Receiving the diagnosis of Cancer is an incredibly challenging moment in anyone’s life.  It was a defining moment for me in May of 2012, marking the beginning of a demanding journey through cancer.

Back then, I was 47 years old, a single mother juggling a full-time job and part-time school.  Life was on track, and everything seemed to fit together perfectly, like a meticulously crafted puzzle.

In August 2011, I started experiencing excruciating pain near my right ear, with the discomfort radiating down my jaw.  A couple of weeks later, I noticed weakness on the right side of my face, causing drooping.  As a nurse, I assumed finding the cause would be straightforward.  However, I soon realized it was anything but. I consulted with multiple doctors, but none could provide a definitive answer.

Then in April 2012, eight months later I met Dr. Barry Schaitkin, a new physician.  I was scheduled for a scan on May 16, 2012 and that evening at 6:07 pm, received a life-altering call from Dr. Schaitkin.  He said, “I have good news and bad news.  Which do you want to hear first?”  My response was, “It really doesn’t matter.

“He continued, The good news is, I know what is causing the excruciating pain. The bad news, It’s adenocarcinoma of the parotid gland.”  I took a deep breath and asked, “Okay, when do we get it out?”  Dr. Schaitkin showed incredible compassion. Ensuring I had someone with me since I was home alone with just my son.

Initially numb, I called my friend Barb, also a nurse, who came over to offer emotional support.  She allowed me to express my emotions, whether through tear, conversation, or laughter.  As I reflected on the situation, I realized that the life I had known was about to change drastically.  It was as if a bomb had detonated, shattering my carefully constructed life puzzle.  Pieces were missing, and there were holes, large and small.  I learned the importance of filling those gaps to prevent spiraling into chaos.

Cancer treatment involves a meticulously planned routine of tests, biopsies, surgery preparation, hospital stays, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.  You focus on surviving each day, dealing with treatment side effects and the possibility of an unexpected hospitalization.  However, once chemotherapy and radiation therapy conclude, the frequency of doctor and nurse visits decrease, and a void starts to form.  Returning to work, resuming physical activities, and adjusting to dietary changes becomes challenging.  In my case, I had a tracheostomy and my mouth wired shut for 6 ½ weeks after reconstructive surgery, making smoothies and soups my primary sustenance.  I lost 80 pounds, certainly not an ideal weight loss plan.

I came to realize that the healing journey in cancer encompasses three essential components: the mind, body, and spirit.  First, mindfulness and stress management play a crucial role, tailored to individual needs. For me, this involved journaling, meditation, practicing daily gratitude, positive affirmations, gentle yoga, self-care like massage therapy and occasional visits to The Salt Cave.  Second, maintaining physical activity, even simple activities like walking or engaging in physical, occupational, and speech therapy helps rebuild stamina. Third, having a spiritual anchor, whether it’s faith in a higher power or another source of inspiration, providing solace, particularly during the toughest days.  In my case, It was my faith in God.

Reassembling the pieces of my life puzzle, I realized it had to start with self-care.  As a nurse and single mother, I had always prioritized others over myself.  I was accustomed to being the caregiver, not the one being cared for.  Learning to accept help from others was a struggle, but it’s a gift that others can offer.  It may be a phone call, preparing meals, grocery shopping, sending a card, or accompanying you to appointments.  During this journey, it’s essential to find your “why.”  For me, it was my son, Seth, who was only 7 at the time.  Despite my exhaustion, I pushed myself to be there for him, whether it was dropping him off or picking him up from school, helping with his homework, volunteering at his school, or playing with his toys.  I began filling the void with simple joys and rekindled my creative side by writing poems.  What hobbies bring you joy?  Whether it’s reading, puzzles, writing, music, art, or crafting, finding your “why” makes starting anew less daunting.

I hope sharing a glimpse of my journey is valuable to you.  If you or someone you know is facing similar struggles, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Face2Face Healing.  As cancer survivors, we are here to lend a helping hand.

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and should not replace professional advice.  Consult a qualified healthcare professional for personalized guidance and support.