The risk of death has a way of putting anxiety into perspective. Anxiety is about what “could happen.” A cancer diagnosis happens in the now.
We first saw Jennifer’s heroic (and hairless) picture on Facebook. It symbolized courage and defiance against a terminal illness. But there is more to the story. Jennifer credits her survival to her cancer-detecting dog.
Here’s her story:
Staring into the eyes of death can be terrifying. The emotions and fears that come along with the thought that your days could be numbered are more overwhelming than anything I’ve ever experienced.
I was homeless, and trying to figure out how I would care for my youngest daughter and a Chihuahua named, Buddy, that strangely adopted me at what seemed like the worst time in my life. I felt that things could not get any worse. I was so caught up keeping a roof over us that I had not taken any notice of my health.
Buddy, took to scratching and sniffing my left breast until it hurt. I didn’t think much of it because he did scratch at me when he wanted something. This time, I couldn’t figure it out. I thought maybe he needed more attention. I was in a daze for so long that I hadn’t noticed much going on around me.
One day, Buddy scratched at the same area of my breast and this time it hurt me. The skin had become tender. As I rubbed my hand over the spot, I felt something. Buddy stepped back and this was the last time he informed me. He could sense that I knew now.
Silently, I went into the bathroom and took off my shirt and bra and did an examination of my breast. Sure enough, there it was…a lump about 3 centimeters in size. I was panicked!
In less than two weeks, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.
After years of battling depression and anxiety, I didn’t think I could handle one more thing let alone the big C. I asked myself and my higher power,
How could this all be happening after everything my children and I had already been through? I had lost my job, lost my house. Now I was losing my life.
“Why would you take my life away when I needed to get back up so desperately?”
For a long time, the answers didn’t come. I gave up my will to live. I had a life-threatening condition, and no way to pay for treatment, or anything else. I felt so abandoned and hopeless, I was committed twice to the same mental health treatment center. What made it worse is the cancer prevented me from going to a better facility because I was considered a high health risk. I felt punished even more.
No matter how many medical regimens my doctors provided, I still felt afraid. Finally, I gave up entirely and gave it over to faith. I prayed diligently and cried a lot. After a relatively short amount of time, my depression seemed to lessen. Every time I would think about my situation, I would just tell myself to stop and let go of it.
I was nearing the end of my 12 rounds of chemotherapy and life took a very sudden turn. Funny enough, I was in the grocery check-out with a friend and received a phone call on the cell phone she was letting me borrow. It was my pro-bono attorney informing me of great news. I was finally awarded my disability! Even more miraculously, they would be paying me for three years back pay. I almost fainted right there in the aisle.
Tears streamed from my face for the next few days. I couldn’t believe it. All of the prayer and faith was working. I was just about breathless and speechless for a long time. Although there was a tremendous amount of relief, I was in awe for a while.
Over the course of just a few weeks, I finished up my chemo, found an apartment for my youngest daughter, the dog and I, and we began to rebuild our lives. I still faced six weeks of radiation but felt that I could get through it, if I held onto faith and tried to remain positive.
The radiation was extremely tiring and caused some burns. It was a lot easier then chemo but it still carried its own side-effects. Four weeks into it, I wanted to quit … this cancer fight. I was convinced to finish and did so.
I am now over a year after finishing treatment and still have my ups and downs. Recovery takes time and does require work with the self. Most of us that have fought cancer learn the new normal and that is a whole new emotional and physical battle.
Throughout this long war, I’ve thought about death with each passing day. It was the scariest feeling to process. As I lost more and more friends to cancer and other diseases, I became so fearful that I couldn’t sleep for almost four months, off and on.
I remembered back to where I was a little over a year ago… when I gave up and gave it to my faith. How things started falling into place again. I needed to remind and renew myself once again. To no surprise, I made tremendous strides in how I felt and thought about life, and death again.
I no longer fear death. At least not right now. I take time out each day to be thankful for what I have and for being alive. I pray, meditate and appreciate. Every day is a new beginning and the chance to learn. The rest, I leave to faith.
Banxietyfree: We’ll here more about Jennifer’ battle next week when we interview her about whether she will use anxiety medicines to keep her fears and anxieties in check.