever it was that came my way. He said, “What you have is very serious and the upcoming months are going to be pretty hard, but you are in very good hands, don’t you worry.”

All of a sudden, I literally felt as if I had tumbled into an abyss. Those few words were exactly what I needed to hear at that moment to prevent me from falling apart. I finally knew where to stand and I was ready to fight, because I realized I had a team behind me.

The following few weeks were spent going from one doctor appointment to the next, and I barely had time to digest the news, let alone come to grips with all the consequences of this new reality. But somehow, all along I felt I had an entire army fighting with and for me. Why? Simply because each professional I came across always managed to find just the right word or adopted the perfect attitude that would alleviate my fears.

The kind radiologist who gave me the results was just the first link of this human chain. The surgeon who was to remove my tumour looked like my grandfather, so I trusted him immediately, even though I was terrified. He talked in a very soft voice, using very simple words to make sure I understood him. Even though he pronounced the dreadful word “chemotherapy”, I somehow knew that I would be okay.

After the operation, he entered the room with a huge smile, pinched my cheek in a sign of affection and whispered in my ear that the surgery was a success and the tumor had not spread.

A few weeks later when I told him that I was disgusted by my scars and did not want to even look at them, he gently took my hand and made me gently touch them so that I would start to accept them.

Then there was my psychologist. Every three weeks, a young woman with a Bulgarian accent checked on me and made sure I was holding up. Little by little she became my confidant, the only person in whom I could confide in. She was very sweet but also knew to be tough when I started to feel sorry for myself.

However, all this was nothing compared to the devotion of the nurses. No matter how tough their job could sometimes be or their own personal problems, they always kept a smile on their faces without uttering a single complaint. From 7 am to 7 pm, with only a half hour break for lunch, they ran from bed to bed to attend to their patients’ needs. I used to love chatting with them during chemo sessions. They were impressed that I had worked as a lawyer in California, but for me, they were the real heroes. They went home at night totally exhausted, but at least they had a sense of fulfilment and purpose; a feeling I had never felt with my job, even though my initial goal when I went to law school was to help those less fortunate. That was a big revelation!

Sometimes all it takes in difficult times is finding the right people who will support you during the hardships. Even though having cancer was a painful experience, I got blessed with the most amazing medical team I could have hoped for. Life is all about chance meetings and I strongly believe I would never have been half as strong as I had been, without the support of an amazing support team with great bedside manner.

I could never thank all those people enough for the support they gave me. They may think they simply did what they were paid to do, but four years later, I still carry with me their kind words and strength.

I’m Not a Hero, I Did What I Needed To Do To Survive

 

Numériser 1 copie

Sometimes when faced with a difficult situation like cancer, one becomes somebody else, and can be labeled as some sort of “hero”. But when the mask falls off, the reality is far different. Read more below.

A few weeks after I had finished all my treatments, I had lunch with a girlfriend. She had been present through every step of my battle against the big C and this meal was our way to celebrate my long awaited victory. As nice as it was to reflect on just how far I’d come and to start planning a new future, I realized something: no matter how close people had been to me during this, they would never fully understand what I had been through. Even worse, their perception of me was now totally biased.

It quickly became obvious that my friend saw me as some sort of a hero. She spent the entire lunch telling me how impressed she was of the way I had handled my illness and how she probably would not have been half as strong.

That made me mad. I knew she meant it as a compliment, so I kept my mouth shut, but, inside my head, a little voice was screaming: “But I am not different from you, I am not brave, I haven’t changed, I just did not have a choice, it was my life I was dealing with!”

Even in the new comic superhero movie, Deadpool, the title character is battling cancer and wants nothing to do with the “hero” title. The movie debunks the myth that all survivors are “superheroes”- when a lot of us don’t see ourselves that way. As this article so honestly points out, “Deadpool doesn’t reject being a superhero because it’s cool not to care, but because the meaning of ‘hero’ has shifted.”

To be honest, I didn’t even recognize myself during my long cancer battle. I completely dissociated from the reality of what was happening and it was as if I was floating above, outside myself. As soon as I heard the diagnosis, I turned into a soldier ready to do everything it takes to get better and I fought relentlessly. That was something I had never done before and will hopefully never have to do again.

I blocked off all my emotions as a survival mechanism. I stopped all my tears, tried to focus on the present, only the present, and took everything in stride.

