Cancer, With a Twist (One Cancer Survivor’s Story of Humor, Hope and a Hint of Sarcasm) Chapter 6: Free Health Insurance and a “Job Listing”

Here are my two cents on why I would love to see free healthcare for everyone in this country. I get frustrated when I hear politicians say things like, we’re going to make it so that people can buy insurance plans with what they need on it and they won’t have to have plans that include things that they don’t need. Now initially that sounds great! Who wants to pay for things you don’t need, sign me up! But here’s where I have an issue with that. Unless they’re handing out crystal balls with every insurance plan, how do you know what you’re going to need next month, next year or even tomorrow? The point of insurance is to cover you for when UNEXPECTED things happen.

I’m a good example of this because when I was diagnosed back in 2009, my husband and I had a plan that we could afford, which we later found out was a terrible plan. (A little background, we’re both self-employed which was why we were looking for insurance plans on our own. Prior to that we had both worked for companies and had gotten our health insurance through them. If you’ve always had health insurance through a company and have never had to deal with getting it on your own, you don’t know how lucky you are. You should send flowers to your Human Resources person for what they probably go through.) So, we didn’t know the insurance plan we bought on our own was a terrible plan when we initially signed up for it. We simply found one we could afford and incorrectly assumed that it would cover anything that may come up. We didn’t know that we should have asked what diseases/treatments may or may not be covered under our plan. We had both always been very healthy and were healthy at the time we signed up for it. In the past we had never had to ask about what illnesses would be covered and didn’t know that we had to. And then when I was diagnosed, we found out that we were “underinsured” and not covered for the chemotherapy that I would need for my very treatable cancer.

Unfortunately my story isn’t unique. This happens to people every day and I don’t want to see it happen to anyone anymore. I understand that some people think free healthcare is a radical idea, but we have to think outside of the box in order to make any worthwhile change. A true healthcare system is one where anyone can go to the doctor whenever they need to, for whatever comes up in their lives. It also makes sense to offer free healthcare because then people could go for their well check-ups and hopefully catch something early if a health situation arises. When people don’t go to the doctor for well check-ups and only go when they’re sick that’s more expensive for everyone.

We have enough smart people in America, and if we truly believe that we’re the greatest country in the world, then we should believe that we can do this. If we doubt that we can do this, then we’re lying when we say we think we’re the greatest. When people talk about other countries that already have free healthcare and problems that they see with it, we can learn from those countries, take what works and improve on the other things that we don’t like.

It’s very frustrating when I hear stories about how some people don’t go to the doctor because they can’t afford the co-pays, but I know it’s not their fault. Because even if they can afford the co-pays and they find out something may be wrong, they can’t afford their prescriptions or their treatment and that should never happen. Health insurance is a right, it’s not a privilege. If we’re really a country that cares about our fellow citizens then we need to fight for each other and demand the best free healthcare. Otherwise let’s stop pretending that we care about each other and call health insurance what it really is, “the business of taking money and pretending that we care.” How fair is it to pay into something that may not even cover you if you get sick? I don’t know anyone who enjoys wasting their money like that. If your health insurance doesn’t cover you no matter what may happen, then what’s the point of having it? Hoping and praying that you never get anything worse than a cold? Now that’s a nice fairy tale.

 

Here’s a fake “job listing” that I made up, looking for insurance company CEO’s. Disclaimer (yes the need to explain myself runs deep as I don’t want to offend people who don’t deserve it): The insurance companies had this one coming. Please note that this is not about insurance brokers or anyone who works for an insurance company who are just trying to do their jobs (unless you’re the CEO or whoever makes the rules). I had a great insurance broker at one time who is smart and caring. This is directed towards “the man” aka the top executives of these companies, the ones who make all of the crappy rules like “preexisting condition” clauses and other wonderful things like that which make it difficult and sometimes impossible for people to get healthcare in our country.

I wrote this after much stress and aggravation given to me by various insurance companies. For example, getting four preexisting condition letters in a four week time span, which meant I had to fill out the exact same form, with the exact same information, four times in a row and hope that the “powers that be” would approve the doctor visits I already had, even though I had already waited the amount of time told to me by the insurance company in order NOT to have to deal with the preexisting condition clause, things like that. If you’ve ever had any issues with an insurance company, I hope you enjoy this!

