Positive Affirmations

Have you ever felt sad and didn’t know why?

Have you ever cried for no reason at all?

I started saying positive affirmations to myself when I was going through chemotherapy. I didn’t feel like any of the perky things that I said to myself in the mirror. That is why I had to say them.

I am strong

I am free

I am healed

I am whole

I am loved

I am beautiful

Then why do I feel so bad?

I am happy

I am deserving

I am calm

I am fulfilled

I am successful

I am going to get better

Then why does it feel like I will never feel joy again?

It was hard for me to stand in front of the mirror and tell myself these things that I wanted to believe. It’s hard to be positive when you’re fighting for your life. I have always been happy. It is tough to maintain that positive spin when you are dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

I had to believe in me. I had to believe I would be healthy again.

I wrote out a list of over twenty positive affirmations.

I posted them in front of me on the counter in the bathroom.

I would look at the list.

I would look at me.

The list.

Me.

My skin did not have its healthy glow.

My eyes looked glazed. I had to look hard to see the me that was there before chemo.

As I started reading my list and speaking the words, they sounded hollow.

But as I read the words though, I stood up straighter.

I started to feel the words. I needed to believe them. I wanted them to be true.

I read my list of positive affirmations each day. Some days I read them crying. Some days I read them with doubt.

But most days my desire for them to become my truths took hold.

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Route 5

Today as I was editing, revising and creating pieces of my cancer story I looked back a few poems I wrote a couple of years ago. Often I write to just get my story out. When I write for me –  I write poetry.

Here are a couple of poems I wrote during my divorce that made me smile today.  Smiles, Cat

Route 5

She woke up

Got dressed

Walked out the door and no one noticed…

Well, that’s not really true.

Maybe I should have said:

She woke up

Went to the bathroom

Fixed a cup of coffee

Washed her face

Made up her bed

Put on makeup

Made another cup of coffee

Tried on clothes till she found something that fit

Fixed school lunch for her son

Prayed with her sister on the phone

Checked email

Checked Facebook

Tried to write

Let the dog out

Made another cup of coffee

Stopped

Went to the window

E   x      h       a     l      e      d

Exhaled all the stresses and worries

She didn’t want them back

so she didn’t inhale

for

a

long time

She had to >inhale<

eventually

When she did inhale

she inhaled questions

Why?

Why is this how her life is now?

Why isn’t anything easy?

Why can’t she just leave?

For a short time

not forever

leave

She has a book on her coffee table called, “The Most Scenic Drives in America”.

She picked up the book

Opened it to anywhere…

Washington State

Olympia, WA

Route 5

She gets in her car

She drives

To Walmart

Do you exist?

I woke up this morning and felt you thinking about me.

I felt your arms around me.

I felt you kiss my neck.

I woke up this morning and felt you with me.

Did you wake me up? Or did I wake you?

Who are you?

You are not here but I can feel you in my being.

Were you made for me, like I was made for you?

Do you exist or have I just imagined you.

Have I just wanted you to “be” so much that I have created you in my mind?

Are you a fairy tale?

I have searched for you all my life.

I have needed you even when I didn’t know I needed you.

I needed you when I was searching for who I was after my parents divorced.

You could have been the one I leaned on, as my known world was destroyed.

I needed you when I was surrounded by people… but felt alone.

You could have been the person that made me feel accepted.

I needed you when I had breast cancer.

You could have been my support, you could have given me hope, you could have given me love, and you could have told me I would be ok….

You could have dried my tears and held me close.

You could have been my strength when mine was all used up.

Do you exist?

Am I creating you in my heart?

I have wanted you for a long time.

I have wanted you to hear what I have to say.

I have wanted you to warm me when I am cold.

I have wanted you to know who I am, who I really am.

I have wanted you to share my dreams with.

I have wanted you to be mine.

Could you possibly exist?

Could you be searching for me too?

Could you be loving me and not know it?

Did you wake me up this morning?

Or did I wake you?

