Life Lessons of an Optimistic Survivor
By Lori Sachare
When I was diagnosed with cancer three-and-a-half years ago, I took the first three letters of the word and ran with them. I decided I can continue to live a fulfilling life. And living with cancer has taught me numerous life lessons.
Days after I was diagnosed with stage IV bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma), I went through minor surgery and had a port put into my chest. A port is a small appliance placed under your skin near the collarbone that allows the chemotherapy drugs to go directly into a vein. This way, I would not have to be stuck with needles in my arm for every treatment.
Lesson #1: Always make things as easy as possible for yourself.
My cancer is very rare, and not one to be Googled unless you are looking for bad news. Despite the tumor having been found too late to be removed, I have beaten the odds and am living an optimistic life.
Lesson #2: Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet… in general, but especially about your cancer.
I was never a fan of asking people to do things for me, or one to ask for support. I always preferred to be self-sufficient. Now I rely on friends to listen to me and help elevate my mood when needed.
Lesson #3: It is important to ask for and accept help.
One of the many highlights of my journey has been discovering advocates–in the form of chemo nurses and amazing friends and family members. The chemo nurses are funny, supportive and unbelievably competent. I always feel that I am in the company of longtime buddies when I am around them. They make me smile and I leave the hospital with a warm glow, thanks to their magical way of infusing a healing kindness with the medical procedure. I have been blessed with friends and family who have driven me to chemotherapy treatments, brought me food when I was too tired to cook, called me on a regular basis to check in, and have constantly provided support for me and prayed for me. I feel that accepting help is a huge part of my healing process.
Lesson #4: Angels do exist.
I have come to realize the importance of fundraising. Soon after being diagnosed, I attended the American Cancer Society’s “Look Good, Feel Better” program. Attendees were provided with makeup donated by well-known companies and lovely wigs. The volunteers were professional, warm and supportive. The ACS has since then provided me with information about clinical trials and has called to find out what they can do for me. As a result, I am a proud participant in ACS’ Relay for Life event to help raise much-needed funds for cancer research and patient programming.
Lesson #5: Take action.
After three and a half years of chemotherapy, I have used all the known, FDA-approved therapies available. Unfortunately, the body adapts to drugs and each treatment stops working. However, thanks to the unending support from my husband, Alex, and daughter, Deborah, I did not give up. They have been invaluable in helping me make important decisions about my treatment. I researched and found a clinical trial that at this time is working toward reducing my tumors. I could not face this challenge without them.
Lesson #6: Never give up.
There are many side effects of chemotherapy, and I have learned to put a positive spin on them. For example, when I was bouncing off the walls from the steroids that came with one of the treatments, I declared that it was “steroid day” and used that energy to clean the house. When another side effect caused fatigue, I took afternoon naps without guilt. When I lost weight after chemo decreased my appetite, I declared it a silver lining.
Lesson #7: Go with the flow.
I have found that doors opened unexpectedly. I always wanted to study acting, but did not have time to take classes while I was working. When I was unable to work because of the side effects of my treatments, I had the time to pursue my life-long desire to act and found a local class. I truly feel that I have been given a gift to be able to follow this passion, that I might not have made time for if I didn’t have this disease.
Lesson #8: Cancer will enhance your life, if you allow it.
I make more time to take care of myself than I did at any other time in my life. I am responsible for my own healing, and I make sure I listen to my body. If I am tired, I rest. If I am asked to do something I don’t have the energy for, I actually say no.
Lesson #9: You may become, in some ways, healthier when you have cancer.
I recently renewed my marriage vows of 25 years on the sunny island of Aruba, where this story is being written. We had a joyous ceremony under a vibrant sunset. We wanted to appreciate life, and all the blessings we have. Cancer has changed the way I view the world. As I look out onto the beach, the ocean is bluer, the sky is brighter, the chirping of the birds is louder and the smell of the air is clearer.
Lesson #10: Cancer has made me want to celebrate life more. I am truly grateful for each day I have.
Living with cancer is a challenge, without a doubt. But it can change your life in positive ways as well.
Lori Sachare is a cancer survivor living in Chappaqua. Please visit www.cholangiocarcinoma.org to learn more about bile duct cancer, a rare cancer for which much research is needed.