How I'm Handling My Cancer Diagnosis
My first opportunistic infection was Kaposi Sarcoma. It was a viral cancer that created dark purple lesions across my body. In the plague years, it was also one of the more horrific ways to die from AIDS. Protease inhibitors became available shortly after my diagnosis and were crucial in the remission of that cancer.
Now, I'm battling cancer again. There is a high-gradient HPV lesion in my rectal cavity and a carcinoma on my tongue.
I'm not sure what the next step is. I have had an MRI and a PET Scan; we await the results. I'm in that awful limbo between diagnosis and treatment.
Remembering where I have been
This is a familiar place for me. When I took my first HIV test in 1994, there was a 2-week gap between the test and the results. I was confident of the outcome; my partner had already tested positive a month before my test. I still hoped that maybe, despite 6 years of unprotected sex, I would be spared from this awful virus.
I think the time between learning that I was, in fact, HIV positive and my first doctor visit left me with more anxiety than waiting for the test results. I knew there were only a few treatment options, and no one had anything good to say about them. I worried myself sick with questions like:
"What will happen to me?"
"Am I going to die soon?"
"Will I have to kill myself to avoid the pain?"
Despite the scarcity of medicine, I found my first doctor visit empowering. I remember how calm I felt leaving his office because I had what I needed most to forge ahead - I had some answers. Not all of them, but enough to chart a course.
Where I am now
I felt lost for the first few weeks after my recent cancer diagnosis. I sensed I had done something wrong when nothing could have been further from the truth.
I had a colonoscopy a few years ago and requested my second to be done a couple of years early because of all the recent attention colon cancer has received. If I had not done that, the HPV lesion would not have been found for another 4 years.
This was the first thing I had to accept. I have no control over my body, only how I react to the news. And while I wish I could say I immediately jumped up and faced this new existence with zeal and courage, I did not.
I worried. I fretted. I became depressed. But I also kept myself attached to my world so I would not become too lost in my dark thoughts. I just stayed focused on the next step —the next test. The following doctor's visit. The next bit of information about treatment options. All these answers began to take my uncertainty away. This led me to create a new daily mantra.
Worrying is not a solution.
Taking control of my thoughts and emotions
I cannot get lost in a bunch of "what-if's." It's a complete waste of energy. This is different from thinking about and considering your known options. That is a healthy way of using your thought process.
But absorbing thoughts of what may or may not happen keeps you out of the moment. And even with test results and treatment options, there is no way of knowing what will happen until it does.
That's the final puzzle of where I am on this new journey. I'm focused on 'right now' because it's the only thing we have. I'm preparing for the future while keeping myself rooted in the present.
I'm doing this by moving slowly and steadily through the world. There are a lot of deep breaths throughout the day to take the worry away. There are mindfulness meditations to bring awareness to existing now. And I'm reminding myself that I can do nothing except live and be happy.
Finding peace in this new diagnosis
There is a little gratitude journal that I keep. It has been a couple of months since I have written in it, but I enjoy flipping through it and reminding myself how wonderful my life is and all the amazing things that fill it. Focusing on those good moments is the most potent medicine I have right now.
So, when walking my dogs or cooking dinner for myself and Scott, reading a book, or just staring out the window at the clouds in the sky, I take the most significant lesson that living through the darkest days of the AIDS crisis gave me and put it into practice.
Live every moment fully.
Have you ever been unhoused or insecurely housed?