Different Like Me

I didn’t want to be different, different in that way. After a cancer diagnosis you are altered. I never wanted to be Cancer Cathleen. People change how they act around you when you have been diagnosed with cancer. They don’t mean to. They just don’t know how to act, do you say something or do you ignore it. They are awkward and that makes you feel self-conscious. I’ve always been unlike others but if I changed the way I acted now, I would die.

I set out on an unintentional mission to make sure I didn’t appear different to the others – those that were not different; different like me. I started with the cancer center. There were incredible people working at the Southwest Cancer Center in Lubbock, Texas. I could only imagine the amount of stress they went through each day. I wanted to give back to the people that were helping me. As a thank you, I began offering yoga classes to the staff of the cancer center. Looking back I believe I wanted to help them but I also wanted them to see me and know me. I didn’t want to be just another breast cancer patient. Maybe I was also trying to have some sort of control over a part of the cancer center.

When I was diagnosed with cancer I was:

  • Working as the Executive Coordinator to the CEO of a company 20 hours a week
  • Teaching 5-8 fitness classes a week
  • Preparing to test for my black belt in Tae Kwon Do
  • A fundraising Chairman for a volunteer organization
  • The mother of a 6th and 10th grader
  • Meeting my friends on Thursdays at 2:30 at Hastings for coffee

I was busy. I was too busy for cancer. Cancer was demanding that I slow down. I said, “hell no”! I pushed myself even harder. The groups I was involved with were my support. If I quit any part of my life I would lose my base. I tested and received my black belt in Tae Kwon Do two weeks after my first chemo treatment. I scheduled chemo and radiation treatments around aerobics and yoga classes. I worked even harder at my volunteering. I worked so hard to maintain the life I had before cancer. What I didn’t realize then but I see now is I will always be different because I had cancer. I couldn’t hide from it. I could continue to discount the reality of cancer but that doesn’t lessen the fear. I could tell everyone that I’m glad I had cancer and not something I would have to live with the rest of my life because I knew I was going to beat it. I made it my job to let everyone know cancer isn’t that bad. It didn’t matter how many times I said it, I never believed me.

I tried to hide under a wig. Wigs were uncomfortable and they itched but wigs gave me a place to hide. I wore a wig anytime I went out of the house. If I didn’t wear a wig people might look at me and feel pity. I wanted to blend in – not stick out. People would whisper – have you heard Cathleen Reid has cancer. It wasn’t meant to be mean, it was just news. I could not stomach anyone pitying me. I understood why they pitied me. Maybe it wasn’t pity but concern. I know it wasn’t pity from the people that knew me. They loved me and wanted me to be ok. There were many prayer groups praying for healing for me. Maybe it wasn’t pity but shock. I was healthy and young. Maybe some people wondered how I could have gotten cancer. If I did, did that increase their odds? Maybe they just didn’t know what to say.

There are numerous options when you walk up to someone that has cancer.

I heard them all.

  • “I am soooooo sorry. I heard you have cancer”
  • “How are you?” – said in a very sad and pitying tone
  • “Tell me all about it. What stage are you? Did they get it all? Do you have to have chemo”
  • “You know my grandmother/mother/aunt/neighbor had breast cancer. She sure was a fighter. She died about six months after diagnosis but I remember how strong she was”
  • “I am so sorry, how long do you have?”
  • “Well, I guess you’ll lose all that pretty hair of yours, then you’ll know how the rest of us feel”

They wanted to make me feel better. How it came out – rarely made me feel better.

When people talk about cancer survivors it used to annoy me. I felt they pitied me. What I didn’t realize was that they were recognizing how hard it was. Recognizing that we cancer survivors have gone through something difficult and survived. I still don’t like pity, I never will. It assumes I cannot survive. Most people felt concern for me, I just saw the concern as pity. From now on, I am going to see it as recognition.

