Taking off the mask

By Eliza Boulware

pic 1It’s the season of Halloween, so what better time to talk about disguises, costumes and masks? But I don’t mean the kind of mask you wear on Halloween.  I’m want to turn that literal mask into a metaphor. As a cancer survivor, we sometimes have to put a mask on to hide what we going through. We dress up in our superhero costumes or hide behind a disguise and pretend we are someone else.

Have you seen the commercials that show how people walk around with the face on a stick to hide how they are feeling? They hold up the smiling face but behind the mask they are sad. Well, that’s how it sometimes feel when you have just finished treatment or even when you first get diagnosed with cancer. Everybody is looking at you and they respond to how you feel. You don’t want your loved ones to worry nor feel like thy have to give up their life because you are going through.

We put on the mask to show we are happy and strong. We wear that mask and say that we must be the best Christian with great faith because you attend church and people ask the questions’ Where is your Faith, You know God would not put more on you than you can bear.” Well that’s true, but at the time that’s not how you feel. Then you put on the mask to be the best mom because you feel you have to hide the fear so that your children will know how to handle situations, but I pose the questions if we are not teaching them to face the reality are we really teaching them the right way to go. Then we wear that superwoman mask. No matter what I feel I can conquer this. I will go to work, clean the house, attend PTO meetings, help in the community and most of all accept all phone calls and listen to all their problems while you smile and said I am doing good.

Why do we feel we must wear a mask? After Halloween, children take off the mask, no longer pretending to be someone they are not, so why don’t we as adults take off our mask? Underneath that mask still lays a beautiful, strong, courageous woman. A person not ashamed of her weakness because that takes strength. A woman not ashamed of her hair loss because her beauty is in her real smile. A woman whose tears build her and not tear her down. Women, men and children reveal yourself. TAKE THE MASK OFF! BE YOU! YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!

Facing Your Giant

This month, we are introducing our new bloggers not only with their posts, but with a video!

Meet Eliza:

By Eliza Boulware

I am Eliza Boulware, a five year breast cancer survivor. I can recall during a spiritual fast God spoke to do a self-examination. My first thought was checking my spiritual walk but I heard it again, so this time I did a self breast exam. I felt a lump in my left breast.

From there I went to the doctor and completed all tests needed and it was confirmed I had stage 2 aggressive breast cancer. My world was turned upside down. I became afraid that I would die because I had never been sick. After losing both of my parents, I had spoken that when I find any health problems, I did not want to suffer long.  Now I am looking at my children and my granddaughter and saying, “not now Lord!”

I held it together at first. I allowed one tear drop when I was first told I had breast cancer but the flood gates opened when I sat with the counselor who went over the financial cost. I cried so hard because as a single low-income woman, how can I afford this and take care of my children?

As a minister of God, I had believed I was healed and now I was angry at God. I began to pray and I had to face that this was a cross I had to bear. I had to face this giant and believe I have the victory.  Faith no longer was just a word but it became a true action word for me. I faced the giant called CANCER and defeated it. I went through 12 rounds total chemo treatments and 33 rounds of radiation. I lost my hair and did not hide it. My fingers and feet turned black. I told my story every chance I got. I continued to go to work, host my yearly conference and continued to preach God’s word. I faced my giant with my faith and family support.

I encourage everyone to face your giant. At first, it looks bigger than you can handle, but with God CANCER became cancer.  Facing your giant with truth and education helps you know how to defeat your giant. Never give up – you have the victory.

Rearview Mirror

By Katie Austin

As I log into my laptop to write my next Every Woman Blog article, I close my eyes to allow my mind to wander as I try to come up with a topic to write about.  It feels good to sit still, thinking about life in general. It’s not often that we find those quiet times in our busy days to just think without having a deadline or having to be somewhere.   I try to come up with something and look at my calendar to see if there are any life events coming up I should write about.

Then it hits me.   The day on the calendar is the only one I see.   It’s like there is a glow around it and my mind begins to race, my emotions flooded with memories of that moment.  When my life stood still and everything changed.

I will never forget that day.  It was Friday, March 5th 2010 and the time was 11:15.  My parents and I were at the house waiting for a phone call.  You see, I had a diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound, and a biopsy the day before and the hospital’s breast health nurse navigator, Kelly Jeffcoat, was planning to call me by 11:30 with the results.  I already had a feeling there was something wrong just by the reaction of those around me the day before.  I tried to take my mind off things all morning but all I could think about was wanting to know.

