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Changing My Mindset - by Jill Feldman


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Changing My Mindset

February 4th, 2014 - by Jill Feldman

I am someone who remembers dates, especially ones that are life changing, but for some reason my ‘cancer-versary’ has come and gone each year without much thought. There are times I have referred to my life as BLC (before lung cancer) or ALC (after lung cancer), but I don’t want the cancer to define me so I have never measured my life by ‘that day’ or how many years since I was diagnosed. This year was different.

January 19th was five years since my first surgery, since I was diagnosed with lung cancer. Lately I’ve been thinking about the days, weeks and months following that first surgery and how different I imagined the last five years would have been. Of course I was shocked, upset and in disbelief when I was first diagnosed with lung cancer. How could I not be after learning I had the same disease that I literally watched kill my mom and dad, and so many others I loved. But, I honestly thought it would be different for me. I was going to beat lung cancer. I was going to change that pattern in my family.

There was a lot of talk and excitement about early detection increasing survival rates in lung cancer five years ago. I was prepared to be proof. My cancer was caught early, removed and I was cured! I was the poster child for early detection, the story of hope; hope that lung cancer patients and their families desperately needed. So, to make sense of my diagnosis I told myself that I took one for the team and that my voice was going to be powerful. Never did I think that the lung cancer would return, I would have another surgery 2-1/2 years later, and I certainly never imagined that only a few months after that my diagnosis would drastically change and my mentality would have to switch from cure to manage!

It was the first time I actually felt fear, crippling fear. I was sick about how quickly the disease progressed. My poor family. How many times does one family have to helplessly watch lung cancer physically and emotionally attack someone they love? I felt horrible and sad for my husband, Jason, but the worst was the fear I had for my four kids. What does this mean for them? Will they face the same path? For a long time I could barely look them in the eyes thinking that despite being my own advocate, my kids will most likely go through what I did, the loss of a parent at a young age. I felt defeated, and I was tired of fighting lung cancer. I was in a bad place for a long time. I could not figure out how to live with the fear and not allow it to consume me.

Help came last year when I consulted with a doctor in Colorado whose research is focused in an area relative to my situation. I liked Dr. Ross Camidge from the moment I met him, but I thought he had lost his mind when he told me, in a very upbeat manner, that I was fortunate my stage IV lung cancer was caught early. I couldn’t figure out how “fortunate” and “stage IV” could be used in the same sentence – a complete oxymoron! In my mind, stage IV means no cure and no victory. How is that hopeful or encouraging? I could not stop thinking about it or even begin to understand what he meant. It consumed me for a while, but I finally realized that I was so focused on the literal meaning of stage IV and incurable that I could not see the forest through the trees.

It wasn’t easy, but I had to re-frame my thinking and not only see, but believe, that stage IV caught early is fortunate, that I am fortunate. I am still a story of hope! While early detection didn’t result in a cure for me, it certainly will make a difference, it already has, by not only extending my life but the quality in which I live it. I can take ‘treatment holidays’ and escape to Gumdrop and Lollipop Land in the summer. I can feel good and look healthy in my kids’ eyes right now. I have that luxury because my stage IV was caught early, so the cancer can be managed as a chronic disease, at least for now.

I have talked about the miracle of targeted therapies prolonging and bettering the lives of so many diagnosed with lung cancer. I am only now comprehending and appreciating that ‘stage IV caught early’ can do the same. My dad died 3 months after his diagnosis and my mom died 6 months after her diagnosis. What if their stage IV was caught early? Maybe my dad would have lived just a few more weeks to see me graduate 8th grade, or maybe even long enough to see me graduate high school. And maybe my mom could have lived six more months and been there for the birth of my daughter, or maybe even long enough to meet all of her grandchildren. Those are the treasured milestones that were stolen from my parents –and from me. I am fortunate to have already lived five years, and I am confident that I will be here for my children, my husband, and important milestones, for many years to come; I am fortunate for so many reasons, including my ‘stage IV caught early’ diagnosis.

January 19th was not the ‘five year cancer free’ milestone I thought it would be, but living with lung cancer for five years is pretty significant. I am in a good place now, but it wasn’t easy and I didn’t get here overnight. My journey over the past five years has been more difficult than I imagined. I wasn’t prepared for the dark and scary tunnel where I had to face cancer’s best friend; fear. I don’t like to feel vulnerable, but there was no escaping the emotional roller coaster and while I was humbled by the ride, I needed to find peace. A positive attitude approach has never been for me (I am too realistic and pragmatic). I found that my greatest weapon against fear was changing my mindset; that is something I can control. Our thoughts control how we feel, act and behave, and thinking about ‘what could be’ was very punitive. It is a lot of work and exhausting at times, but each day I try to consciously embrace and believe in my ‘what I know today’ mindset. It doesn’t always work, and the fear and distress never go away, but it is bearable because my beliefs are sustained by my hope. The hope I have is real because I can now recognize that hope is relative, and I now think, and believe, that hope means so much more than simply a ‘cure’ for lung cancer.

Funds for lung cancer research are critical, and hope for lung cancer patients is paramount. Living with hope, however, requires a great deal of effort for those who are confronted with the disease. Solid support from family, friends and others affected by the disease helps fuel that hope. Please join me at Breathe Deep North Shore on April 27th at Deerfield High School. You can donate or join my team, Just Breathe, at http://events.lungevity.org/goto/jill) or start or join another team at www.lungevity.org/northshore


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