‘I MADE IT!’ Thriving includes memories of bitterness & sweetness

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Hard-Earned Lessons of a Cancer Thriver

A Note from Heather Jose: As your host at We Are Caregivers, I couldn’t be happier to introduce you to our guest columnist. First, Kathy Macdonald has a very impressive résumé: She’s the head of The Macdonald Group and an expert in helping individuals and organizations to make faster, less painful and more sustainable changes. But, beyond professional circles, Kathy is one of the most gracious persons I know. I have invited her to write honestly about the challenge of reversing roles and becoming a care receiver—after a startling diagnosis. An expert in change, she suddenly had to transform her own life and hopes to sustain that life, which she is rebuilding once again.

I met Kathy years ago when I married her nephew. However it wasn’t until my own cancer that I began to really get to know her. She and her husband James took excellent care of me whenever I was in Ann Arbor. In fact, you can meet Kathy in my book, Every Day We are Killing Cancer. Kathy has continued to be a mentor and friend to me for many years. Now, we share even more: She has joined me in the ranks of cancer thrivers. Over the next few weeks, she is going to share some of her experiences with you. As always, we would love for you to share her columns and add a comment yourself.

A Case for Remembering

By Kathy Macdonald

TEA and STRAWBERRIES, a photo by Kay Yuen released for public use.

TEA and STRAWBERRIES, a photo by Kay Yuen released for public use.

I took my own advice as an executive coach and began a new journal as soon as I learned my diagnosis of throat cancer.

The news was a surprise. I suppose it is for everyone, but I wasn’t a smoker or a heavy drinker or even male—but I had it. They found the primary source in my left tonsil and I was off to the races with biopsies, then surgery, then radiation and chemo along with a port and a feeding tube through my stomach wall.

Now, half a year later, my PET scan says I am clear of cancer in my throat.

I made it!

As I look back, now, moments return. The evenings when I had to support my head to watch television, losing all my hair in back between my ears from the radiation, my head anchored to the radiation table with what looked like a goal-tender’s mask, trips to the ER for potassium infusions, the inability to even swallow water, and just trying to get through another day.

I am glad I kept a journal and even took a few photos. The worst of it is already slipping away from my daily consciousness. But this is hard-earned knowledge: I now know what it is like for others to go through this and I don’t want all of it disappear like a bad dream.

I remember the morning after my first daughter was born and I realized I was in an exclusive club. I was a mother. I am now in another exclusive club … a cancer thriver. That’s what Heather wants us to call this experience—she talked about it in a recent interview—and her national campaign is making headway. I’m a member of her club, now.

I want to embrace this new membership as I did motherhood. I don’t want to “forget it and move on.” I want to remember the journey. I want to be reminded of what I did go through and how others were there for me.

Every day is a good day now. I have fuzz growing where there was no hair. I just had my stomach tube removed. I can walk up a couple of flights of stairs without pausing. I can eat without fear of gagging.

Life is good.

Remembering when it wasn’t so good will help me keep this focus. I hope this is true in your life as well as in mine.

Share this story with friends! Please, start a conversation with your friends by clicking on the blue-”f” Facebook icons connected to this interview. Or email this interview to a friend using the small envelope-shaped icons.


(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)