How comforting, to be a newbie in Cancer Camp, and be able to talk online to other women from all over the country who were also facing a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. We talked about everything, from hair loss to boob loss, nothing was off limits. For the first time, I did not feel like I was alone in this, and it was so helpful to be able to ask questions and get tips and real life wisdom from women who had been there done that!
It was a pivotal point for me, and for my blog.
One of the first Sisters who stepped forward to embrace me was Kimberly, from Buffalo, New York. [Not to be confused with the other wonderful Kim's in my life who I have also mentioned on this blog - Kimberly from ACS, and Kim from Vallejo Relay!] The Kimberly I refer to now was a Sister on the Y-Me forums, who replied to my posts there, and we exchanged several personal messages over my year in Cancer Camp.
In August of 2010, I was so inspired by her and what she wrote to me, I wanted to share it with all of you, and so I wrote a blog post about her.
|August 11, 2010|
This is an excerpt from that post, where I had asked Kimberly how do you stay hopeful, what do you fear and grieve? This was her reply.
Optimism and hope come from a place in my soul, that no doubt is connected to faith. I have never been overly religious, do not go to church every week, but always had a private spiritual connection with God. I am Roman Catholic - but also believe in angels and saints and signs and the power of prayer.
When you go through cancer, you hold your faith near. I always believed; but now I KNOW.
I have put my life in God's hands now. It's easier that way. It has given me the opportunity to continue to live each day as it comes and enjoy life's small miracles. The laughter of my nieces and nephews, family and friends, sunrises and sunsets, and to truly appreciate and understand what is important in this life. It is a gift. There is a beauty and freedom that comes from living life this way. This journey has also solidified my marriage. If we can weather this storm and come out the other side - truly appreciating and loving each other - what a beautiful gift for our marriage and life. There is NOTHING we can't get through.
In my private moments, I grieve feeling "invincible" and assuming I will live until I am 89. I have moments that when I look at my scars, I think, "What the hell just happened to me?" The dark side of cancer is that if you let it, it will steal your soul.
The physical symptoms of cancer are treatable. Almost prescriptive. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, etc. But - the emotional and psychological toll is never really discussed by your doctors. And shouldn't be - as they are not qualified psychologists. They treat symptoms of disease. But, cancer makes you look over your shoulder. Cancer tries to invade your peace. And not just yours, but tries to steal it from your family too. Perhaps what I am most upset about - is the worry it has put on my husband. There are times when I look at him, the emotional toll and fear of losing me is there. I have accepted my disease and will fight it.......but, sometimes I can see fear and sadness in his eyes.
Each day when I get out of bed - I smile. I have another day! What will I do with it today? Who can I help? Who can I make smile? You have the choice everyday how you will live with cancer. Each morning, I choose to live. I choose not to feel sorry for myself. I choose to laugh. And if the darkness of cancer tries to steal that from me - a few tearful moments, then on with my day. I will NOT let cancer take away my peace. It will NOT take away my soul, or faith, or love. Fuck you cancer.
Just prior to my surgery, she sent this:
Best wishes on your upcoming BLM - you will do just fine. It takes a little time getting used to them being gone, but they are dangerous and killing you
Congrats on finishing chemo my friend - you did it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I hated chemo, I hated losing my hair and boobs. Kimberly helped me see it differently. "That shit is going to save your life" and those boobs have to go! That was the first time I thought of it like that, and later thought of Kimberly when I found this fabulous T-shirt online.
In the painful days after my bilateral, and when I got the pathology report that the chemo had not completely obliterated the cancer as I had hoped, she had this to say:
I feel the same way you do when I hear news that is disheartening; I take a day to "process." That's what I call the "curl up on the couch, eat dark chocolate, watch Lifetime Movie Network movies, snuggle with my doggies and kitties, and call some of my best breast cancer survivor friends - but ignore all other calls" day. It is totally cool that you do that. We are all entitled to feel a little sorry for ourselves. We deserve it. WE JUST HAD FUCKING CANCER.
Then - after my processing day - I snap out of it, as you will. You and I are alike. We bounce back. We cry and laugh and laugh. You'll be fine. I love you. Maybe wine will help?????????? Wish I didn't live half way across the country: I'd be at your door with wine and taking vicodin
I cannot say enough about what our correspondence did for me, at a time when I needed so badly for someone to really understand what I was going through, and needed help navigating this thing. Kimberly was one of those beaming lights on my path. How strange, to have someone so important on your journey, and yet you've never heard their voice, never seen their face. It was the beginning of many friendships made, and what I affectionately called "The Sacred Order of the Sisterhood of Cancerous Breasts."
When I first started the blog it was a way to talk myself through it, leave some kind of legacy for my boys to know me in a different way, just in case the worst came true. I was also hoping it would help somebody somewhere out there. With the help of many Sisters on the Y-Me forums, readership of my blog exploded late summer of 2010. So many Sisters, like Kimberly, arrived to help me. For the first time, I realized how much my blog helped the Sisters who follow me, by chronicling diagnosis and treatment, its losses, the grueling challenges, what kept me going and moving into survivorship.
Every Sister fighting breast cancer needs other Sisters to cheer her, comfort her, hold her hand, wipe away tears, and raise her up when hopefulness is grounded by the reality of cancer. I loved getting Kimberly's messages and praise, it meant a lot coming from her. She was one tough cookie.
1 in 8 of U.S. women will face that Devil in their lifetime, and despite all our advances in early diagnosis and treatment, 40,000 die every year. We all do our best to take care of ourselves and remain hopeful, but the truth is, this shit and what can happen is real.
With a heavy heart I am devastated to tell you that my Sister Kimberly passed away last Sunday night, at the age of 40, two years and four months after her diagnosis.
Kimberly, you will never know how much you helped this girl with the muck of Cancer Camp. Oh how your sense of humor and hopefulness was good good medicine for me. You also helped me realize the power and importance of my blog, and giving a voice to this shit. You showed me by example how all of us Sisters who have walked in this Valley need to stick together, and reclaim what cancer can never take from us. Just ahead of me on the path, you reached for me, and in doing so, inspired me to reach behind for Sisters who follow after me.
Kimberly, my Buffalo Soldier, I will never forget you, I love you, you changed me, you inspired me and made me laugh my ass off. In this year's ACS Relay for Life, serving as a Hero of Hope, you are MY HERO honey.
You are my HERO.
When I walk in and speak at Relay's, I will wear your memory on my heart, and light a luminary to honor you. I bow to you Sister.
Thank you thank you thank you for how you lived and loved and spoke and moved through this world, and how every day you were committed to fight back and reclaim your life and happiness and well being. Thank you for how you empowered other Sisters to live as you did, "the beauty and the freedom" of savoring each day with gratitude, never taking for granted all the small miracles.
Peace to you my Sister.
It is my hope your family knows what a blessing and light you were to all of us Sisters.
I carry you with me Kimberly
my Buffalo Soldier
and will look for you
in the stars.
For those of you interested, many of you "Sisters" that Kimberly touched, you can also visit the Canisius college tribute to her, and finally see her beautiful face with her Husband Matt.
Cancer stings. Love is the salve.