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.

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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.