Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Look Good, Feel Better

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of participating in a program called, “Look Good Feel Better.” It is a free, non-medical program for women with cancer where they teach you about makeup, skin care, clothing options, wigs and other head coverings during cancer treatment. The beautiful ladies pictured above (from left to right) Gwen, Kelley, and Marcia were the facilitators of the two hour workshop. I registered for the workshop sometime in January or February as soon as I became aware of it and was excited to go.

Sometime in 2011, while I was still knee deep in physical and occupational therapy after having a stroke, during one of my occupational therapy sessions, I read something printed on a bag that was lying on the floor. For whatever reason I read the words out loud. When my occupational therapist heard me read, she asked me to read the words again. Then she asked me what they meant. I stumbled through reading them again and struggled with telling her their meaning. Whatever I said must have been wrong, because her response was, “I hadn’t noticed it before, because you speak so well, but I believe you need to see a speech and language therapist.” When our session ended I was so upset I stomped out of the facility and angrily said not so quietly, ‘I am so sick of this stroke mess!’ Once outside I called my now former husband, with crocodile tears streaming down my face. I cried, ‘They keep finding more stuff wrong with me! Now, I have to see a speech and language therapist too! The occupational therapist said I don’t read or understand words right!’ (Of course, that isn’t what she actually said. That was my interpretation of her words that day.) Despite his best efforts, the usual “you got this” or “you are so blessed” pep talk didn’t work. I was inconsolable.

When I got home I recounted what happened with my oldest daughter, Ashley and was immediately brought to tears again. My daughter looked at me and asked, “Mommy, when are you going to accept you had a stroke?” Still crying, I replied, ‘I did accept it! They keep telling me stuff is wrong with me. I don’t have a choice, but to accept it!’ What Ashley said next changed the entire trajectory of my therapies. She said, “But, mommy, you haven’t accepted it. If you had you wouldn’t cry every time you go to therapy or they discover something that needs to be addressed.” I paused to take in what she said and no response, because I realize she was right. To that point I had been judging my progress based upon who I was the day before the stroke. So, each time they found something new that was “wrong” with me, I got upset because it felt like a setback.

At my first session with Julie, my speech and language therapist, she applauded my occupational therapist for catching I needed speech and language therapy as well. I cried that day and did so many sessions after. By about the third session Julie said something that I have never forgotten. She told me to begin judging my progress not based upon the day before the stroke, but the day after. From that day forward, I accepted that I had a stroke and for the most part whoever I was before February 2, 2011 died.

I shared that memory because, a very similar thing happened to me yesterday. I was completely unprepared for how I felt inside as soon as I arrived at the building where the workshop was held. I left the house early so I wouldn’t be late and arrived about 15 minutes early. As I waited for the workshop to begin, I scrolled through emails, trying to fight back tears. When the door opened and I sat in my seat my heart sank as we each introduced ourselves and briefly shared as much as we were comfortable sharing. A lump rose in my throat, but a smile remained on my face as I told the date of my diagnosis and how upset I was when I had to cut my hair. Those were the only things that came to mind. Gwen and Kelley walked us through putting on our makeup step by step. All of the ladies looked absolutely gorgeous when we were finished. We were each given really nice makeup bags filled with full size, good quality makeup as a gift. We left with armed with great information, looking beautiful and full of life.

When I got home I still felt a bit somber inside. I remembered my visit with the occupational therapist that lead to me seeing Julie. I thought of the wisdom Ashley and Julie shared with me. I guess in some ways I am still struggling to accept that I really am fighting breast cancer and all that has occurred really happened to me. My chemo schedule makes it relatively easy for me to forget about all of it and pretend it isn’t happening. I go once every three weeks. So between treatments, for about a week and a half, life is normal again. The weakness, exhaustion, and forgetfulness (or “chemo brain”) during that time doesn’t bother me, because all of that has become “normal” to me since the stroke. The bone pain and skin sensitivity is bothersome, but bearable. Yesterday, being in a room with other women sharing a story that sounded like mine, magnified I am yet again a part of a club I did not sign up to join. None of us did.

For today, I am thankful for the wonderful women I met yesterday both the breast cancer warriors and the facilitators who so graciously volunteered their time and expertise. It was a wonderful eye opening experience. In I Corinthians 15:31 (NLT) Paul says, “For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. This is as certain as my pride in what Christ Jesus our Lord has done in you.” I have to accept that the person I was from February 3, 2011, the day after the stroke until January 8, 2017 the day before the breast cancer diagnosis has now also died. Instead of mourning the life that was lost, I will rejoice with great expectation for the new life that will spring forth, because Jesus promises in John 12:24 (NLT), “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” He also delcares in Luke 9:24 (NLT), “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” I know healing and letting go of what was is a daily process. Today, I’m just grateful for today.

If you know of anyone who may benefit from the Look Good Feel Better Program, please share this blog post and/or their website: with them. It is a national program that partners with the American Cancer Society.

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