Recognition that I am a warrior – a survivor

Heartache

I just read a strong and terribly sad blog post written by a daughter about her mother’s cancer recurring. Recurrence is a fear all cancer patients live with forever. I am eight years cancer free and I still stress out each year when it is time for my visit to the oncologist. I usually go see my oncologist in November each year. In October I become aware again that I am a cancer survivor – how can a breast cancer survivor/patient miss it with all the pink ribbons adorning everything. I remember getting so many items covered with pink ribbons when I was diagnosed. I was even given pink yoga pants. Pink was my least favorite color and my life was quickly accented with pink. October is a hard month for me because of the reminders that are everywhere. November brings stress as I wait to get the results of my tumor markers. I am always glad I go in a week early to get my blood drawn so I can get the results from my oncologist. The week between the blood draw and my appointment is hard. I replay scenarios in my head. I worry. I stress. I pray. After I see my oncologist and get a clean bill of health I only get a short reprieve. My mammogram is usually in December.

I get the reminder in October. I feel the stress in November. The fear arrives in December. It is not normal fear like you feel when you see a scary movie or see a snake or fear rejection, failure or heights… it is a fear that hits you in the pit of your stomach. It is an indescribable fear that cancer patients know well.

When I read the blog post this morning, I could feel this daughters fear. She was mad but the anger was fueled by fear. As I read her post I felt the fear her mother must be feeling at the knowledge that she will probably die of cancer. I understood the anger and I felt the fear. I never like reading or hearing about recurrence. Recurrence shouldn’t happen. Recurrence is always in the back of cancer patient’s minds, even when they have had all the tests that tell them there is a low chance the cancer will return. The chemo, the radiation, the loss of hair, the loss of my belief that I will always be fine, the nausea, the fear for my children – recurrence brings all that back.

I am always surprised at how people seem to want to tell me that they have a loved one whose cancer returned. Hearing that always feels like a bucket of ice water has been poured over me. I don’t believe those that have not had cancer understand what that does to someone that has had cancer.

I cannot think of any words to say to ease the anger and fear this daughter felt for her mother this morning. I am at a loss and that does not happen to me often. I also feel as though I cannot read something so raw and not comment. There is nothing to say to make this daughter feel better. My heart aches for her and for her mother.

I Wonder

I wonder what I will be doing in a year from now.

Will I be happy?

I wonder what color my hair would be if I didn’t color it.

I wonder when it will snow again.

I wonder if I could get through the day without hearing your voice.

I wonder if dogs can really understand what we say.

I wonder if I could run a marathon.

I wonder if I am a good person.

I wonder if I can be forgiven.

I wonder if I will finish write my book.

I wonder if I can be loved.

I wonder if I will ever see Scotland.

I wonder if there is anyone that would love me, as I am.

Could I be loved without having to change?

I wonder if anyone, besides my children, will ever get my sense of humor.

I wonder why people don’t feel the magic of Christmas anymore.

I wonder if I will ever own a horse again.

I wonder if there is life on other planets.

I wonder if God loves all of us, no matter what we believe and what we do.

I wonder how I got so lucky to have such wonderful children.

I wonder if I will be alone for the rest of my life.

Would I rather be alone than with someone that doesn’t love me?

I wonder how I was blessed with so many great friends.

I wonder if I will always have to make the coffee.

I wonder why my toes are always cold.

I wonder why the smell of cinnamon makes me happy.

I wonder why I wonder.

Does anyone else sit around and wonder random things?

Am I weird?

I wonder why I got cancer.

I wonder if I will ever feel safe again.

I wonder if I will always wonder.

BC/AC

November 12, 2006

BC:     Before Cancer

Before the realization that I am mortal

Before putting minor annoyances in perspective

Before trusting my intuition

BC:     Before Cancer

Before noticing the feel of the wind

the sound of a dogs bark

the look of laughter

BC:     Before Cancer

Before believing in the strength that I have always had within me

Before noticing the sound of silence

Before enjoying being alone

BC:     Before Cancer

November 13, 2006

Cancer.

Shock.

Fear.

Hate.

Despair.

Hopelessness.

Strength.

Determination.

Peace.

Calm.

