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Welcome to Cancerland. It is a place I wish I had never visited, but according to my doctor a place I will most likely be staying.

So, I unpack my bags and take in my new surroundings.

Back in 2015, April 15th to be exact, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. I had never heard of multiple myeloma and was stunned to learn that I was one of only 32,110 people to be diagnosed multiple myeloma per year. How did I end up with cancer, and such a rare type of cancer to boot?

I began treatment and that is when I realized I had entered Cancerland, a place not unlike going down the rabbit hole. I felt like I had entered an Alice in Wonderland altered universe where everything and nothing makes sense all at once. One moment I was able to get a grip on my diagnosis and would methodically plan out my next day, week, month, and the next moment I would be a bawling mess afraid I would die at any moment. Some days I planned out the things I wanted my kids to know and made lists and charts and wrote to each of them. I figured I would gather as much information as possible to help them in their next phase of life in case I wasn’t around to guide them. Then I would have moments where I was determined to find ways to live a long life. I would try to walk or bike more, I ate lots of salads and I read up on the best supplements to take. Yeah, I had packed up and moved to Cancerland and I wasn’t leaving anytime soon.

My family and friends all surprised me. It’s funny how you can picture who will be your rock, standing by your side through the hardest moments you might endure, and who will run for the hills. Well, throw all those notions out the window because it’s truly hit or miss. I am glad I wasn’t making any cash bets because I would be out a lot of money. People will surprise the heck out of you.

People are a funny breed. They have triggers that are hidden so deeply inside themselves that they aren’t even aware of how they will react to an announcement of a close friend or family member having a disease that threatens their life.

My father found his purpose in life. He was retired, and lived a very small comfortable life. He had no hobbies, very few friends, sat around a lot and liked it that way. Drama didn’t surround him and the quiet comforted him. But, once I started treatment, my father went into high gear. He had found his hobby, or cause or meaning in life. Any guilt he had felt towards the way he raised me was made up with total devotion and care for my needs. He took me to each doctor’s appointment, and kept track of my progress. He called daily for updates and was ready to find solutions if I had an off day. This is how my dad handled his daughter’s cancer diagnosis.

My mother decided to live in denial except when talking with friends and family. She was always ready to have a spotlight shine on her and this would be her crowning moment. I can just picture her now, “Yes, it’s sad, my daughter has cancer and they don’t know how long she will live,” she would say. But, behind the scenes, I was all but forgotten. I remember one particular conversation where I was so sick I was bawling and she called. I saw my mom was calling so I picked up the phone. Immediately she went into what sounded like a rehearsed conversation. “Wendy, could you please call so and so and ask about this and that?” I said, “Mom, I’m sorry but I am so sick right now I can’t call anyone for you.” “Oh, well then, I’ll talk to you later.” And my mom hung up. I sat there stunned. There was no, what is going on or can I do anything for you. Her conversation sounded practiced and didn’t go as planned. She didn’t know what to say off script so she got off the phone quickly. Besides a few conversations like that, I didn’t hear from my mom at all.

My sister was the same. As soon as I started treatment, it was like she fell off the face of the earth. I finally heard from her by text three months after treatment started. I was thrilled when my sister said she wanted to get together. Well, after we met, I found out that my mom had guilted her into seeing me by saying that things didn’t look good and she didn’t know how long I had. Seriously? For one, my mom who guilted my sister wasn’t very concerned with communicating with me herself. My treatment was going well and things looked good. My mom knew this too. Also, was this the only reason my sister decided to finally reach out? And this was family.

Friends were a mixed bag as well. One friend I hadn’t know for a year became my biggest cheerleader. She stepped right up and showed support by staying in touch, encouraged me on walks or just by coming by for a quick visit to catch up. Another friend I had already begun to distance myself from because it seemed our connection was lost called out of the blue because she hadn’t heard from me in a few months. I explained what was taking up my time and she said  if there was anything
she could do, please let her know. That was the last time I heard from her and it’s been a few more months past our phone call.

Yeah, Cancerland does strange things to people. Enter at your own risk. Some people come out looking like heroes and others look like lost souls who have no idea what way to turn or what to say. For a cancer patient, this is what their new normal looks like.

Getty image via Grandfailure

Originally published: June 16, 2019
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