PTSD and Life Experiences

In mid-December I had my annual checkup with my surgeon and oncologist.

In 2010 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My initial reaction to this news was anger, furious anger. I was mad about having my life interrupted by a tiny, small lump in my breast. I believe that the anger masked the fear that this diagnosis instantly creates in most people who receive this diagnosis.

The good news is, that I am now eight years out and going well and strong. Some things changed due to this diagnosis. I watch what I eat, I am not perfect but I manage to pay a bit more attention to my diet. I exercise regularly. And each day I am thankful for one more day on this planet.

Then Jim got diagnosed with cancer. It was different this time. I was not angry. I was strong. Yet when he got diagnosed with the metastasis from the original cancer, I had a different reaction. Even when he was well, I found I was enacting, in my head, how to live without him. It was at this point, feeling guilty for creating this alternate life, that I decided to go into therapy. I still see my counselor for a check up a few times a year. It is good to check in.

When I had my appointment with my surgeon in December, I told him that there are just some months I cannot do my self breast exam. It is fear that stops me. What if I find something? What do I do? How can I do this again? He was the first person to mention that I had a little bit of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). He also informed me that most people, after any major life altering situations, have a bit of PTSD. Wow, I had never heard this before. It makes sense. He told me that it is OK to miss months. It is OK.

It is OK to acknowledge that I am human. It is OK to have PTSD. Giving this unknown stress a name has been helpful for me. Ah, here comes my ally, “fear”. Now I understand a bit more about my ally. The more that I can learn about fear the less of hold it has on me. I refuse to allow fear to take over. I don’t have time for it. As I learn more about fear,  the less it surfaces in my life. Maybe this knowledge will let me be kinder to myself. Hopefully,  I can let go of the guilt when I miss that important exam. Now there is one less hold fear has on me.

I really like my team of doctors. That is important. I love that my surgeon comes in the exam room, sits down and talks with me as if we are old friends. We catch up. We share pictures and stories. He is professional and kind. My oncologist is also a delight. She is smart and wise and she understands that fear. Why? She has had cancer. All my visits end with a hug and I find myself relax and feel like I am being loved and supported. I am ready to face another year.

PTSD is a diagnosis. I have often thought we all are walking wounded. We are wounded from life experiences. It is normal, it is life. We have good wounds and bad wounds. I think the good ones way outnumber the bad ones. Hopefully this knowledge will help me be kinder to myself, and to others, a little more patient and forgiving.

 

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Being My Own Advocate for Everything

And...Do It With Kindness & Compassion

And…Do It With Kindness & Compassion

When I was a registered nurse, I knew how important it was for the patient or their families to advocate for good health care. If they could not do it themselves then it became important to find someone who was willing to be in this role. It could be a family member, a close friend, a social worker and of course, the nurse. The main part of my career was in pediatric medicine. I often found myself functioning as an advocate for my wee patient’s family. It is not easy to  maneuver your way through the health care system.

Back in the early 90’s I found myself on the other side of my career. I had to have surgery. At that time in my life I was certified as a Healing Touch Practitioner and strongly believed in using all forms of the healing arts to get back to a good state of health as possible. I still do. Before I even went into the hospital I found myself setting up my team around me. I called the hospital ahead of time and told them I would be having energy healers coming in post-op to help. I wanted to have un-interrupted time with these healers. They complied. They even gave me a private room. Because I was not fond of the anesthesiologist I was assigned I asked for and got another one. Prior to surgery I met everyone who would be in the surgical suite (doesn’t that sound classy?). I had my own music playing during surgery. When I was back in my room there was Jim and a Healing Touch practitioner waiting. I was out of the hospital in two days and my recovery was swift at home. I was hiking in Yellowstone National Park three weeks later.

It did not stop there. When the bills started to come in, I called and made arrangements for paying. When all these different entities found out I was self pay and I was paying cash up front, I was given discounts (some were substantial), from the hospital to the anesthesiologist and the doctor.

If I had not been advocating for myself I am pretty sure that some of the options I was given would not have been offered.

Fast forward to 2010 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Jim and I, both took on the role of advocate. Jim and I were always a team. I pretty much chose my team that was around me for that year. I had my list of questions ready for everyone. Although it was not the best of times in my life I believe it went much better because I was involved and was part of the team. My decisions were heard and respected. I was not looking in from the outside.

