By Lisa Shrewsberry
Cancer is oblivious to the calendar.
Nearly as fast as Santa’s sleigh is rumored to fly, alongside complaints of Christmas busyness paired with exaggerated exclamations of “sick and tired,” a diagnosis can happen that shatters everything ironically back into perspective.
The survivors, those determined to beat the odds presented them, offer points of view that those with a clean bill of health can learn from greatly. Like how to shrug off the little inconveniences — and how even the hectic moments are part of what, in sum total, forms another blessed day.
Cathy Redden has had more than her fair share of bad health news. It began with a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory condition affecting the digestive tract, in 2000 that caused her to finally quit work as a medical receptionist in 2009. This year, she has faced the battle of her life dealing with stage III breast cancer and the chemotherapy prescribed to fight it.
“The chemo makes me very sick, but I am going to beat this,” Redden resolves.
She admits to being very discouraged at the diagnosis at first. Then, a doctor started what would amount to the rallying around that she needed for encouragement.
“She told me, ‘If you don’t pick that chin up, I am not going to be able to help you.’”
Since her treatments and the attendant one-two punch of tiredness and hair loss, Redden is choosing to take a positive attitude, encouraged by the actions she sees of those supporting her.
Former co-workers she considers as close as family have organized several fundraisers to help Redden defray the costs of driving to Morgantown for her chemo. While Medicare and Medicaid have paid most of her medical expenses, one prescription to assist with mouth sores, side effects of her treatment, wasn’t covered by her insurance.
“I’ve only had a few sores though. I just put up with them,” she says.
Redden’s husband is also dealing with a chronic condition that ended his career as a heavy equipment operator, removing the bulk of their family income.
Still, she has granddaughter Haley to help both of them at home. The couple is in the process of officially adopting the teen. Redden credits a strong community of faith at her home church, Terry Independent Church, with supporting her and her husband through the difficult times.
While she hasn’t felt up to Christmas shopping and she has accepted her housework at less than the usual spotless standards, she wears her trademark pink top and necklace with pride, energized by the prayers she feels going up for her at this season celebrating the very foundation of what it means to have faith.
“I’m on prayer lists here and in North Carolina and Virginia. Mostly, what I want are all the people praying for me who will.”
For Alicia Kinder, busy mom of three, (Hannah, 14, Cate, 8, and Joe, 3) a second diagnosis of melanoma within two years couldn’t have come at a worse time. Through her personal faith and her experience as a former director for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in Syracuse, N.Y., she is able to view the positive biopsy as a true positive in life, where priorities develop crystal clarity and a survivor’s spirit emerges.
“Just because you hear the word cancer, that doesn’t mean it’s a death sentence.”
Kinder recalls the symbolism of the Relay For Life summer event which she helped organize during her tenure with the ACS. “The whole idea of having Relay overnight was to simulate the cancer
experience. You’re there through the darkest part, and then the sun rises.”
Her reaction to the initial diagnosis surprised even her. “I said, ‘Are you sure?’”
Once out of denial, she remembered her days of watching the survivor lap at the opening of each Relay.
“It was a calming thought to know how many hundreds of cancer survivors I had been around who had beat it. I’m not going to let this terrify me.”
Kinder considers herself fortunate; her three tumors have been visible, detected early enough to avoid chemo or radiation and to be removed through surgery only. She is scheduled for her most recent surgery this Friday, four days before Christmas and smack dab in the middle of family and office holiday celebrations.
But with each day counted down toward an explosion of wrapping paper on her living room floor, she is likewise counting her blessings.
“When I worked for ACS, I watched a lady with a very aggressive form of breast cancer battle it for nine years before she died. The constant treatments — it was just heartbreaking. Now, she is an inspiration to me, how she always stayed so positive. What do I have to complain about? My situation is nothing compared to hers.”
One of the greatest gifts a person in a fight for health can give herself this season, Kinder contends, is a positive attitude.
“At (Wake Forest Medical Center), they told me, ‘your attitude will play a huge role in your recovery.’ And they’re right.”
A fundraiser to benefit Cathy Redden will happen Thursday at Calacino’s in Beckley. Ten percent of the day’s earnings will go to a fund established at Chase bank to assist with her continuing medical
For more information, call Carol or Tabby with Dr. Gary Poling’s office, Beckley, at 304-255-2527.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tips for coping with the holidays through illness
By Jewell C. Field, LSW Support Specialist, Hospice of Southern West Virginia
The keys to coping through illness, facing the illness of a loved one or as a bereaved individual are the same — flexibility and foresight; change and adjustment.
Prepare for the ambush of emotions — laugh if you feel like it; cry if you want to.
Socialize on your own terms — accept engagements that are going to bring you the most peace and joy.
Lower your expectations. If your health is failing you, it is OK to NOT DO IT ALL! It is OK to say NO. Simplify and change — you can still enjoy each day!
Get up and move as your health allows. Don’t isolate yourself … enjoy as many public venues as you can.
Seek the sunshine and open your curtains to let in the light.
Reach out to others in the same position as you, help them get through as well. We are the happiest when we are serving others.
Pamper yourself mind, body and spirit. Ask yourself, what does (pampering) look like and feel like to me?
Allow people to comfort you. Embrace the tears — they can be very therapeutic.
“Do the telling” — tell your story as much as possible and to as many listeners as possible. This helps with acceptance.
Have fun within the limitations of your condition — feeling good and laughing is your body’s way of letting go and relaxing.
Read a book that helps you to feel positive about your condition. Read survivor stories and inspirational literature.
As a person of faith, embrace faith-based traditions.
Discover and enjoy small joys (you know what these are for you.)
Accept the feeling of sadness.
Have a plan when it all falls apart— make a commitment to call someone and let them know you need support; confide in them.
Journal it — write down your emotions and feeling. Journaling is a way of validating them.
REST! REST! REST! Take care of yourself physically and don’t overdo it.
Enjoy your family— including the children and the companionship of your pets.