“Calling All Entrepreneurs”

 I’m about to present an amazing business opportunity that you won’t want to miss!

Here’s a riddle: What kind of business can you run where you can charge people for your services or product, take their money and then decide later on whether or not you actually want to give them the service or product that they already paid for. And here’s the kicker, if you don’t want to provide the service or product you don’t have to give them their money back!

What kind of business can you run where you basically decide if someone lives or dies based on whether or not you provide your service? Sounds like organized crime you say? Oh no it’s much worse than organized crime, it’s the health insurance industry in America! Because it presents itself as wanting to protect your health but really all it wants to protect is it’s bottom line. Hmm, come to think of it, it’s one of the biggest organized crime rings in America!

Found a lump that you want to get checked out but can’t even afford the co-pay, go ahead and ignore it because we’d tell you that we don’t cover the chemotherapy anyway for the very treatable cancer that you just found. Better keep sending us your money though because if we have to drop you and you’re under the age of nineteen, good luck ducking that preexisting condition clause with your new insurance company. No matter how you slice it, you’re screwed.

We’re looking for fat cat CEO’s in the making who want to make all of the rules and want to take hard working people’s money. Compassionate people need not apply. We really don’t care about people’s health, we really care about how big our wallets are. We’re looking for go-getters who have no regard for other people’s health and well-being because bottom line, other people’s health and well-being aren’t good for our bottom line.

Are you sadistic? It’s ok, you can admit it! It’s fun to make sick people squirm and what better way is there to make them squirm than to deny them their health insurance? Is there a black hole where your heart is supposed to be? Are you lacking empathy, sympathy and compassion, then you’d be a perfect CEO for the insurance industry! Don’t delay, call us now!

– Jenn G.D.

Follow me on Twitter! https://twitter.com/JennGDonohue

For help with financial/emotional issues, contact Leukemia & Lymphoma Society http://www.lls.org/

 

 

 

 

Cancer, With a Twist (One Cancer Survivor’s Story of Humor, Hope and a Hint of Sarcasm) Chapter 5: Cancer Pricks and Perks (Warning Extreme Sarcasm Up Ahead)

The next few blog posts are going to be about health insurance. It’s a hot topic right now and I felt a good time to share my experience. Here we go…

During treatment I experienced what I call cancer “pricks” and “perks”. I chose to see the silver lining while going through cancer treatment. It was either that or crawl under my covers in the fetal position which was certainly appealing some days, but mostly I chose the silver lining. I experienced perks in the form of people in general being nicer and going out of their way to be nice. I experienced pricks in the literal form of so many needles for blood work and treatment.

There were also pricks in the form of people, like the oncologist that I did not go back to who was impatient when my family asked her questions. But the biggest prick of all, the king of all pricks…drumroll please…the Insurance Companies! Insurance companies, you had this coming. It shouldn’t take a bill in congress to make you cover people for preexisting conditions, least of all children (I wrote a lot of this back in 2009 before people were covered for preexisting conditions. Sad that we’re currently in a position where it could go back to that).

People should be covered for preexisting conditions just because we’re all human and no one’s life is more precious than another’s. Prove me wrong & become an industry that’s about people, that you’re an industry actually about health CARE, and not your bottom line, because right now that’s pretty much what you’re all about. I’m sure you’ll still find a way to make money but it shouldn’t be at the expense of people’s lives.

I have a lot more to say on this subject in the blogs to come, but for now let’s start with some (sarcastic) comic relief. What you’re about to read is something I wrote shortly after finding out that I was “under” insured. Bottom line, my insurance company at the time didn’t cover chemotherapy.

INSURANCE REP:  Good morning, “Rip-Off Insurance”, you claim it we’ll deny it, how can I help you?

JENN:  Hi, I was just diagnosed with cancer and I need to schedule some tests. Can you tell me if they’re covered?

INSURANCE REP:  I’d be happy to help you. What tests do you need?

JENN:  I’ll be going for chemotherapy soon so I need to schedule a heart scan, a lung function test and a Pet/CT scan.

INSURANCE REP:  Well we cover most of the testing that you described but not all of it, oh and by the way, we don’t cover chemotherapy.

JENN:  So what you’re telling me is that the insurance that my husband and I work hard to pay for doesn’t cover the chemotherapy for my very treatable cancer?