AC:      After Cancer

After the shock

After the fear

After the hate, the despair and the hopelessness

Breath

Light

Heartbeat

Strength

Strength I had never imagined I possessed

Purpose

Finding my purpose

Determination

To defeat cancer

To live my life, not exist in a life

To be authentic

Peace

Calm

Truth

Most people never get the chance to take a hard look at their lives.

Most people do not have to find a strength that is hidden in their soul, to survive.

Strength stirring their emotions.

Emotions that erupt like a hurricane, churning debris and trash.

Emotions that hurt can heal.

From the hopelessness

Strength finds the light in your soul.

The light that can save.

The light that can heal.

Wigs

Rachel. Phoebe. Zoe. Julia.

Aren’t wigs for old ladies that don’t want to “do” their hair everyday? Or prostitutes? Or teenagers trying out new looks? Or Dolly Parton? Where do you even look for a wig store? Google. There was only one wig store in Lubbock, Texas. Wig Trend. It felt weird going to the wig store. The lights were that odd violet florescent. Where does one start? What color do I want? What style? I tried on wig after wig. The reason I was trying on wigs soon disappeared from my mind. It was fun trying on wigs. Being someone else, someone that didn’t have cancer.

I found one wig that I liked more than the others. It was a little longer than shoulder length. It looked like Jennifer Aniston’s hair. I bought it and called it Rachel. This was my serious wig. This was the wig I wore to church or special occasions. This would be the first wig I wore after chemo. This wig was tight. It felt confining. It wasn’t long before I decided I needed a new wig. I needed a fun wig that I could wear when I taught aerobics – something different, something that wasn’t tight.

Wigs itch, on a baldhead. No one told me that either. I was finding out all sorts of things that people don’t talk about. I never understood why more chemo patients wore hats and not wigs. Wigs were uncomfortable. Wigs were safe. Wigs protected me from the stares of the normal people.

I went back to the wig store and found Phoebe. This wig was short and had attitude. It was dark auburn. The people in my fitness classes would cringe when I wore Phoebe. They knew class would be hard. Phoebe was my badass wig. This wig was lightweight, highly ventilated and sassy! I remember teaching aerobics and getting really sweaty, off would come the wig to be shaken out then right back on. I treated Phoebe like a hat.

I never felt like me in the Rachel or Phoebe wig. I made one final trip to the wig store. I found my favorite wig, Zoe. This wig felt like me. The hair was shorter than I normally wore my hair. It was chin length. It was long layers. It was wavy. It was red. It was me. This wig helped me to feel normal. This wig made me forget I was bald. I smiled from the inside. As I was walking out of the wig store with my purchase, actually I wore it out, I noticed a cute little blonde wig. It was a blonde bob. I don’t know why I noticed a blonde wig. I had never wanted to be a blonde. Maybe I figured I had a brown wig, an auburn wig and a red wig – I needed a blonde wig to complete this collection of the versions of me. I tried it on. I bought it. The first time I wore the blonde wig was to the gym to train a client. I felt awkward. It was blonde. As I walked in one of the other trainers said, “hey Cathleen, I love this one! You look like Julia Roberts”. I smiled, then stopped abruptly and asked, you mean Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she was a prostitute? He looked flustered and said, “ well, yea. But you look like a classy prostitute”. Hmmmm … not the look I was going for. After that, I called the blonde wig Julia. I occasionally wore Julia when I felt unconventional.

Rachel. Phoebe. Zoe. Julia. These wigs protected me. Protected me from prying eyes. Protected me from the stares. Protected me from the pity. They made me feel normal…or as normal as I could feel then. When my hair started growing in several months later, I put my wigs in their boxes. This is where they stayed. I never gave them away. I didn’t keep them because I thought I would need them again. I didn’t keep them because they had become my friends or my protectors. I kept them because they are a reminder of a pivotal time in my life. They are a reminder of how different I am now. They are a confirmation that I am more than my hair.

I am strong.

I am a survivor.

They sit in their boxes at the top of my closet. When having a bad day, when I felt I could not survive my divorce, when I felt scared and alone – the wigs served as a reminder.

I kept my wigs as a symbol that I am still here.