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Find positives while fighting breast cancer

In August I wrote about being diagnosed with breast cancer, and how disorienting and crazy that was. Deep into chemo treatments, I have to say that cancer is still disorienting and crazy. It’s simply not something you get used to.

When first diagnosed I had the warrior mentality – “I’m going to fight cancer and beat it!” But now in the trenches, as I’ve struggled with horrible physical side effects of chemo I think, “Who was that feisty, energetic woman?”

Cancer isn’t so much a battle as an endurance test in which I plod doggedly forward one step at a time, marking each day off on the calendar with relief. “Whew! Don’t have to go through that one again!”

It’s hard to believe that three and a half months have passed; a lovely autumn has gone by that I’ve rarely been able to enjoy. But it’s November, the month of Thanksgiving and I have so much to be thankful for. I may feel awful, I may be bald, the house may be scruffy, and some foods may taste pretty bad when I have enough appetite to eat, but I’m surrounded by goodness that beautifies it all.

My August column generated several wonderful reader letters from women who poured out their own breast cancer stories, offering me encouragement, advice, strength and hope. Those letters meant so much and I still hear from some of these wonderful women asking for updates.

When I’ve felt well enough to be out and about, and mention that I have breast cancer, almost every person I’ve spoken to has either had cancer or has a loved one who has. Cancer is everywhere and I feel like I’ve joined an elite society; we ought to have a secret handshake.

Our friends’ support has been phenomenal; they email, call and sometimes visit, and send funny cards and gifts that make me smile and feel I’m not so alone with this loathsome disease, especially when housebound and isolated. From the first I’ve been humorously journaling my unvarnished cancer story for them and sometimes Richard joins in with his own thoughts. I’ve been amazed at how many additional people are praying for and sending good thoughts to me, including Richard’s coworkers and my brother-in-law’s church in Southern California.

My doctors and nurses have been so fantastic and personable that sitting in the chemo recliner isn’t as dreadful as it could be.

Even a complete stranger who will never know my name has shown me an astonishing kindness. Last month my white and red blood cell counts were scraping the cellar floor and I needed a blood transfusion. I received the life’s blood of a generous person who had cheerfully volunteered it in the near past; how humbling it is to receive such a gift.

My Richard has been amazing. Without complaint he’s done his day job and too often mine, as well. He’s cooked countless meals and encouraged me to eat, been with me at appointments, picked up library books, shopped, cleaned, run errands, cheered me up on difficult days, and tenderly taken care of me. I don’t know how I can possibly make it up to him. We’re both grateful to his boss, who has been wonderfully supportive and understanding to us, allowing him the time off he needs.

I’m now halfway through five months of chemo that will end in mid-January. After a month off I will begin a six-and-a-half-week daily radiation course that ends in late March, which seems very far away. Both the grass and my hair will sprout up in spring, and I’m getting there one day at a time.

Yes, I have cancer. Yes, it’s been rough. But I’m filled with gratitude. I have great medical care, and loving support that keeps me going. I’ve found laughter in the dark places and irony in the gray ones. Though I may not kickbox my way out of cancer, I’m going to get through it.

Pumpkin pie may not appeal right now and chocolate may taste like dirt, but nothing can keep me from counting my many blessings.

You can reach Deborah Chan at Previous columns are available at columnists/.