INSURANCE REP:  Yessiree bob! (Ok, to be fair she didn’t say that. She was apologetic about it but I think I’m allowed a little creative license here.)

We end the phone call and at this point despair begins to set in. At this point I still don’t know what stage the cancer is at. I need the PET/CT scan (which can cost thousands) to tell me that and a bone marrow biopsy, yet another test to fully diagnose where the cancer is in my body. I need the heart and lung function test so that during and after chemo they’ll be able to tell if the chemo has damaged my heart or lungs and now I have no idea how I’m going to pay for it. The emotions you’re dealing with are so strong. You know it’s not the person’s fault that you’re speaking to but you just want to yell at the people denying you and say “I have cancer! I have two small children that I want to live for! I need these tests to be able to move forward and to find out exactly what my treatment is going to be! Cancer doesn’t wait for you to approve me, cancer spreads, sign me up for the Goddamn tests!”

 

 

 

 

Cancer, With a Twist (One Cancer Survivor’s Story of Humor, Hope and a Hint of Sarcasm) Chapter 4: Here’s Your Cancer Medal, Ma’am.

Here’s a newsflash, they don’t give you a medal for going through childbirth without any drugs and they don’t give you a medal when you finish chemo, or any type of cancer treatment. (I didn’t have to go through radiation or surgery but from what I hear you don’t get medals for that either!) Can you believe that? It doesn’t seem right does it? There are no medals for “being brave.” What does that mean anyway? When you’re literally faced with dying (or some other equally as frightening diagnosis), you’re allowed to be scared a little shitless, it’s OKAY. If you’re currently going through cancer treatment or you know someone who is, here’s one of the best pieces of advice that I can give. Take your anti-nausea medications!

I used to be one of those people who would always say “I don’t like to take medicine” and now I realize how dumb that sounds because honestly, who does like to take medicine? Oh yeah, everyone’s lining up to say I don’t want to be healthy, so give me lots of different medications that will give me lots of different side effects. Then I’ll have to take other medications in order to combat the side effects of the medications that are supposed to be helping me! When I went through treatment one of the nurses told me that in addition to having more anti-nausea drugs than they did even five to ten years ago, they also work so much better than they used to. Thank you research and technology!

But there are still people who don’t want to take them and I can understand that…to an extent. You feel like your body already has so much crap running through it that you don’t want to add anymore crap to the mix. But if the medication or medications you have to take have the potential to make you sick, then why not take something that can help combat that feeling? Cancer treatment is bad enough without having to feel worse than you already do. Hell, if the anti-nausea medications I had didn’t work as well as they did, I would have been puffing up a storm. You know what I mean.

All joking aside, I don’t understand how medical marijuana isn’t legal everywhere. It’s no worse than any of the other prescription drugs that we take. And let’s talk about alcohol, it’s a dangerous drug that’s LEGAL and the commercials make it seem like if you’re not drinking you’re a loser. AND unlike most alcohol (I know red wine can be good for your heart), marijuana actually has medicinal purposes! If you don’t know much about it, read up on it and see just how many conditions and diseases medicinal marijuana can help.

I’m not condoning drug use, I just get really frustrated when I hear about people who aren’t able to find symptom relief from traditional medications but they’re not allowed to try medicinal marijuana because it’s illegal. Here’s another cliché, but once again, it’s true, you don’t realize how lucky you are to be healthy until you’re so sick that you can’t remember what being healthy feels like anymore. So if I can fight for people who need whatever medication will help them, then that’s what I’m going to do. Okay, I’m putting my soapbox away…for now (wink).

I think if the politicians who block medical marijuana had to go through one chemo treatment the laws would be changed quickly. I don’t know how I would have been able to function without my anti-nausea meds. Chemo has so many side effects besides the nausea, so if you can take something that will ease one of your symptoms do yourself a favor and take it. Taking your anti-nausea meds will make a miserable experience a little bit easier. And take them religiously when you’re supposed to. I made myself a chart of what to take, what time, day, etc. It will make your life much easier.

