An explorer of all that life has to offer
ABOUT JANET, IN HER OWN WORDS:
- Life sure has a way of waking a person up, or as I call it, hitting one with a "cosmic two-by-four!"
- I'd spent my adult life making sure others were able to thrive, and now I was the one who would need support.
- In the weeks and months that followed the diagnosis, I was able to begin the process of finding "me" again. I decided I had a choice about how to be present and cope with this new reality.
A Life Less Ordinary
Memorable moments often happen unexpectedly. One of mine occurred one dusky evening when I was living in rural North Carolina. While driving home from a friend's home, I noticed a mass of twinkling lights in a field. I quickly pulled over thinking I was about to pass out or something! "What are all those twinkling lights?" I asked myself. "Are they aliens from outer space or am I just light-headed?" As it turned out, the field was alive with fireflies! I'd never seen any clustered like that in my native Colorado. It looked like a sea of Christmas tree lights. Once I realized I was not out of my mind, I sat still and in awe of this unexpected glorious wonderment!
When one of my good friends decided to become a midwife in the hills of Appalachia, I was intrigued, so I joined her in North Carolina.
I felt like I'd landed in a vortex of like-minded New Age city folk who were transforming themselves, like me, into country explorers. Although I experienced culture shock initially, I eventually came to settle in and fully experience all of what it offered. In a matter of several months, I was gardening, keeping bees, and building a small cabin. We always had to cut wood to feed the wood stove in the winter. The locals would tell me, "Wood: the fuel that heats you twice; once while splitting it and once while burning it." Yes, it was hard sometimes, but it was enriching, and I learned so much about my own strength and capabilities.
In many ways those years taught me how to live "close to the earth," be more self-reliant, and develop a deeper sense of connection with others. It really did take a village to get through the highs and lows of living so rurally. All those adventures have brought me to the place where I am now—seeing myself as deeply connected to others and practicing gratitude with every waking day, even when the day is rough.
Moving to a New Chapter
While I thrived out in the wilderness and made many wonderful friends with whom I remain close, eventually I decided to move off that mountain. About 10 years into the experiment, I began to feel the pull of modern life, so to speak. I felt like it was time to build a "grown-up" career and be a part of a larger society while I was still young enough to clear a new path. So I moved to the Pacific Northwest and studied vocational rehabilitation. I still wanted to give back, and I still wanted to be in an environment surrounded by natural wonder.
Years went by and my career and personal life flourished. I met and married my husband and we are both active in our community. We have a lot of fun together. But this all changed in what seemed like an instant. Life sure has a way of waking a person up, or as I call it, hitting one with a "cosmic two-by-four!" You know, just when you think you have life's problems figured out or some major hurdle overcome, you get a message from the universe that you still need to do more work.
I was working as a professional vocational rehabilitation counselor and on weekends being very active outdoors in the Pacific Northwest mountains, when I kept having issues with heartburn. I ignored it for a while and was not worried. I figured I was just too busy or maybe stressed. I finally went to see my primary care physician who suggested I have an abdominal ultrasound and CT scan to check for ulcers or something similar. I was not particularly concerned, and I assumed if there was anything amiss that it could be managed easily enough. I was wrong. Very wrong, it would turn out.
Diagnosis and Directions
Little did I know that the results of these tests would involve more tests, surgery for what was thought to be a tumor in my colon, and then the surgeon telling me he could not do the procedure he’d planned because the tumor was attached to vital organs. Instead, he took biopsies of my gut and a few days later, while I was still recovering from the preempted surgery in the hospital, I was told I had Stage IV HR-positive, HER2-negative metastatic breast cancer. That was a "cosmic two-by-four" that I never saw coming.
I was emotionally numb. I'd had mammograms every year with no signs of cancer and had no problem with a recent colonoscopy, so the diagnosis was shocking. Of course, I'd heard about breast cancer, but I'd never really worried about having it, and I kept up with my annual checkups. I had no idea how my life would change. I kept thinking, "Stage IV?" What happened to Stage I, II, and III? Metastatic breast cancer? How does breast cancer spread to other organs without being detected? My head was spinning with questions. During the day, I felt I had to be strong for my husband, my friends, even the medical staff; however, when alone in the early morning hours, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably in disbelief that this was really happening to me.
This "cosmic two-by-four" was so very different. Suddenly I was being told about treatment options, learning new terms, and reading about life expectancy. It was overwhelming. I'd spent my adult life making sure others were able to thrive, and now I was the one who would need support.
My oncologist told me that we would discuss my treatment options. I learned about IBRANCE, which is a prescription medication used to treat patients with my type of cancer. It was explained that I would take IBRANCE on a cycle of three weeks on and one week off, in combination with letrozole, an aromatase inhibitor that I would take every day. My doctor also told me about the possible benefits and common and potentially serious side effects.
I experienced side effects with this combination, including low white blood cell counts, fatigue, hair thinning, and some aches and pains. I didn't have the energy I once had and was more prone to infections. I learned to nap often and carry a bottle of drinking water with me wherever I go. Some patients may experience other serious or common side effects, including lung problems, infections or nausea.
This was my experience. Everyone’s experience with IBRANCE plus letrozole will be different and it’s important that you talk to your doctor about the appropriate treatment option for you. I am no longer taking IBRANCE with letrozole and am now receiving a different treatment.
The Path Back to "Me"
I wondered how I would face cancer. Fortunately, my philosophy is that we are all created from stardust; we are all "walking each other home" on this journey we call life. I believed that there was so much more for me to do in this life.
My life in those lonely early morning hours in the days soon after diagnosis began to take on a new shape. I remembered all those times in Appalachia where I often had to rely on nothing more than a bundle of chopped wood, a few jugs of water, and the support of my rural community.
In the weeks and months that followed the diagnosis, I was able to begin the process of finding "me" again. I decided I had a choice about how to be present and cope with this new reality. I could live in fear, guilt, shame, blame, or move forward more purposefully knowing that with a strong connection to others of like minds, you can live fully in the realm of possibilities. I chose to surround myself with my people and slowly but surely made additional choices that would allow me to have more peace. I quit my job, for one thing. I wanted to be able to stop and smell the roses. I focused on all the goodness in my world. I remembered that moment seeing all those "twinkling lights" and all the amazing sights I had seen while hiking in the mountains. By doing so, I learned that there are many new possibilities if I just meditate and "do the work," slow down and find childlike joy in the smallest of miracles.
I often stop. Breathe. Try to live in the moment. Repeat the process again and again, and recognize there is still gratitude in my life and ask, "What is mine to do today? Can my actions and behavior make a positive difference?"
I feel I’m being held in loving hands within my spiritual community, relationships, and especially with my loving spouse. I can still enjoy the things I did before in moderation and find that I now hold more precious the present moment and beauty of every day. I've found that gratitude is a great way to offset the blow of the "cosmic two-by-four."