There’s a funny thing about being ill. Not the type of ill or sick that you can remedy at the store. Illness that causes you to check a box indicating you received a diagnosis of some type.
As I type this, my initial thought goes to COVID-19. While many of us acknowledge the pandemic as a nasty flu (which it is), the one thing I know for sure is its lingering effects which make it different. Many who I know that contracted COVID now live with side effects such as loss of smell, taste, fatigue, which they have sustained long after fighting the illness.
Something about diagnosed illness such as diabetes, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, cancer or a number of others just hits you different.
Personally I currently live with two of the above mentioned diagnoses. First, learning of my epilepsy as a teen and continuing to live with it today. Gratefully it has been many years since my last seizure. Now living as a parent and an adult, I’ve felt fortunate to be able to help a number of friends who have come to hear the very diagnosis for their own child.
While I cannot imagine how that affects one as a parent, I do both understand and relate to the struggles their child will now deal with as they journey on a path which leaves them feeling “different.” As a teen the early onset and reality of living with restrictions, testing and meds just seems like a lot, but it is treatable.
As many of you know I first learned that I had cancer in early 2020. Through much of the COVID year, while we turned to the news to learn about the worldwide pandemic, I shared much of my personal journey through cancer right here in this space.
Two years ago, right about this time, I learned I had Stage 3 Breast Cancer.
As a journalist, once I overcame the shock, I still recall sharing with my editor this would make for a great piece in the October issue of the 209 Magazine. Recognizing then, just as I do now, that I had a voice (aka reach) which could affect more than the average patient and I should use it for good.
By mid-2021 we had finished multiple surgeries, two separate chemotherapy plans and a round of radiation. Scans showed we had beaten the disease and we rejoiced.
What I have not shared was that three short months later, much to my (as well as my team’s surprise) another lump was found in my armpit. For those unfamiliar, it is possible post double mastectomy to have a breast cancer recurrence deep in your armpit. I’m sure it can recur in other areas as well, but I can only speak in my experience.
For those still learning, a tumor found in any other region post initial diagnosis, say mouth, lung, etc., is considered a metastasis, recurrence is same area of the body.
So, just as we began regaining steam on life we learned … well, not so fast. We weren’t done.
There were two things which were different this time and they were both prompted by yours truly.
The first was enlisting the help of a new team. Thanks to the help of my primary surgeon as well as the support of my family and closest friends, we quickly realized leaving the Valley for a second opinion was our best bet at beating this thing. The second was this time around my wish was to keep this quiet, no more “sharing my story”; no more trying to change the world; no more being viewed as the sick girl.
I simply wanted to go to battle (aka chemo/treatment) on the days necessary and live life with my family and friends as fully on the good days.
It’s fair to acknowledge we do live in a small town, filled with well-intentioned and loving people. So while my initial wish was to stay on the down low that was modified a bit, as word does travel, yet this time was different.
Thanks to the tremendous support which has been mentioned, an understanding community and an employer who has supported me through all of this; life has felt a bit more “normal” this go round.
March 9 marked my 10th of 12 weekly chemotherapy treatments I have undergone at UCSF since January of this year. In two short weeks I’ll be done.
That feels good. In truth, I feel good. Oh sure, there’s a little bit of neuropathy, my energy and fitness are not 100 percent, but that will all come back.
Not feeling like the sick girl, even though I am, has really been beneficial. Now I’d be remiss if I didn’t share, weekly trips to the City with my girlfriends has equally been beneficial. I’m a pretty blessed lady and must admit I’ve spent plenty of time in that chair as well as in my bed reflecting on how fortunate I have been in so many ways.
So why share now?
Well the reality is it all circles back to something my mom used to always tell me as a child. Sometimes in life, things just don’t go the way we’ve planned. Sometimes (most times) God’s plan is bigger than ours. It doesn’t always make sense and many a times we just simply don’t feel strong enough to see it through, but we are.
In short, I continue to return to this quote which has become so valuable in my life and I believe now it is more important in our world than ever: “Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Unknown
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 209-847-3021.