Cancer pink ribbon
Mind Your Body,  Mind Your Thoughts

Cancer and the Power of Positive Thinking Part 1

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Everyday I hear of people dealing with incredible sadness and loss, and I wonder “How do they do it?”

“Where do they find the courage, the strength to endure?” 
 I often ask myself, “How would I cope under the same circumstances?”

“Could the power of positive thinking help?”

Sadly, we only become aware of the answers when a crisis or tragedy visits us, and our own lives are thrown into turmoil.  

For the last 10 years or more, I’ve had the recommended annual mammogram, and every year, I would receive a letter in the mail stating something to the effect that “your examination has been reviewed by two radiologists, and they discovered no suspicious findings at this time.” Because this was the case with every letter, I eventually barely read its contents.

That changed this year. 

It started with the unexpected message from the diagnostic center requesting that I call as soon as possible. That was on a Friday eve. I had to wait until Monday to get answers.

This was my first test.

In the past, panic and fear would immediately come knocking at my door waving “We’re Baacck!”

It was my trademark to worry and panic over stressful situations even if they weren’t a reality. It was my brain’s way of alerting me of impending danger to my peace of mind. It would want me to come up with a strategy to protect it from stress, dread, fear, and anxiety. It wanted me to be prepared “just in case.” 

Allow me to explain something about the brain. One of its functions is to protect. It’s one of the best bodyguards we will ever have. To protect us from an immediate threat, the brain alerts our body to create a “fight-or-flight response” by increasing our heart rate and sending a flood of adrenaline and cortisol throughout our bodies while getting oxygen to the brain and energy to the muscles. This “fear response” provides us with an instinctive form of self-protection, allowing us to flee dangerous situations or muster the strength to defend ourselves. Hence, situational or instinctual fear is healthy. It keeps us safe. 

One the other hand, unless there’s an immediate threat, fear is completely unnecessary.

 Unfortunately, the brain doesn’t always know that. It has a similar “fear response” when we’re anxious or uneasy about “what might happen.” This is considered psychological fear. It’s a self-imposed fear. Your body is reacting to a fearful situation that has happened only in your mind. There’s no real situation from which to fly or to fight. 

Unfortunately, psychological fear can result in a habit of worrying about things that have yet to happen. It can rob happiness and positivity from our life.

I didn’t want to revert back to that type of mindset.

So, I called upon strategies I learned during my personal development and mindset journey to help me put my mind at ease. Here are some I found helpful in avoiding the downward spiraling into an unnecessary state of panic, worry, and fear:

  1. Practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  2. Face fears (What’s the worst case scenario.)
  3. Practice gratitude
  4. Repeat positive affirmations
  5. Journal Writing
  6. Pursue enjoyable hobbies
  7. Associate with positive people
  8. Exercise
  9. Pray/meditate 
  10. Seek support from family and friends.

“Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.”~Winston Churchill

Although these strategies helped my mindset, they didn’t prevent the onslaught of uncomfortable situations. 

So, yes, a returned call to the diagnostic center confirmed that there was an issue, and a reaffirming letter in the mail soon followed.

Letter explaining mammogram results

I scheduled an appointment for a second mammogram. Although the letter clearly stated that there was no reason for concern at the time, I proceeded to research breast cancer symptoms. 

This probably wasn’t the best idea for a person who, in the past, had “worrying” as a bedfellow, and I mean that literally. I would lie awake many nights if the slightest thing bothered me.  

Upon reading about the symptoms of breast cancer and its stages, instantly my mind told me that I had ALL of the symptoms and then some.

Common Breast Cancer Symptoms:

  • New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit).
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
  • Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
  • Pain in any area of the breast. (CDC.gov)

Stages of Breast Cancer

The disease of breast cancer can be divided into many stages according to the symptoms and the nature of occurrence. The measure of the tumor inside the breast also plays an important role in deciding the stage of the disease. The different stages can be described into three parts as follows: 

*Early stage The early stage of breast cancer can be subdivided into these three different stages: 

  • Stage 0- in this stage there is no evidence of cancer cells breaking through the normal tissue. 
  • Stage I- In this stage the cancer cells are seen breaking through or invading the neighboring tissue and in this stage the tumor measure up to 2 cm. 
  • Stage II- In this stage the tumor measure at least 2 cm or up to 5 cm and the cancer starts spreading in the lymph nodes under the arm on the same side of the cancer.

*Lower stage– The lower stage of breast cancer is divided into sub stages described as under:

  • Stage III A- In this stage the tumor measures more then 5 cm and the cancer spread through the lymph nodes and the nodes are sticking to the surrounding tissues. 
  • Stage III B- In this stage a tumor of any size start spreading in the breast skin, lymph nodes and includes inflammatory breast cancer. 