While I was going through chemo my pocketbook looked like a pharmacy. I had my anti-nausea meds just in case I felt like I was going to toss my cookies, then I had Tums and Zantac to deal with the indigestion and reflux caused by the chemo itself and the other medications I was taking. But remember, not everyone has the same side effects, some people have very minimal side effects and that could be you. Definitely think positive and don’t stress about what side effects you may or may not get. But if you do experience them, take the medications that will help if you need them. In the meantime I’ll work on seeing how we can get those medals.

  • Jenn G.D.

Cancer, With a Twist (One Cancer Survivor’s Story of Humor, Hope and a Hint of Sarcasm) Chapter 3: Fun With Chemo Side Effects!

My treatment regimen consisted of six months of chemotherapy. I’ll go into more detail in another chapter but for now, a little sarcastic look at some of the side effects that I dealt with. I saw this next part in play form so that’s why it’s written the way it is:

JENN:

I’m thankful for traditional medicine but I’m also a believer in alternative medicine if the situation calls for it. If you can treat something without the use of a harsh drug I would rather go that route if it’s safe, and frankly the thought of going through chemotherapy scared the shit out of me, but I had a family at home that I wanted to live for and the prognosis for me was good if I went through chemotherapy, so chemo won the coin toss!

NARRATOR: Let’s see, chemotherapy… here are some chemo side effects: nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, indigestion, acid reflux, possible lung damage, possible heart damage, skin changes, possible sterility, mind numbing fatigue a general feeling of crappiness…

JENN: Wow, where do I sign up? Everyone’s chemotherapy is different and I’m certainly no authority on anything but what I went through. For my treatment my “cocktail” was called ABVD which stood for the four different medications being pumped into my veins twice a month for six months. Adriamycin (which turns your urine red…Thankfully they tell you that ahead of time so that you don’t think that you’re hemorrhaging the next time you go to the bathroom and it usually only lasted for a little bit that day), Bleomycin, Vinblastine (which when injected into my IV gave me such a gross taste in my mouth. I tried to eat different types of mints when it was being injected so that I wouldn’t taste it. The only ones that worked for me were Altoids. I would literally put at least three in my mouth as it was being injected and they would mask the taste of the medicine which to me tasted like moth balls. Yuck, I know. God bless those curiously strong little mints!) And last but not least Dacarbazine which burned while it was being infused. They would run saline at the same time to minimize the disintegration of my veins who now hide whenever I need any bloodwork.

NARRATOR: Wait I have some more possible side effects: Emotional instability.

JENN: Like I needed more of that.

NARRATOR: Hair loss.

JENN: You say hair loss I say I don’t have to shave my legs for six months, I’m a glass half full kind of gal, and since most of my chemo took place during the spring and summer, it was a little chemo perk not to have to shave.

NARRATOR: Oh wait here’s a good one, apparently chemo can either give you diarrhea or make you constipated.

JENN:  Yeah, I don’t know what’s worse, shitting your brains out or being full of shit, that one’s a toss-up.

NARRATOR: Mouth sores.

JENN: They’re as fun as they sound.

NARRATOR: Weight gain from anti-nausea meds which are also steroids.

JENN: I was happy to gain weight rather than lose it during chemo and possibly be more immune compromised but most of my weight went right to my middle. Let me tell you, looking three months pregnant when you are is really cute, looking three months pregnant when you’re not, not so cute and in the irony of it all one of the side effects from my anti-nausea medication was that it may cause nausea. Wait a minute this is an anti-nausea medication that may cause nausea, am I missing something here? But I took it anyway and it worked.

NARRATOR: Chemo brain. What the hell is chemo brain, did you make that up?

JENN: Ah, good ‘ol chemo brain. Let me explain. In very simplified terms chemo brain is a general sense of mental fogginess, cognitive and memory issues that can occur during and after treatment. For example, one time I went to the grocery store to recycle my plastic bags and I was carrying my canvas reusable bag on my arm. As the cashier finished bagging my groceries into three plastic bags, I looked down, saw my reusable bag still on my arm and laughed to myself. That’s chemo brain. It’s the madness we all feel normally, what day is it? Where did I put my keys? What did I do last weekend? Now magnify that times one hundred and you have chemo brain. Okay maybe my formula isn’t scientifically valid but that’s what it feels like.

NARRATOR: Chemo can throw your body into early menopause.

