No doctor, no nurse, no social worker, and not even a fellow cancer survivor warned me about the free fall into a black hole that occurs months after the last cancer treatment. Depression? Yes. Feeling Lost? Yes. Wondering "what next?" Yes. A little angry? Yes. Going through life in a daze? Yes.
January of this year, two months after my last radiation, I began a free fall into an emotional and physical dark hole that lasted three months - it was very deep hole! As I was free falling, I knew something was not right, and I was worried the black hole was bottomless. I was pissed off that I could not find any information on what to expect after cancer treatment is done. Then, I saw a flier in the exam room at MGH for a program sponsored by LIVESTRONG called "Transitions: Moving Beyond Treatment." I called immediately to enroll in the six week program at MGH in Boston. For six Thursdays afternoons in May and June I took the train into Boston, and walked from North Station to the hospital. The travel, itself, felt like a transtion as I took a meditative train ride, and brisk walk through the busy streets of Boston to MGH.
The Transitions program covered physical and emotional health. It encompassed exercise, nutrition, and emotional well being. We were a group of 18 cancer survivors, men and women, ages 25-65, diverse backgrounds, people from at least 6 different countries, countless types of cancer, living active lives, and within one year of treatment. I was extremely relieved, and a bit angry, to discover that all of my fellow participants/cancer survivors tripped into the same black hole as me! I was relieved because it confirmed that I was not losing all my marbles. I was angry because none of us were warned about the black hole! Our stories had a common theme: cancer...treatment...black hole. Every single one of us!
The great news is that LIVESTRONG'S Transitions program provided a ladder to help us climb out of that damn hole. We all agreed that attending the program was one of the most important things we did for ourselves. We laughed. We teased each other - stupid cancer jibes. (For example, one woman had breast cancer three times. I turned to her and said, "Geez Lisa, you only have two boobs!) We cried. We supported each other and challenged each other. There were no pity parties!
Several experts spoke to our group: exercise trainers, nutritionists, social workers, psychiatrist, oncologists, etc. We participated in a variety of exercise programs: yoga, Quigong, stretching, aerobics, etc. I felt a little bad for the two oncologists because every person in our program kept asking "Why didn't you warn us about this terrible state we fell into after treatment?" I suggested to the oncologists that when they formulate a treatment plan, they should include the Transitions program. I told them that I felt Transitions was as important to my health as chemotherapy and radiation.
If you are interested in learning more about the LIVESTRONG transition program, click on the link below.
Two weeks ago I was speaking to my trial nurse about the importance of the Transitions program. She thought that not all cancer patients needed this program because many of them don't have such a tough time after treatments. My answer to her was, "Garbage!" Most people don't talk about the depression or tough times because they are embarrassed. How do I know this? I was one of them. Why do you think it has taken me so long to write about it? Maybe those cancer people who do not live active lives might fall so deep into the hole, but believe me, even if it is a little pot hole, it's a hole.
I am a born again LIVESTRONG fan! I wear my yellow bracelet every day! I only wish someone had directed me to their website when I was first diagnosed. It has volumes of resources, programs, and support. They have a program that sends children of cancer patients to camp for free. It is run through colleges and universities. In Boston, MIT runs the program, taking kids to Camp Merrowvista in August. (Riley attended this wonderful camp with her entire 6th grade.) If I had known about this program last summer when I was going through chemotherapy, Riley and Molly would have enjoyed camp with other kids going through the same tough times.
Information on this program: http://www.livestrong.org/Search.aspx?SearchText=Camp
I have always been indifferent about Lance Armstrong and all the stories surrounding him. However, I find myself defending him. Unlike many successful athletes, he used his fame and fortune to help millions of people. Who cares about his social life and kids? Who cares about the allegations of using illegal performing enhancing drugs. (I cannot imagine how anyone who beat cancer, knowing it can come back at any time, would take a drug that would dramatically increase the chance of recurrence! (Jealousy is ugly.)) His foundation, LIVESTRONG, does not just focus on cancer in the United States, it supports programs all over the world!
It is time to come down from my yellow soap box.
If you see me swerving, I am avoiding a black hole.
Whacky thought for the day...
If you want to looked dressed up, just put on a stand pearls.
I can wear the exact same outfit two times, one day with pearls and one day without. Someone will always comment that I look nice on the day I threw on the pearls. No comments on the pearl-less days.
If guys wear pearls, they will receive comments too.