Then the phone call came.  Nothing can prepare you for that moment.  I actually let it ring two times before picking up because I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.  I needed to know but I knew picking up that phone could change everything.   I was right, my life was going to change forever with that phone call.   I was told that I had Stage 2 breast cancer.

From that phone call, I underwent eight rounds of aggressive chemotherapy, surgery (lumpectomy), 26 days of radiation, and then another six months of chemotherapy (Herceptin).  Shortly thereafter I had my port removed and then was on medicine to lower my estrogen levels for almost five years.   I met the most amazing people along the way and their friendships continue to this day.

Katie-Sharon

Katie with Sharon Nipper (her infusion nurse)

KatieBrandy

Katie with her breast friend Brandy

It’s hard to believe that on March 5th of this year it will be eight years since I was diagnosed!   As I let my fingers move across the keyboard, I think back to the day I rang the bell and how much I couldn’t wait to get back to normal.  Over the years, I would try to motivate myself to get healthier and it would work, but then I would fall back into the same habits.  I would allow myself the excuse that I am lucky to be alive so I shouldn’t worry about that.  But that’s not true.   It’s been almost eight (8) years since that fateful day and I am no closer to finding that new normal than I was then.

rear-view-mirror-quote

I spend more of my time thinking back to when I was in shape, when I felt better, when I had more energy, when I didn’t have cancer.  As I type this, I realize that during my cancer batter I had to be strong.   After my treatments were done, I had to be strong and to get back to life I had to put those feelings aside so that I could enjoy myself again.  I realize now I never dealt with the emotional rollercoaster that comes with the diagnosis.   I need to take the time to deal with those emotions.  It’s ok to think about and miss my survivor sisters who are no longer here.  I need to be ok with being afraid of my cancer coming back but not allow it to hold me back.  I need to put God first and my health needs to be a priority.  I want to be ready if/when my cancer rears its ugly head

As I sit here writing down my thoughts, I realize I wrote quite a bit and my next blog post 🙂

I can’t change my past but my future is what I make of it.  I can’t expect things to work out on their own.  Sometimes they do, but for the most part I know that I need to heal before I can move on.  Then I will be ready to take on the changes I need to make in my life.

Life isn’t how quick you get there, but the steps taken to get to where you want to be.” – Katie Austin

Wishing each of you a great day and I look forward to seeing you back on the Every Woman Blog,

Katie Austin

 

Survivormode: Part I

By: Katie Austin 

You would think that life after cancer would be easy. Treatments are in the distant past, visits with the medical staff are less frequent, my hair is getting longer, and food tastes amazing. All I dreamed about during my cancer fight was to get back to normal.

But then, is life ever truly “normal?” Was it “normal” before I started this journey?

Breast Friends – Katie and Brandy

Breast Friends – Katie and Brandy

My mind wanders, thinking about all of the things I did before cancer and what I am doing after cancer. Then I question how much of what I was doing before my cancer journey is still active in my life and what “new” things I have taken on.

I take out a sheet of paper, make two columns (“Before” and “After”), and begin writing down all of my thoughts. If there is something that I did before and am doing now, I list it in both columns. I continue this process until I can no longer think of anything else to write down. After I am finished, I sit back and look at my list, and it becomes clear.

Do you think my list is longer on the “Before” or “After” side of the page?

You might be surprised to read that the “After” column is longer. How can that be? I don’t have the energy to do all the things I used to do in a day. But there on paper, it is clear that I have more on my plate now than I did before my cancer diagnosis.

How can that be? I thought I had everything in my life balanced.

To dive deeper into my list, I take the “After” list and begin checking off each item that I feel is something that clearly defines who I am or what I want to accomplish in life. Then, it hits me and I begin to cry.

I am keeping myself busy so that I don’t have to think, feel or relive anything to do with cancer. If I keep myself busy enough, then I don’t have to worry. I am hiding from the fact that I lost close friends last year to cancer, that I have several friends who are fighting now, and that I am always looking over my shoulder to see if cancer will raise its ugly head again.

And then, I had an Aha! moment: I can’t outrun what will always be with me. I will always have cancer but it will not always have me.

I realized that I was clearly in what I would call, “survivormode.” I am doing everything and anything because I am scared to not be a part of life, because cancer took such a big part of my life. It’s one thing for me to protect myself but I can’t actively be a part of life if all I am ever doing is being busy.

Like a movie ending that leaves you hanging, this where I am going to leave you (for now). 🙂 I am going to begin taking steps to get to the healthier, happier me and will be sure to write about my progress in future blog posts. That way, I will be able to share what I learned along the way.

Until then, wishing each of you a blessed day and looking forward to seeing you back at the Every Woman Blog!