JENN: Now prior to my cancer diagnosis I had already been wondering where my libido had gone. I even put up signs, “If you see my libido can you tell it to call home?” I told my doctor that I thought my libido may be backpacking through Europe, she laughed. Maybe it was a pity laugh but I’m not above taking a cheap laugh. Then my period starting getting weird around July. I would get it and then it would go away after a couple of days. Then it would come back again the next week. My period did that again in August and then in September I didn’t get my period at all. My uterus didn’t know whether to shit or wind its watch.

– Jenn G.D.

 

Cancer, With a Twist (One Cancer Survivor’s Story of Humor, Hope and a Hint of Sarcasm) Chapter 2: How I Found “It”

Here’s my story. It was a dark and stormy night…(just kidding). In December of 2008, shortly after my thirty-seventh birthday, I was shaving in the shower and I noticed that my right underarm looked swollen. About a week before I had noticed some swollen glands in my neck that seemed to be coming and going. It was winter time so I chalked it up to my body fighting off a cold or a virus. I mean the typical response to swollen glands isn’t, “oh crap, I might have cancer.” Post cancer, swollen glands are a different story, but more on my newfound hypochondria later on. When you haven’t had cancer you think, oh, it’s probably just a cold. The underarm swelling though, well, that raised an alarm in my head that I wasn’t as willing to brush off. I got out of the shower and compared my underarms. The right one definitely looked swollen to me but I didn’t want to freak out and jump to conclusions. Ok to be really honest I was slightly freaked out, but being a relatively rational, Type A personality (yes, I realize the irony in that statement) and being a person who likes to see the glass as half full, I did my best to remain calm and try to think rationally about what it could be.

I thought maybe since I get itchy after shaving, perhaps I had scratched my underarm too hard one day? Maybe I scratched one too many times and that was the cause of the swelling? Maybe I had an ingrown hair? These were logical questions, but in the back of my mind there was this nagging thought of how you hear about lymph nodes with cancer. Even though I wasn’t an expert on the exact location of lymph nodes in the human body, I knew that there were some in my armpits. I felt around my right axilla (armpit to us lay people, but doesn’t axilla sound so much classier than armpit?) and I could feel the slightest little lump but it was there.  I waited about a week and a half, not wanting to seem like a hypochondriac, hoping that the swelling would go down, but there was also that part of me that wanted to run to the doctor screaming “I think I might have cancer!”

As I came to the end of that week and a half I was now obsessed with my armpits. I compared them in the bathroom mirror incessantly and felt for the lump every day. On the flip side I was trying really hard to leave it alone thinking I could possibly be making it worse by poking at it every day. “Maybe it’s nothing, leave it alone!” I would try to tell myself before forcing myself to walk away from the mirror.

I asked both my mother and my husband on separate occasions if they thought my armpits looked different. They did. I could see the swelling wasn’t going down.  I took a deep breath and made an appointment with my doctor. It’s important for me to mention that I wasn’t feeling particularly sick at this time. Sure I was very tired, but my children were seven and three, and my son had never been a good sleeper from the moment he came out of the womb. The fatigue I was feeling wasn’t new for me and wasn’t much different than most other parents with young children; we’re all exhausted. The only other symptom I had was that I was itchy which I would later learn is a symptom of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (Are you suddenly itchy now?  Don’t freak out. Strange how the moment anybody mentions itching, we start scratching, isn’t it?) I’m still itchy all of these years post-treatment and cancer-free, so who knows?

In retrospect, I’m thankful for the lumps and bumps that started showing themselves because who knows how long I would have gone undiagnosed had they not appeared since I wasn’t feeling much different than normal. I want to take a moment here to stress the fact that I didn’t wait long at all to see the doctor after I found the lump in my armpit and it was already stage two. Pay attention to your body. Don’t wait to go to the doctor if you think something might be wrong: go with your gut and get it checked out. I’m not going to get political here but if you’re lucky enough to have insurance, because plenty of people aren’t and no one should die from something treatable, thank your lucky stars and go to the doctor. I have my own nightmare story about being underinsured in another chapter. That was fun…not.

