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Who am I now?

When I think about cancer these days, I don’t think about the bad stuff, but the good stuff instead.

 

No one seems to talk about what happens AFTER you have come through a life changing illness. Why is that? For me, I had cancer twice (breast cancer & endometrial cancer), which caused me to live in a bit of a fog for a while. Oh sure, I like to be an overachiever, but this was ridiculous! However, I quickly learned that once the cancer was taken care of, to the best of my ability, that life goes on…but how? Well, I guess I had two choices. The first was to be a victim, because you can’t believe what has happened to you, and remain in that mindset. The second is to move on with your life and use your experience to make things better for those that will unfortunately follow in your footsteps. I actually don’t think one way is necessarily a better way to handle a life changing illness, I just think it depends on how each individual handles the mental and physical stress of their journey.

For me, there was no question on how I would move forward. Being a second grade teacher and a mom, I had children that were counting on me, so I taught and parented through my surgeries and cancer issues. Those little ones will never know how much they helped me through a very tough time in my life and how much joy they brought to me each and every day. In hindsight, I’m quite thankful for my students and children, because I couldn’t focus on me all the time. However, after 2 years of teaching post cancer, the meds were making it difficult to continue teaching without wearing myself out and getting sick. Obviously, it was time for a switch my perspective on life and figure out who I was becoming. Oh sure, the change wasn’t necessarily my choice, but the way I was going to do it was. So, because being a teacher is rooted deep in my soul and giving it up was way too painful, I began writing curriculum for teachers and tutoring children instead of teaching in a classroom. I figured this was a fair compromise that allowed me to get my kid fix and stay part of the teacher community. However, at the same time, it was becoming very apparent that I needed to take my cancer experience and make things better for other breast cancer patients. But how?

Before my double mastectomy and reconstruction surgeries, I decided that I needed to be prepared, so I created a list of things I thought I would need and began thinking about how I would dress myself without raising my arms. I know, totally a teacher thing to do, right? Luckily, between my sisters and I, we were able to invent a tank top that would allow me to step into it, pull it up and secure it by using Velcro tabs at the top of each strap. It worked like a charm! A year later, after my surgeries were completed, I decided it was the tank top that was created out of necessity that would be my way of giving back to breast cancer patients. I just wanted to make other women’s journeys a little easier for them. After several years of creating patterns, choosing fabrics and finding a manufacturing company, the tank tops became a reality and are now known as “Tender Tanks”. I am so thrilled to announce that they are being used by many women throughout the United States and can be found on Amazon and several medical institutions.

As Tender Tanks has begun to take on a life of it’s own, a smile appears on my face every time I am able to help another gal along her journey. However, the urge to help others is once again tugging at me, so my next venture will be to create a philanthropic aspect to “Tender Tanks” called “Tender Caps”. All those brave women out there who have endured chemo need to keep their beautiful heads warm. So, “Tender Caps” will be soft, snuggly hats that will be crocheted by me, and hopefully others, to bring some cozy comfort to chemotherapy patients. I simply can’t wait to get the yarn flowing!

You know, it’s funny, when I think about cancer these days, I don’t think about the bad stuff, but the good stuff instead. I know that sounds totally crazy, but since cancer, I’ve become a very different person, sometimes causing myself to ask “Who am I?”. In the last 5 years, I have changed in so many ways both physically and mentally. Oh sure, my body has changed in its appearance, but that is not nearly important to me as the mental changes. Here are a few things that cancer has taught me:

  • I’m a lot stronger than I ever thought I was!
  • Prayer is very powerful.
  • Let go of things that just don’t matter.
  • Love unconditionally, and say “I love you”.
  • Allow others to help me, for my sake and theirs.
  • Attitude matters! A positive one gets you a long way!
  • People are placed in my path for a reason, so figure out what it is.
  • Laughter is the best way to make it through the worst.
  • Give back. Helping others along the cancer journey in incredibly important and extremely therapeutic.
  • And finally, to always listen to my gut! (It allowed me find both of my cancers.)

As you can see, I am truly thankful for the things and the people who have made me who I am today. I can’t thank my incredible husband, kids, siblings, parents and friends enough. And, yes, oddly enough, that includes dealing with cancer and all its issues. I am now able to see so many more of the joys in life and know that every day is indeed a gift. Leaving my old self behind was a little rough, but my new improved self is so much wiser and more ambitious. I am living proof that you can have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have you!

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