I am the type of person who always did things right – I ate right; I exercised regularly; I didn’t consume too much alcohol or smoke. Hearing the news that I had cancer was a shock.
How long have you been a patient at the Mass General Cancer Center at Cooley Dickinson Hospital?
I had my first treatment on Aug. 31, 2020.
Twenty-one days prior, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which is a cancer of plasma cells (blood). For 7 months I was in a “treatment” phase and now I am in “maintenance,” which requires visits to the cancer center twice a month for medication that is given intravenously.
In the waiting room of the cancer center, I saw a poster inviting patients to share their story. I wanted to offer hope to others who have been recently diagnosed or who are getting treatment, especially those who are in their 50s or younger.
Since you have been diagnosed, what have you learned about yourself?
I am the type of person who always did things right – I ate right; I exercised regularly; I didn’t consume too much alcohol or smoke. Hearing the news that I had cancer was a shock. My husband, Steve, and I were scared and overwhelmed.
Since being diagnosed – this is going to sound corny – I found my superpower – my positive attitude. I discovered that you have two paths: you can lay down and give in (to the cancer) or you can stand up and fight it. Standing up to the cancer and thinking positively, every day, at every opportunity: This focused mindset has been a big part of my recovery.
My doctors tell me I am responding beautifully to the treatment. I tell them that it is because I think positively. I tell myself and my doctors that I am winning and don’t allow doubt to creep in.
For me, it’s a glass-half-full perspective, not a glass half empty. A diagnosis like this could easily bring someone down. It’s completely understandable. It’s okay to go there. I was there once, but you can’t stay there. Every day I remind myself how strong my mind is and that I can heal myself.
What has been your greatest struggle?
Hands down, my greatest struggle has been the physical limitations that the cancer put on my body. Previously, I worked as a personal trainer. Most days, I ran, rode my bike or exercised at the gym. I kept this routine up even after scaling back my business to pursue a job at a local non-profit organization.
In the summer of 2020, when I went to the chiropractor for help with lower back pain, he knew something was very wrong.
The tests confirmed that there were abnormal cells in my hip bones (cancer), four of my ribs were fractured and my bones had been damaged significantly. When I was at my worst, I had a hard time getting out of bed. My 93-year old mother could have run circles around me.
I had a hard time walking any distance. Now, I am feeling much stronger and I feel more like my old self. But it was hard to have those physical limitations during that time.
How has this experience changed your outlook on life, family, work?
I always had a good work-family balance; however, being diagnosed with cancer changed my perspective. Now I wake up every day and I acknowledge that I am grateful to be living this life. My new motto is “get busy being happy, you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”
What words of advice or encouragement would you pass along to someone in your same situation?
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I really wanted to know why. I needed to justify what happened, why this was happening to me and what I could have done differently to prevent it. I asked this question of the many medical providers I met with. I found out that with this cancer, unfortunately, they don’t know why.
I would tell others that it is ok and totally normal to be scared, sad and angry. You need to acknowledge those feelings and make space for them.
You also need to remind yourself of what is positive in your life. If you have people in your life who want to help you, let them. Take advantage of whatever others can offer you so you can focus on yourself and your recovery.
The staff at the Mass General Cancer Center at Cooley Dickinson are amazing, and Dr. Howard provided exceptional care and service along with connecting me quickly to top care in Boston.