When I saw my primary care doctor in her office, she and I could barely feel the offending lump at the time. Thankfully she sent me for more testing to rule out the possibilities. She referred me to an oncologist and my appointment with her was scheduled for a week later. By then the lump in question was much bigger, and seemed to be screaming “Here I am! Bet you can feel me now!” The doctor questioned me about possibly being scratched by an animal. Who knew Cat Scratch Fever (also called Cat Scratch Disease) was actually real? Score one for you if you did. If you’re like me and you didn’t, you learned something new already! I explained that the only animals in the house were my children, (whom I love and adore), and that nope, they hadn’t scratched me. I hadn’t been around any other animals lately either.

The oncologist then referred me to a surgeon so they could biopsy my new unwanted friend, the lump. I had my biopsy done and the surgeon called me about a week later, confirming everything that I had Googled and was afraid of. Here’s what that sounded like:

Me: Hello?

Surgeon: Hi, can I speak to Jennifer Donohue please? (Sometimes I leave out my maiden name so as not to confuse people more than I have to. You’d be amazed at the confusion that a simple little hyphen can cause,…but I digress).

Me: This is she.

Surgeon: Hi Mrs. Donohue. (Uncomfortable pause) We got the results back and I didn’t want to make you wait until you saw the oncologist to hear them. (Yet another uncomfortable pause) You have something called Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Me: Ok. That’s cancer right? (Who was I kidding by asking? I totally knew it was cancer she was talking about. I had Googled and Yahoo’ed the internet like crazy looking up everything I could about lymphoma, because the surgeon had mentioned that my oncologist was probably looking for some type of lymphoma. I just needed to hear her say the word CANCER).

Surgeon: Yes, it’s cancer but it’s very treatable. There’s a very high cure rate with the Hodgkin’s.

Me: Ok, well that’s at least some good news…thank you very much for calling me back so soon. (Third uncomfortable pause. I can’t imagine that this call is easy for the doctors to make. The surgeon had been so nice to me throughout the biopsy and everything.  I wanted to console her and say “It’s ok, I’m going to be fine, cancer knocked on the wrong door” but I didn’t really know what to say in this situation either, so all I could muster was a thank you).

Surgeon: You’re welcome. Good luck with everything.

Me: Thank you very much, doctor.

I let out a big sigh and dialed the phone to call my husband. Here’s what that sounded like:

Me: Hi, hon.

Dan: Hey babe, what’s up?

Me: I just heard back from the surgeon. They got the test results already. It’s definitely cancer. It’s the one we thought it might be, the Hodgkin’s, not the Non-Hodgkin’s. The good news is it’s very treatable. I have the good cancer (sarcasm intended, this was an unfortunate term that I would hear over and over again from well meaning people. I know what they meant, I had a good prognosis, but the terms “good” and “cancer” should never be used together. There is no such thing as a good cancer.)

Dan: Isn’t Non-Hodgkin’s better? That makes sense by the name.

Me: I know it’s confusing but the Non-Hodgkin’s isn’t as treatable. It’s the Hodgkin’s.

Dan: So it’s not the Non.

Me: Not the Non.

Dan: It’s the Hodgkin’s.

Me: Yes, the Hodgkin’s. I’m sorry to ruin your day but I just couldn’t wait all day until you got home to tell you.

Dan: Don’t apologize. Damn, this is crazy.

Me: Tell me about it. All right, I’ll let you go. I have a few more phone calls to make and a few more people’s days to ruin.

Dan: Ok hon, I love you.

Me: I love you too, babe. See you later.

Thus began my cancer journey and being diagnosed with Stage 2 Mixed Cellularity Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (try saying that five times fast) or Hodgkin’s Disease as it’s sometimes called. It’s a blood cancer, and fortunately for me, one of the most treatable forms of cancer.

– Jenn G.D.

Cancer, With a Twist (One Cancer Survivor’s Story of Humor, Hope and a Hint of Sarcasm) Chapter 1: Hi, My Name is Jenn

(Disclaimer: The first paragraph in this chapter and the first paragraph in my “About Me” section on my blog are practically identical, if you read them both, sorry for the redundancy! Also, I refer to the blogs as my “book”. Originally it was going to be a book so just forgive me when it says book. I hope you enjoy this chapter and the ones to follow!)