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Jim and I again, took on the role of self advocacy when he was diagnosed with cancer and then the metastasis. It helped that we pretty much liked the team that we were assigned. We dismissed one oncologist we did not care for. All we had to do was ask. I always felt like we were part of the team. Don’t get me wrong, we relied on the knowledge of those around us. By being clear with our questions and our needs our team was able to meet our needs and often gave more than what we expected.

When Jim was diagnosed with the metastasis, I immediately asked for a social worker to be part of the team. With her help she guided us through some hard decisions. I cried on her shoulder more than once.

Why am I telling you this? Well it is my blog. (just lightening up the topic). Since before Jim’s death I have been advocating for myself. From my breast cancer diagnosis to Jim’s death was about three and a half years. Emotionally it has been hard. When I first was diagnosed with breast cancer, I went into therapy. When Jim was diagnosed I went back again. I have been in and out of therapy ever since.

When I left to travel for the summer I ended my relationship with my psychologist. I continued to feel good through Christmas.

And then it hit. January was, emotionally, a hard month for me. Despite the friends, despite work, despite that it is over three years since Jim died and despite the anti-depressants I have been on since before the above death, January was a really, really hard month. I know I could have struggled through on my own but instead I decided to advocate for myself and ask for what I needed. I set up visits with the psychiatrist, the psychologist and my acupuncturist (I have been working with her regarding grief issues since Jim’s death). I added in a massage. And you know what? I am feeling better. I am glad that I recognized I needed help. I am glad I was not afraid to ask. Asking for help does not mean I am weak or crazy or any of the other stereotypes that are still so often associated with counseling. Asking for help implies strength.

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I also am glad for my friends. Without them I would have been feeling terribly alone and frightened. The night I posted the blog about selling the bed, Cat, a friend from Long Island called. She took one look at the blog and recognized that things were not good. We talked for over an hour. Her friendship and compassion and humor helped that night. All my friends near and far, continue to support and help. I am beyond grateful for each and every one of them.

I am now back in therapy. It is a smart move as I am slowly moving forward with the sale of the house. That will be another post. I have given myself a few challenges which get me out of the house and sometimes out of my comfort zone. I talk to my friends and I listen to them as well. It is good to remember we are all going through our own stuff. It makes me feel a little less alone in the world to be reminded of this. I believe that we humans will always go through the good and the bad. Periods of struggle come with growth and change. If I can accept that it does make life a little easier on me.

I will continue to advocate for myself in many ways, taxes, interpreting bids for work on the house, financially and I will always advocate for my health care.

Another Year-Three to be Exact

Jim ready to Fly to Baja

Jim ready to Fly to Baja

This Saturday, October 17th will mark the third anniversary of Jim’s death. For those of you who don’t know, my husband, Jim died from cancer just past his 60th birthday.

It is a funny thing, sometimes it feels like three years or more and in some ways it feels like yesterday. Henry a friend and fellow runner, Jim was a runner, said last weekend he still expects to see him come around the corner for their Saturday morning run at the beach. There are times I still think he is coming home. I know better yet he still is a presence. Sigh

In lieu of a big celebration to honor his passing, shortly after his death I created a scholarship in his name at Grossmont College where he dedicated most of his work life before retirement.

He originally was the Director of Admissions and Record. He ended his career there as the Dean of Counseling and Student Services. He was absolutely dedicated to the students and his staff. Even when people were upset with decisions he made, I never knew anyone who did not like and respect him.

Usually at this time of the year I send out an annual plea to support this scholarship with your end of the year, tax deductible donations. I am trying to raise $25,000 to create a perpetual scholarship where no one will have to donate again and the scholarship will remain there for a long time to come. The scholarship, in the fall goes to student studying the arts. In the spring it helps a student studying the social sciences.

This year is going to be a bit different and here is why.

Jennifer

Jennifer

Jennifer DeMarco is a friend of mine. She was also Jim’s and my yoga teacher and mentor for several semesters at the college. I can’t even begin to tell you how much she has affected both of us and her other  students. She makes them think,change and broaden their thinking. Yoga is not just her job, it is her passion. She is an adjunct professor, meaning she teaches at more than one school and is considered part time and has little to no insurance.