*Advanced Stage– the advanced stage known, as the stage IV is the most crucial stage of breast cancer where the tumor spreads beyond the breast, underarm, and internal mammary lymph nodes. The tumor can also spread to lungs, liver, bones or brains ultimately leading to death. 

Everyday I had a routine of checking  my body for symptoms. My body didn’t feel different, but I convinced myself that there still could be an issue.

Hey, what can I say. I am a work in progress when it comes to a possible life or death situation.

To make matters worse, after a visit to my primary physician because of sinus issues, I received a call from his office notifying me that my blood platelets were elevated.

“What does that mean?” I asked. I didn’t get a definitive answer, but was told I needed to come back in a few months to have blood work done again.

Of course, I Googled “what does it mean when you have elevated blood platelets?”. 

At the very top of the search page this appeared:

A high platelet count may be referred to as thrombocytosis. This is usually the result of an existing condition (also called secondary or reactive thrombocytosis) such as: Cancer, most commonly lung, gastrointestinal, ovarian, breast or lymphoma. Anemia, in particular iron-deficiency anemia and hemolytic anemia.Apr 20, 2015

My eyes immediately zoomed in on the word Cancer, more specifically Breast Cancer.

Now my mind was really racing with negative thoughts. Like any former “bad” habit, my negative thoughts were difficult to ignore at that moment.

However, I tried replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones- a strategy I learned from practicing Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

Seeing that this information was dated 2015, I decided to find more current articles. Sadly, most of them reported similar information. 

It was possible that I had thrombocytosis (throm-boe-sie-TOE-sis)-a disorder in which your body produces too many platelets.

I learned that it’s considered reactive thrombocytosis or secondary thrombocytosis when the cause is an underlying condition, such as an infection. If there’s no apparent underlying condition, the disorder is called primary thrombocythemia or essential thrombocythemia. This is a blood and bone marrow disease.

“Thrombocytosis may be detected in a routine blood test which the results show a high platelet level. If your blood test indicates thrombocytosis, it’s important to determine whether it’s reactive thrombocytosis or essential thrombocythemia to know how to manage the condition” (mayoclinic.org).

According to the Mayo Clinic website, the more common type of thrombocytosis is reactive. It’s caused by an underlying medical problem, such as:

  • Acute bleeding and blood loss
  • Cancer
  • Infections
  • Iron deficiency
  • Removal of your spleen
  • Hemolytic anemia — a type of anemia in which your body destroys red blood cells faster than it produces them, often due to certain blood diseases or autoimmune disorders
  • Inflammatory disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis or inflammatory bowel disease
  • Surgery or other type of trauma

It appeared that all signs were pointing to the possibility that I might have breast cancer. The evidence was there, right? -irregular mammogram. -high platelet level.

Once again my practice of replacing negative thoughts with positive ones kept stressing that “I needed to calm down!”

So, I focused on positive things like working on my blog and spending time with my family.

The Second Mammogram

My appointment for my second mammogram arrived, and I was hoping that I would get a definitive answer about my condition. The radiologist informed me that I would.

Of course, I hoped that this mammogram would show no reason for alarm.

Unfortunately, that ray of hope was diminished as soon as the doctor told me I had microcalcification, and a biopsy was needed to be done. And because the area in question was buried deep in my breast tissue, a needle biopsy may not get the job done. Therefore, I needed to consult a breast surgeon.

Mammogram Results

Undergoing any type of procedure on our breasts can be scary, especially when we are faced with possibly receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. However, having an understanding of what is going on, what to expect, and why something is being done can alleviate some of that fear and help us become an active partner in our quest for further information.

Unfortunately, scheduling an appointment to see a breast surgeon was an ordeal. And wanting to know my fate only magnified the stressful situation.

After, leaving several messages without a returned phone call and discovering that no one could locate my latest mammogram file, I finally caught a break scheduling my surgery consultation at the surgical clinic. Instead of having to wait over two weeks to see a surgeon, the receptionist took pity on me and gave me an appointment for the very next week with a doctor who had a wonderful “bedside” manner. 

Side note:  Medical professionals with a great “bedside manner” can bring a semblance of calm to a mind that is weighed down by stress and anxiety. See Joe Tippen’s story  for examples of this. 

Here is a letter regarding my second mammogram results.

Letter explain my second mammogram

Meanwhile, my appointment with my OBGYN

This is where I need to digress for a moment.

I’m a fairly busy person. Most of us are.

During this time I was working at school, working on my blog, taking certification classes, and preparing for my Barbados family arrival. 

Additionally, my mind was somewhat preoccupied with whether my husband’s 36 radiation treatments for prostate cancer did their job. So, that was another stressful situation filed in the recesses of my mind.

I say this to point out that, unfortunately, life can be hectic, and we can’t dictate when problems will arise. Sometimes, they come in spurts, or they come in like a wave whereas when one problem is solved, another one comes ashore, or they all leap on you simultaneously like the defense of a football team. 

That’s just life.