The side effects from the various treatments were intense. I dreaded each new session of chemotherapy. As soon as I stepped inside the hospital, I would put on a brave face and smiled. I was terrified but it was my way of coping with the situation; the only way I knew how to go on.

So, to my surprise, I never once felt sorry for myself and rarely did I shed a tear. I barely cried when my beloved dog, Charlie, passed away shortly after the results of my biopsy. I barely cried when I discovered my scars or saw my new bald self for the first time. And I also barely cried when my friends got married while I was stuck in bed. Or when some turned their back to me, simply because they could not bear the sight of me.

Every day, I did my best to live as normally as possible, not necessarily how a “hero” would. I kept on exercising, nearly as much as possible, because it gave me the impression that I was doing something good for my body. I saw my friends as often as I could, even when having fun was the last thing on my mind, because I needed to convince myself that I was still a normal person. I kept on working for my company, on a part time basis, because it allowed me to think that I was still being useful. And I tried not to be upset when people said stupid things or looked at me in a weird way because I realized that I had to live for me and not according to standards imposed by society.

But when this nightmare finally came to an end, I dreamt one night of my dog Charlie, and the pain became so vivid that I woke up in tears. And for the next few hours, I cried all the tears I had not let out for nearly a year. I cried for all the pains I had been through, I cried for my dog, I cried for the children I would never have, and I cried for all the other dreams I would no longer be able to achieve.

So I am definitely not a hero but just a regular gal who, at a moment in time, had to become somebody she is not, in order to fight for her life.

Have you ever been called a hero for fighting cancer? What’s your opinion on that title? Share your view in the comments below! Deadpool photo courtesy of Sideshow Collectibles.

Life is too short to be a perfectionist

Mon histoire avec le cancer pour le site communautaire I had cancer. My story with cancer for the I had Cancer community website.

Numériser 1 copie

Before being diagnosed with cancer, Florence was a 20-something year old French girl living the American dream and focused on perfection. After cancer caused everything to change, she learned to let go of perfection and love her new life. 

When I arrived in San Francisco, I was a shy and naïve 22-year old French girl who dreamed of a perfect life. I always had a smile on my face and loved being a “foreigner” in a new country. I finished law school and got a job. Along the way, I made new friends and fell in love. After 9 years in California, I had it all. I just did not know it then.

Call it the American dream syndrome maybe but I kept wanting more. Always more. The next step was to have kids, move to a nice house and get a dog. I had big dreams and everything seemed possible, but life is not a straight line leading from one blessing to the next, I know it now. In a matter of just a few days, my world came crushing down.

Cancer.

I was in my thirties. I was fit, ran 10k, and took kickboxing each week. I had never smoked a cigarette in my life, drank moderately and ate relatively healthy. How on earth could I have cancer?

For the perfectionist that I was, this diagnosis caused havoc in my life and I had to learn to let go of everything I thought I knew. For a year, I obediently followed doctors’ orders, living only one day at a time, trying to find one thing to look forward to each morning to distract from the side effects of treatment.

I lost my hair, my nails, my fertility and a few friends I counted as my closest. That was hard! But through it all, I managed to keep my spirits up. I was scared and had bad days but somehow I always believed I would win that fight. And while a lot of my compatriots tend to see the glass half empty, I now see it as half full.

This positive attitude, conditioned by my time in California, made me realize how lucky I was and I have grown incredibly grateful ever since. Grateful for the doctors who saved my life, for the nurses who made me laugh during chemo sessions and for the therapists who eased my pain. But grateful also for being alive today.I got to fulfill dreams I thought were unattainable for a girl like me, who until moving to San Francisco had some serious self-confidence issues.

Obviously getting a cancer was anything but a pleasant experience. Nonetheless, it was a life-changing lesson. I have way less options than before, that’s for sure, but I am okay with it. I strongly believe I still have much more to accomplish but I am taking my time now. What must happen will happen, and I no longer make long-term plans or worry about things I cannot control. I have accepted my scars, my weaknesses and my own limitations. Life is not perfect and the new one I am building for myself is far different from the one I was dreaming of when I was 20- but that doesn’t matter anymore.

My time in California – a time of innocence and self-discovery – is now behind me and it is bitter sweet. But I am healthy again and for as long as I can will cherish those memories and this imperfect, yet wonderful, life of mine. As we say in French: “La vie est belle!”