A decade ago, there was a big focus on children and orphans infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. There was so much death and tens of thousands of children were emotionally, physically, socially and economically displaced. People were facing discrimination from being directly and indirectly being affected. I remember when a close relative died of AIDS and the rest of the family was too scared to tell anyone the truth. But one day I was giving a television interview and told our story and my poor sister called saying people at work may now treat her as if she has it. I know right! The ignorance, but it was the reality then.
Now we have cancer and some projections say by 2030 one in every two persons would have encountered some type of cancer in their lifetime. Cancer remains the scary death sentence that many if not most adults have known someone who has and or has died from. I know this fear. I am personally acquainted with it as a relative of someone who has died from it Three relatives to be exact; grandfather, uncle and youngest paternal aunt. As well as I have encountered it in my lifetime with my father and I living conquerors of it. While I'm obviously genetically predisposed to cancer from family history I have three other older maternal and paternal siblings who have not yet been diagnosed. So, my question was not just why me but how can I avoid this again?
People don’t understand the aftermath left behind in families affected and like HIV/AIDS many are displaced and face unnecessary stigma and discrimination. Some of us have lifetime disabilities and illnesses resulting from treatment of the disease or the disease itself. We see the stares and shock in your faces when we lose our hair or weight. My friend near to the end of her life would close her eyes when people came to visit. She knew how much her features had changed but the pronouncement of horror that she had to look back in the mirror of their faces was too much. She’d just squeeze my hands and close her eyes. Then the trauma from making friends in the same situation and loosing many is unbearable and although you make it, the sadness for those who didn’t lingers. I know we all die but the social, economic, spiritual and physical aftermath of diseases like cancer with million-dollar treatments leave many broken and challenged to recover from the recovery. Nobody talks about that!
This journey of recovery is like a degree program that never ends. It’s been one of learning and not just becoming an expert on cancer but on myself. I had to learn all the things, habits and situations that triggered my predisposition and retrain myself to override those practices with healthy living. And that’s hard. Recovery is for a lifetime and there aren’t a lot of programs that help you deal with that. So. when I go into a doctor’s office now, I'm aware of my health more than he is. I’ve learned to listen to my body and allow it to speak. Have I had recurrence? Yes, I have but, I've recovered from that again too. When I do what I know I should and stick to it I stay healthy. Ignorance for me isn't bliss and being able to learn has not just saved my life but changed it for the better.
So, I've recovered but the hardest part yet is recovering from that recovery. People look at me now like I'm fragile and because I've changed my approach to eating, working, socializing and basically living they somehow think I'm less than who I was. Who I was before was ignorant! Ignorant of how the terrible practices of life I had were killing me. Professionally nobody really wants that me now even though they won’t admit it. They want the willing to work sixteen hours a day me. I went on an interview and my colleague on the panel asked me how my energy was. I smirked and refuse to answer, because I didn't think they would have asked anyone else that. They wanted the ‘won't stop till I drop to achieve deliverables me’. The me that puts everybody else's needs before mine. So now that she died, and I’m left I must learn to recover from the subtle contempt that many have for this new me.
I'm not the only one recovering from recovery. my kids are adjusting to the mom that rests and takes time to prepare healthy meals and has her private times of exercise and rest. Yup! That one is hard because she cries out loud sometimes and gets quiet too and expresses when she's tired, angry or lonely. She lives and breathes now and they must recognize I matter too. It gets easier for them all and I just won't make any apologies for who cancer has left me to be. I'm responsible for my health now and my recovery takes time and who I am is who I'm going to be, just better.