Positive Mind Positive LifeWhat makes the difference is how we respond to these uncomfortable situations. It takes a strong and positive disposition to come out on the other side without losing your “everlasting” mind.

It’s one of the reasons I focus so much on mindset. A positive attitude is the foundation that holds you together when life tries to tear you apart. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a realist. It means don’t allow the realism of a problem to overwhelm you.

“I don’t have time for cancer.”

Okay. So, I had my OB-GYN appointment, and my doctor and I talked about my mammogram results. It was suggested that perhaps I should get the BRCA Gene Test. I discovered that it’s pricey, and if the insurance doesn’t see it as necessary, they will not cover the cost.  

However, I was comforted in knowing that my doctor, too, had a similar issue a few years ago, and things turned out well for her. In retrospect, she said something that stood out to me. Before she had her biopsy, she jokingly told her doctor that she just can’t have cancer. She didn’t have time for cancer.

Wow!

Some of my fears were tangled up in the same sentiment.

I often wondered when would I have the time for cancer treatments?

Would my boss be understanding and allow me to go during working hours for radiation treatments?

Would my co-workers be resentful if I am allowed to go during work hours using sick leave time?

Who would cover my classes?

Would I have to take a leave of absence if I had surgery or chemo treatments?

What’s all of this going to cost? 

Advice: I seriously suggest checking the prices of cancer insurance especially if you have a history of cancer in your family and if you can afford it. My husband received a bill for over $5,000 for lab work and when my father died of throat cancer, bills continued to pour in well after his death. (Disclaimer: I am not an insurance agent, nor am I being compensated for making the above statement.)

Consultation with the surgeon.

As I waited for my appointment with the surgeon, I wanted to know all I could about microcalcification. I spent hours and days scouring reputable sites regarding the topic. In the process, I found online breast cancer support groups. Here are two:

Cancer Survivors Network 

Cancer Care

However, the support group that resonated with me the most was on the following website:  https://www.cancerresearchuk.org.

My heart went out to these courageous women. Their experiences with calcification to breast cancer to metastatic breast cancer were enlightening and humbling, yet frightening.

Side note: Be sure to do your do due diligence to ensure a support group is right for you.

The consultation with the surgeon took less than 15 minutes. He verified that I had to have surgery instead of a needle biopsy. He continued by telling me that a guide would be placed in my breast to help him locate the calcifications. The surgery itself would take 20-30 minutes, and there would be a 15-20 minutes wait in order to get verification from the lab that what was removed was the correct specimen. The tissue will then be sent to a pathologist who will determine if its malignant or benign. The result would be back in 10 to 14 days.

In regards to what would happen if the results were positive, he declined to elaborate because there would be many variables to consider to specifically say what my treatment would be.

Needless to say, luck would have it that I was able to schedule my surgery for the very next week.

Day of the surgery

Cancer and Positive Thinking

I was quite nervous to say the least. I reported to the hospital around 6:45AM. 

For the most part, the intake process went smoothly and rather quickly.

However, the pre-op….

How can I describe it? 

Hmmm.

Painful and uncomfortable.

I was aware that there would be some type of “guide” inserted in my breast to help the surgeon locate the calcifications. 

How-ever….

No one told me that to insert a wire was going to be extremely painful. In retrospect, it was more painful than the actually surgery. 

I moaned for bloody murder while the sweet, awesome nurse rubbed my back and talked me through the pain similar to what would happened if I were in labor. 

I didn’t dare look at the wire sticking out of my left breast because if felt so foreign and uncomfortable. I didn’t want to talk much, and I definitely didn’t want to sneeze or cough for fear the pain would be agonizing.

Up next, the insertion of the I.V. 

Don’t you just love it when the nurse has to stick you not once or twice, but three times to find a vain that would cooperate?

I briefly saw my surgeon and the anesthesiologist.

As I was wallowing in self pity, I heard the following conversation in the next “room”:

Doctor: “Well, Mr. Smith. Are you ready for the surgery.”

Mr. Smith: “The question is are YOU ready for the surgery?”

Doctor: “Yes sir, my team and I just prayed, and we are ready.”

Mr. Smith: “Hey, I’m glad you are a praying doctor.”

Doctor: “Yes, sir. I can’t do anything without Him.”

After hearing that interaction, I quoted one of my favorite bible verses:  “It’s well with my soul”-Psalm 46:1-3.

Calmness enveloped my mind and spirit.

I stopped feeling sorry for myself.

Humbly, I thought, “There are so many people who are in worse situations than I am.”

When my husband was allowed to see me, we prayed. Then off to surgery I went.

When you have any surgery, there’s no guarantee you will make it out alive. I’ve heard of many horror stories of people getting a simple procedure and dying. 

So when I woke up from my surgery,  I was grateful.

I’ve learned not to take too many things for granted. 

Has something happened to you that made you view life more positively?

You can read part 2 of this blog post here.

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