First and foremost thank you so much for checking out my blog! So…Who am I, what do I want from your life and what’s so special about what I have to say that you should read yet another blog? That is assuming you read other blogs on a regular basis. My full name is Jennifer Giuffre-Donohue. Yes I’m one of those: the dreaded HYPHENATOR. Because Giuffre (don’t worry, no one ever knows how to say it. It’s pronounced Joo-Fray) hasn’t been difficult enough for people to say my entire life, so I thought I’d add another seven letters to my name. I’m a glutton for punishment, what can I say? I’m a forty-four-year-old writer-actor-mother-wife (look more hyphens!) AND cancer survivor of a type of blood cancer called Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This book is about my cancer experience in 2009, the good, the bad and the hairless.

I think that getting through life requires a sense of humor and I’ve learned that in life there are a few ironic certainties. True, there’s a lot we can’t control, but some things are fairly certain. For example, there will be times that your significant other will want sex when you don’t, it just happens. If you have kids, nine times out of ten, they’ll have to go to the bathroom exactly when you do. When you’re in a rush you’ll hit every red light. Every. Single. One. And probably one of the biggest certainties of all, cancer SUCKS. There’s no classy way to say it, because it doesn’t deserve to be classy. Bottom line, it sucks. Everything about cancer sucks. The treatments suck. Even if they save your life, say it with me, they suck. The side effects suck. The exhaustion sucks. And yet, ironically, when you can find little opportunities to laugh or at the very least pull off a cynical chuckle through some of it, it can suck just a little less.

I wanted to write this blog for many reasons. First, I want to help people going through similar situations. I want them to laugh, give them hope and maybe learn something new that can help them through this crappy time in their lives, like some books that I read during treatment did for me (one of my favorites, Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips by Kris Carr). At certain points her book had me laughing out loud…about cancer. Any writer who can do that is a writer after my own heart. I’m hoping my blogs will fall into that category for you. Or maybe my blogs will remind you of what you already know but may have forgotten, like how to put self-care on your to-do list. There’s also a chance I might not say anything that you haven’t heard before, but maybe I’ll say it in a way that really strikes a chord for you this time. I read a lot of books on the same subjects. Sometimes a different author says something in a way that really makes sense to me at that moment, when in the past the same thing didn’t make sense, or it just didn’t resonate in the same way. I also wrote these blogs for people who aren’t going through any particular hard time, to remind them to go after what they want in life because (here comes the first cliché) life is short and you never know when your time is up.

I also wrote these blogs because it was cathartic for me to talk about what I went through and it still is. It was either write some blogs or keep telling everyone who asked “how are you?” way more than they really wanted to know. That tends to make some people uncomfortable. Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you that I tend to babble when asked even the simplest question. I always feel the need to explain myself. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s something deep rooted from my childhood. Oh shoot, I’m doing it again. Sorry! So in lieu of alienating people who don’t really want to know all of the spectacular details of my experience, enter the blogs.

I think when you share your story it really helps you to heal. It’s my hope that by reading these blogs you’ll learn something new or just think about things differently than you might have before, in a more positive light. It’s not about looking at life and saying everything is great all of the time, I’m talking about being positive not delusional. But what I have learned is that when bad things happen to us, the way that we deal with the situation has a huge impact on how we move forward or not. If we’re in a bad situation and continue to dwell on everything bad that’s happening to us, we connect to that negative energy and will continue to get out of the situation what we expect, which is more negativity. If we try to find the lessons and the silver linings, though we may have to dig a little for them, we’ll see the blessings that we do have. I certainly didn’t get cancer and say “yay, there are going to be so many lessons to learn and blessings to find!” But I also didn’t say “why me?” or “poor me” either. True there were days that I was like “this sucks” but I’ve learned that when you resist what’s happening it makes you more miserable. It’s not about pretending that everything is fine when you’re in a crappy situation – pretending eventually fails. It’s about acknowledging it, saying ok this happened, I had no control over it but what I can control is my attitude moving forward. You can choose to dwell on the misery or find ways to move forward and grow from it all. You can choose to stay stuck, but I’m hoping that you won’t.

