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My Journey: March – August 2002

"For me, sometimes friends and family were good and not so good, meaning.... Nobody knew how to react to my situation…what I needed and at times overdid their graciousness, unintentionally. I was given things that felt like I was really in bad shape, it scared me; i.e. emotional cards, flowers, notes (almost like saying goodbye). I just wanted to see people acting normal to me, without gifts, notes, verses, books, sad eyes, self-pity.

"I remember distinctly that as I looked around while driving to my doctor's appointments, I saw smiles, busy lives, going to hectic jobs, errands to run, and children to be fed. I said, 'Gosh, I wonder if they know where I am going and that my day will be far from busy, hectic or enjoyable.'

"But once I entered the chemo area with 'my kind,' I knew I wasn't alone. It wasn't just me against the world, it was others suffering, even more so; but we all managed and just did it.We went along with the protocol of the day, hoping your doctor just might say to you that 'it' was 'misdiagnosed, your blood work is fine…you're CURED!'

"Three 3 IV's, a good movie to watch, a little stomach issue; after six hours you are on the way home again. It was our life for that day, that week, that month, that year. But as you adjusted to each other's comfort ability, you honored it, by way of just saying hello, offering a warm smile that [says] 'I care,' having a cup of tea together or just an understanding silence…. Our body and mind kept telling us, each time you enter a lab, doctor's office, chemo station or radiation bed, 'we have 6 more weeks, 5 more weeks, then 4….'

"And after that, if you require more, it is just what you will do, because too many people want you to WIN THIS BATTLE. You will have times of just being tired of being tired, sick of being sick, upset of being bald. But God gave us this for a reason and I truly believe for me, it was to be an example of courage, winning my struggles and lasting resiliency. I felt a calling to be a role model for those going through this disease and for those family members. There is truly an undeniable hope that you can never imagine, that we will persevere for us and our loved ones.

"My comic relief was seen by many. I believe it gave us all a feeling of calmness and normalcy. Friends saying, 'You were the prettiest bald lady I ever met.' Playing with a dog with my wig, and just laughing at bunco…when you thought you could never laugh again, after finding out you had the "C" word. Just because I was sick, it didn't mean the world had to stop and be miserable with me. My mood for the most part was well maintained. I had days, especially on chemo days and a few days after, that I had bumps in the road. But I got myself a nice wig, bonnets, nightcap, scarves, and eyelashes too, and I was off to start the day.

"I continued working, helping to open up a new business, I was head of HR and I had wonderful friends to get me though those times of getting sick in the ladies' restroom. Jolly Ranchers and free Diet Dr. Pepper was a great perk and did the trick to ease dry mouth and queasiness.

"I had a wonderful outlook…it took some time, though. The laughter, smiles, prayers, tears and hugs were my healing remedies. As I was shopping one day, I thought about how nice it would be to have a new sofa…. Decisions on things prior to my diagnosis were so clear and then came the news. I never gave the sofa second thought. Other things came to mind, like treatment options and the future with my family. Wow, that hit me like a ton of bricks. The frivolous idea of a new piece of furniture, how dare I! Isn't the old sofa good enough?! Years later, I often think about my sofa dilemma and how I did purchase another one. But it's funny, the new one never did feel right. I guess because of an indescribable guilt that I still have to this day.

"There were days I didn't want to hear the neighbors and kids outside my bedroom window being silly, playing ball or laughing. I was in bed on this beautiful sun-lit day and I felt rotten. I shut the windows, closed the blinds and felt sorry for myself…. 'But this too shall pass,' I said to myself and prayed to God for forgiveness for my anger and selfishness. I thanked him for my doctors, my meds and the resources he gave me.

"On many of a night, I felt a warm, soothing, strong hand rub across my back as I wore my night cap, and felt and looked far less of a woman for him. I had tears running down my cheeks, which he never saw. I knew my husband was trying to cleanse me with his own sense of helplessness. He wanted so badly to take the pain and disease away. It was a time in our marriage, I truly felt the intense love and fragility of my husband.

"You started seeing the sunrise and sunset in a whole new meaning, taking it in longer; breathing in and out with a pure energy, hoping it would not stop. Really listening to the birds chirp and the rain tattering on your window. It was a beautiful realization that life is alive and you are too; and for me, to appreciate every bit of it. I wanted to say so badly, 'Why me?' (For the record, I never did.) I just knew God had a plan all mapped out and I went with it. I got stronger and mentally tougher, and fought the battle and I never looked back. I am here for you if ever you want to talk or to listen about my personal walk or to just say hello, offer a warm smile that says, 'I care', have a cup of tea together or just an understanding silence…."

-- nshaffer, diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2002

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