May 8th is World Ovarian Cancer Day.
May 8 is Mother's Day in the United States.
May 8 is Mother's Day in the United States.
Outshine: An Ovarian Cancer Memoir is Rave Reviews Book Club "Push Week" book.
I was named the winner for this story How I Can Create A Better Me.
The lights from the recovery room were very bright as I drowsily awoke from the anesthesia. I peered through my half-open eyes and saw my surgeon standing next to my bed. He reached over and took my hand. Just then my eyes quickly searched for the clock on the wall. “Oh, no,” I groaned. The clock read 4:35 pm. I had been in surgery far longer than the two to three hours I had hoped to be. I knew that the longer the surgery, the greater was the chance that I had cancer.
Dr. Boente squeezed my hand and gently said, “I am sorry but your tumor was cancerous.” Tears began to flood my eyes as he went on to say, “However I feel confident we got it all.”
Thus began a new life. No longer a healthy sixty-seven year old who only took one prescription medication, which was for insomnia. I was a retired nurse enjoying life living in Minnesota part time, then spending the winters in Florida.
From that day forward in June 2008 I would be living with ovarian cancer as my constant companion. Twice I would lose my hair and go through chemotherapy for three months and then again for two years. Many were the visits with physicians, numerous blood tests, and scans. I live with side effects and monitor everything about my health.
I read several books and many articles about this lesser known cancer. I was a Registered Nurse and had no knowledge about ovarian cancer. The only thing I did know was that there were very few survivors.
During the early weeks of this new life I began to ask God some questions: What am I to do with my life for whatever time remains? How can I best serve Him? What lessons am I to learn? In other words, “Will I be creating a better me?”
I know there are areas of my life where I need to be a better me. It is not always easy to admit them to myself, let alone anyone else. However, it is a mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy thing to do. Two such areas are: one is the need to let go of regrets; and secondly to be a more worthy child of God.
Since a little girl around nine or ten years I had found ways to deal with some not so pleasant things. In the 1940’s my parents divorced and both had remarried. I was angry that I could not say, “My mom and dad” in one sentence as all of my classmates did. I rarely saw my dad. We moved out of the only home I knew and to a different city far from my dad and grandparents. My stepfather betrayed my trust through sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. I was angry and hurt that my mother chose to stay with him and send me away. She did not protect me. I went to live with my dad, but again it meant a new school, distant city, and a different home.
Early on I found solace, answers, and a sense of hope by journaling, writing poems, short stories, and even a novel. I never shared them with anyone. I did not trust that people wouldn’t laugh at me. I had no self-confidence, but I kept writing just for me.
I learned from my grandmother about healthy exercise, good nutrition, laughter, and positive thinking. Over the years they were lifestyle choices that kept my mind and body in optimum states. They each release endorphins, improve blood circulation, and increase the body’s immune system. I have always strived to be healthy and it is still true today.
Growing up in the 1940’s and 1950’s girls were looked upon as tomboys if they liked to compete in sports or exercise. I always loved to walk and play volleyball and those were acceptable types of activity. Today I walk, exercise at the YMCA, and play golf.
My grandmother in particular taught me about vitamins, minerals, herbs, and good nutrition. She would say, “Do not eat much red meat, but eat lots of fruits and vegetables.” With her encouragement I replaced processed sugar with honey and gave up sodas and caffeinated beverages. I have never had a weight problem or been on a diet. I have always incorporated complementary medicine into my daily life. I used massage, herbs, acupressure, Reiki, yoga, and deep meditation to enhance my body’s ability to tolerate chemotherapy and improve its effectiveness.
Laughter viewed as the best medicine was popularized by Dr. Bernie Siegel. When we laugh or smile gray clouds disappear and the sun shines brightly. Our spirits are lifted and we believe we can overcome any obstacle. I recall the day when I had my head shaved for the first time. My husband rubbed my now baldhead and kissed the top of it. I cried and then laughed and said, “Grab the camera and let’s take pictures of me with different hats, scarves, the wig, and bald.” I was soon making different faces or standing in a variety of poses. Then I posted them on Facebook and sent emails to friends and family.
Closely related to laughter is the power of positive thinking. When I read Norman Vincent Peale’s book, The Power of Positive Thinking so many years ago, I knew this was an important part of being a better me. When I learned I had cancer I certainly went through the stages of grief, but I quickly took the attitude what can I learn and use to make me a better person?
I did bring intentional prayer and meditation ever more deeply into my daily life. There was one particular prayer of St. Francis of Assisi that brought clarity, peace, and purpose:
Lord, help me to live this day quietly, easily
To lean upon thy great strength trustfully, restfully
To wait for the unfolding of Thy will patiently, serenely
To meet others peacefully, joyously
To face tomorrow confidently, courageously.
My spiritual life is a central part of who I am. I know that God and His angels are always with me. I try to always be open to their guidance and help. Yet, I know I fall short. The most important spiritual lesson I have learned is that of forgiveness. To forgive my stepfather and mother have been powerfully healing.
I wrote in my journal throughout my cancer journey. I trusted a friend to read my journal upon her request. When she returned my journal she said, “Karen, you must get this published. You have an important message for everyone with a serious illness or a life-altering challenge. And, you are a gifted writer.” I was shocked by her enthusiastic response. She had been a friend for a long time and we shared everything. I trusted her and somehow knew that this was a scary step I needed to take. The result was Outshine: An Ovarian Cancer Memoir, which won an award. It has opened many doors for me to speak to groups of women, nursing and pharmacy students.
The better me is an eight-year ovarian cancer survivor who has since published two more books. One of which is the novel I wrote when in my twenties. I have two blogs I write in every week. One reaches out to the general public and the other for readers and authors. My purpose in life is to bring awareness about ovarian cancer; to be supportive to those with cancer; and to bring information, hope, joy, and comfort to others through my writing.
Am I a better new me? Yes. I am more fulfilled and happier because I know that I am trying to do God’s will. I chose to not let cancer take my life. I chose to let my life be richer because of it.
I also know that creating a better me is a process. It is part of life’s journey. A favorite quote is “You must make a choice to take a chance or your life will never change.” (David Emerald from The Empowerment Dynamic)
Life is a beautiful gift that should never be taken for granted. Every minute is an opportunity to create a more beautiful and better you---and me.
My book is available at www.amazon.com/Outshine now at a reduced rate for the Kindle version. A limited time offer.
All proceeds go to gynecologic cancer research.
My thanks to Rave Reviews Book Club for all it does for us authors. I encourage all authors and avid readers to join this fine organization.