She was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer and will be having surgery tomorrow, Friday, October 16. Her son has set up a site to raise money to help her with the financial side of dealing with a tough diagnosis. So far they have raised over $9000. However, we all know cancer treatment costs way more than this.

Jennifer DeMarco

This year when you consider gifting, please keep Jennifer in mind, she can use all the support that any of are willing to offer her. Above is a link to the fund raising site. Click on Jennifer’s name to donate to a very good cause, to help a very good person.

If you would like to make an end of the year donation to the Jim Fenningham Memorial Scholarship, which would be gratefully appreciated, you have two ways to do this.

  • Click on the GoFundMe button on the left side of the blog page.
  • To contribute directly to Grossmont College, please make checks payable to:

Foundation for Grossmont & Cuyamaca Colleges (FGCC)
Mention that the contribution is for The Jim Fenningham Memorial Scholarship

Mail contributions to:
Scholarship Specialist
Financial Aid Office
8800 Grossmont College Dr
El Cajon, CA 92020-1799
Tax Deductible Contributions per section 501 (c) (3) of the IRS Code; EIN 45-2692818

Jim & Janet before the trip

You can also donate to both causes. There is no limit to giving. There are so many causes that need help and I know for most of us we have to use our money wisely. My feelings on giving is to give to what you feel most passionate about, but give. If it is a little, good. If it is a significant size donation, good.

It makes a heart feel good to give and it certainly is appreciated.

 

 

Hope Changes Everything

Wow, January has been a busy month. Besides work, hiking, home repairs and improvements I have also had my friends from Chicago and Florida visiting. And it has been fun.

Helen

Helen

Helen arrived early in January. It was so good to see her and spend some time with her. Our lives have intertwined for many years. About 3 weeks after Jim died Helen came to town for a week. Friends are amazing in knowing just what you need. At that point her visit was just what I needed. This January, once again, her visit was just what I needed.

HOPE

One of our discussions struck a chord with me and I have been pondering this since her visit.

Hope can be defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. Or, to want something to happen or be the case.

Hope is something we all need. It is part of our every day lives, even though we don’t specifically address it. Sometimes it helps me get up in the morning. Sometimes it helps me to go to bed at night. Hope is a part of my everyday life. Often it surfaces and I don’t even know it is there.

Helen’s mom is in her late 80’s. MJ is not able to live at home and has not lived there for many years. Until this year they have been able to keep MJ’s home. Early on they would take her to visit and she would travel from room to room and review her treasured collections. That house I believe, represented hope for MJ. It may have given her daughter hope as well. No one knows what the outcome of any single event in our lives will be. Hope lets us know there are options.

Jim on Our Property

Jim on Our Property

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Spring on my property

When Jim was diagnosed with the metastasis of his cancer the first thing he said to me was “Let’s  sell the land in Colorado” (We have 45 acres of bare land and we were planning to build and move there). I told him no,I did not think we should worry about that and if it became necessary I could take care of it later. I am glad I told him this. I believe that the land symbolized hope for a positive outcome. Although that did not happen, I recognize now how important it was for both of us to hold on to that property and know there was more than one possibility there.

Now hope helps me see the future. Hope I believe is part of the grieving process. When the days are not so shiny and positive hope helps me get through those moments, knowing that the next moment, hour or day may shine a little brighter. My friends and even strangers also help me hold hope in my heart. It is because of the love and support and caring of others that I am able to lift myself back up out of those darker places and move forward with my life and know there are unknown possibilities ahead for me to explore.

My days have been much brighter since about a week or so  before Christmas. Hope helps me to see a future with possibilities. It helps me to grow and expand. When I am feeling sad or low hope certainly can help me remember to call someone or take a walk and get myself going again. Hope also helps me see beyond undefined fear that has become more prevalent since Jim’s death. Hope pushes aside fear and I am glad that hope is the stronger of the two emotions.

Hope is always part of my adventure into life. It has been since I was young and it will be until I am too old to move any more. But you know, even then the face of hope just changes. It will be always a part of my life.

How does hope affect you? I would love to have my readers share this with me.