I know this is obvious but I just want to say if you have cancer, if you’ve lost someone you love to cancer or if you’re watching someone you love go through it, I’m not saying to be happy about it. I’m saying that you can let this situation crush you or you can choose to honor your loved one’s memory or their courage if they’re still fighting and choose to take the lessons from this situation. Like realizing how lucky you were or are to have this person in your life and to realize just how precious every day really is. That’s something that we all should remember but we don’t. Going through life dwelling on all of the negative things and thinking “poor me” really makes for a sucky existence. Bad things happen to everyone it’s just that not everyone complains about them. The people who have a smile on their face are choosing to have that smile, they could bitch and moan, but they choose hope and joy. I hope that you will too. You deserve it and so do the people around you. I want to make this clear, I’m not saying that you should never complain, you’re more than entitled to that (and bottling negative emotions is unhealthy). Sometimes life is too damn hard and you need to vent. I’m just saying that living in the space of anger and negativity 24/7 isn’t helping you or anyone around you. This book is about dealing with whatever comes your way in the most positive way you can.

So as we go forward and hopefully laugh a little (if you laugh a lot that works too!), know that the spirit of this blog isn’t meant to make light of any of the devastating effects of cancer or its various treatments. It isn’t meant to make light of the loved ones that so many of us have lost to cancer and it isn’t meant to make light of the people we know who live with cancer and manage it one day at a time. Rather this blog is to show how a little laughter can go a long way when it comes to facing such a devastating diagnosis.

– Jenn G.D.

On Procrastination and Following Your Dreams

Here’s a quick video on YouTube to go along with this blog: https://youtu.be/ZpNDaLuvDco

I wrote some essays about my cancer experience……eight years ago. In a few days I’m going to start posting them to my blog. But first, I wanted to let you know why, eight years after treatment and in remission, I decided to finally share them.

I’ve actually shared some of them already in one way or another but let me give you some background first. Sometimes you have a creative project, you work on it, realize it’s not going anywhere and you’re okay to let it go. Other times you have a project that you’ve put on hold for any number of reasons (we’ve all got a million excuses as to why something isn’t getting done and I’m no exception). And even though you may have put this project off for months (or years, ahem) you think about it all of the time and you know you have to finally do it. Or you can live with regret, which will also haunt you, so why not just do the thing you’ve been putting off? We all know the cliches about regret and they’re true.

I want to inspire anyone who has been procrastinating about something that they’ve been wanting to do. It doesn’t have to be a major project, it can be anything, a class that you’ve been wanting to take, meeting a friend for dinner that you keep putting off because you “don’t have the time”, taking some much needed time for yourself, anything! There’s only one rule, as long as it’s not hurting anyone else, do the things you’ve been putting off!

Most people take baby steps. For me it was fetus steps, okay maybe even zygote steps. Regardless, my blog has gone through many transformations. First it started out as a journal about how I was feeling during cancer treatment. As time went on and I continued writing I thought maybe it could be a book. Maybe it was a play, a one woman show? At one point I was sending it to publishers and I have some very nice rejection letters in a folder somewhere. Then part of it did become a one-act play which I performed in a play festival in my hometown. And then, I let it sit as I thought about it day after day. About a year ago I was determined once again to turn it into a book and I was going to self-publish it. I even had my close, very patient friend Michele edit some chapters for me. After a few chapters were done, once again I put everything on hold as I went back and forth in my mind wondering if I was taking the right creative direction.

In one aspect, yes you should make sure that the work you put out is as polished as it can be. But in another aspect that can be the thing that holds you back, some sense of perfection (which doesn’t exist) or not good enough yet, etc. So while part of me still wants to wait, I know that I’ve waited long enough and it’s time to put my project out there.

I didn’t write this because I think I have all of the answers now, or any of the answers. I love to learn new things and read books on self-improvement. What I’ve learned is that the best teachers/leaders are those that share what they know and then leave it up to you to decide how to use that information or not use it in your life. They encourage you to question things. They’ll tell you that they don’t have all of the answers, because no one person does. The best teachers know that no one ever gets to a point where they can’t learn something from someone else. I wrote this because having a disease reminds you of all of the important things in life, the things that we take for granted (like our health) because we’re so caught up in the busyness of everyday life. I’m not saying that to give you a guilt trip, I think we’re all doing the best we can. But I think that those of us who have gone through any kind of trial are in a unique position to remind others of what we’ve been reminded of during the course of what we’ve been through.

All of the blogs are a sarcastic and hopeful look at what I went through, because humor is one of my coping mechanisms. I hope it helps anyone going through a tough time. I also hope it helps people who aren’t going through a tough time, to learn from my experiences and really make the most of your life.

– Jenn G.D.