Dealing with cancer as a fiercely independent introvert (Part 2)

I wrote this post about being an introvert with cancer over a year ago and realized that I never gave you a part 2. Maybe because I knew that I couldn’t fully write about my independent spirit until this week.

My parents will tell you that I was born independent. Even as a baby I didn’t want people to help me with things. I wanted to figure them out on my own. My mom tells a story about me playing with a toy that required finding the correct hole for different shaped blocks. Circle to circle. Square to square. She apparently tried to help me figure it out and I would turn my head and pretend that I wasn’t interested. But the moment I was left alone I was trying it on my own. (I hope my mom and dad knew they were in trouble at that point. 🙂 )

I operate this way in most areas of my life and cancer is no different. It is hard for me to let ask for helppeople help me. Often times it is even hard for me to know what I need. I am stubborn. I wont let cancer win. I wont let it take my life from me. But whether I want it to or not it has changed me. Some ways for the better: My faith has been fortified in the fire. I am more able to live in the moment and enjoy life. I don’t feel the need to control as much as I used to. I now have absolute confidence I can overcome everything. Some ways for the worse: I am afraid every bruise/pain in my body is the cancer coming back. My mind is still foggy from the chemo/Tamoxifen. It can be harder to relate to people.

I heard from many cancer patients that, often, the hardest season is after you have finished treatment. I am finding that to be true for me. During treatment my job is defined. I need to show up, tolerate the chemo/radiation and then let the side effects roll. It’s not pleasant but you don’t have to think too hard. After the heavy treatment is over I no longer have the security of doctors and nurses looking after me or daily/weekly check ups. I am left to figure out my “new normal” in life with no guide book. People I encounter ask me “Aren’t you glad the treatment is done?” or “Doesn’t it feel good to have cancer behind you?” without realizing that it will never be fully behind me and I am now in a more difficult phase than I was a year ago. You see…everyone thinks I’m moving on and moving forward but I’m still catching my breath and figuring out what “moving forward” even means. I am still taking medicine (maybe for the next 5 years) that affects my sleeping, attention, cognitive function and gives me wicked hot flashes. I am operating in my margins while trying to figure out what normal is.

I have been profoundly changed this year and it is difficult to just reintegrate back into life. I was a square block in a square hole…now I am a round block trying to fit back into a square hole. It doesn’t work. And after several months of trying to force myself back into the same role…becoming more exhausted and stressed out. I admitted that I need help figuring out where I fit and it was freeing to finally say that I can’t do it on my own. I need help and that’s OK.



I choose laughter

Everyone handles grief and disappointment in his or her own way. It is hard to anticipate how you will react until you’re getting kicked around by shock, anger, sadness, frustration, anxiety, helplessness, loss…just searching for a solid emotional ground to land on.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) my family and Jonathan and I have already had a few turns on this ride. We know the benefits of being present with your emotions and taking things one day at a time. Something my mom said to me after we told her was “It feels bad to say this, but I am good at this. I know how to square my shoulders and walk into the storm.” The last 2 posts we put up have been describing some of the things we can’t control in this storm. I want this post to be about the empowering choices have made to find joy. Before we could make any choices we had to internalize these 2 statements:

  • We will not be in denial but will recognize this as our new reality. This is happening.
  • Within our new reality we will claim as many opportunities as possible for life, laughter and fun – Cancer takes a lot but we will not allow it to take everything

On to some of the choices we have made:

1. We did a boudoir photo shoot. It was something we had talked about but never actively pursued because we had time…until we didn’t.  It’s not that we thought the future was now black, but just after the surgery/treatment everything would now be different and we wanted to capture this current moment in images. We had been saving some money for a trip we now couldn’t go on and decided to use it to hire a professional and couldn’t have been happier. We were blessed with a Google search that turned up Lesley and Adley Studio  who arranged the most amazing shoot in only a few days.  Seriously, it was 1 week from diagnosis to the shoot…fortunately there was a good make up artist because I still had bruises from the biopsy. But it was perfect and we couldn’t be happier with the images! Obviously, most of them are not for public display but here are a couple breast cancer statement images that are fun.









2. After we got the diagnosis we had a “Kick cancer’s ass party” at a local pub with some friends here in Groningen.  It was a ton of fun because we have awesome friends. It was also symbolic because we were not going to be quiet about what we are going through and will party when we feel like it.

3. We had already planned a week ski trip to the French Alps that happened to fall right before the surgery and even though we couldn’t go on the full trip we made the effort to at least enjoy 3 days. It was beautiful spring skiing weather, and while the snow was a bit slushy the views and alpine air were unbeatable.

4. I have done more shopping recently than I normally do. There is something about having some fun new clothes and knowing you look good to lift your spirits. I bought a few dresses with wild busy prints and some awesome new boots that I wear almost daily. It helps me walk out of the house with a smile on my face.






5. Last week I dyed my hair a red/purple/brown color. I figured why not? My hair will be gone in 1-2 weeks and now is the opportunity to try something I never would have had the guts to do before. I walked into the drug store picked out a box and voila! I think it turned out awesome and it is admittedly not quite as red as this picture makes it look but still a big shift from my natural color. I have been asked whether it will now be harder to shave off…no way, because I never would have done it otherwise.




6. I will shave my head. I haven’t done this yet but rather than letting chemo take my hair in chunks it will come off with a razor. It feels more empowering to choose when and how it goes rather than just letting it happen.  And also, I have an awesome friend in the Philips grooming department who made me my very own custom Breast Cancer Pink balder complete with a ribbon at the bottom if you look close. IT IS AWESOME! I think the Philips marketing department should pick up on this.




7. I am learning to knit and crochet to keep myself busy during the chemo/radiation process. So far I’ve made 3 hats and a poncho. Not everything has turned out exactly as I have planned but it is fun to learn and experiment.

8. The IVF process was also a choice we made and obviously it did not go quite as planned it still helped us to feel like we were able to do something for the future. We would also choose to do it again if we had to do it over.

9. I have continued to run/exercise as much as my body will allow. And I have signed up for a chemo exercise program to hopefully help me keep some fitness level while my body is undergoing treatment.

Thanks if you made it all the way to the end of this. 🙂 It was a long-ish one.