Guest blog by Judith Zamost Grossman
In July 2011, my Garmin became my best friend. Visiting the
Hudson River Valley for the first time, without a map or computer directions,
my husband and I knew that our GPS system, affectionately known as Hope, was
our only hope. Each day I typed in the addresses or names of places we planned
to visit, and Hope came through every time.
Occasionally we would decide to go to a local restaurant or
store, and when we swayed from Hope’s directions we would hear her say,
“recalculating.” She would figure out where we were and set us on a new path.
At one of those moments, I looked at my husband and said, “Recalculating –
That’s how I’ve had to lead my life for almost two years.”
I am a cancer patient fighting a very rare form of cancer, known
as liposarcoma, which is a soft tissue sarcoma. I fought and won battles
against liposarcomas in my right thigh and groin in 1995 and 1999, and for ten
years I lived a wonderful, normal life with my husband and two daughters.
In 2009, another liposarcoma was found in my groin, beginning a
journey involving chemotherapy (with the requisite hair and weight loss, low
blood counts, blood transfusions, mouth sores, hemorrhoids, sleeplessness…)
followed by a 10-hour surgery, hospital stay, recuperation, physical therapy,
weight gain, hair growth and entry back into the world. Would I have ever
believed then that there could be a recurrence of the cancer? Well that’s what
happened – this time with surface tumors on my thigh and one on my right lung.
Back for more surgeries, 40 rounds of radiation of my thigh, and then a
post-radiation MRI and CAT scan, which revealed a new tumor on my lung. On to
more chemotherapy, which unfortunately still didn’t get rid of (or even shrink)
the tumor. And then on to Cyberknife, which may be slowly working. My
So why do I say that recalculating is how I’ve had to lead my
life? Because it’s the only way I’ve been able to remain sane through this
nightmare I’ve been living. Let me explain.
Although I would say I am, regrettably, a pessimist at heart, I
believed last year that I would be in remission following the months of chemo
and difficult surgery I endured. I never thought otherwise. I expected to pick
up with my life.
I was wrong and had to deal with the cancer returning just a few
months later. This time I realized my life would not be the same, and I think I
subconsciously started to recalculate my thoughts and the way I approached my
I want to share my philosophy on recalculating with other cancer
patients and those living with serious disease. Maybe what I have learned will
provide some help and solace to you.
RECALCULATING Treatment: It’s important to understand that
certain treatments work better on some people than others. Forget about the
numbers you’re given (“it works on 50%, so the odds are good”), because the
odds aren’t often good enough. Cancer is an evil intruder that is often
stubborn and difficult to beat. Be prepared to change treatments mid-stream and
go with the flow. Maybe one of them will work.
RECALCUTING Expectations: So the doctor told you that your
treatment will start in a week. The sooner the better, you think. Then you
learn that your insurance company is questioning the treatment, asking for all
kinds of documentation, and dragging its feet. Next week becomes three or four
weeks later, while your tumors seize the opportunity to grow larger.
Recalculate your expectations because things usually don’t go the way you
RECALCULATING Daily Routines: I feel fortunate that I haven’t had
to recalculate my daily routine much of the time. For me, being able to
continue working (except for the times when I feel sick from treatments or am
post surgery), is a welcome relief. Focusing on things other than my illness
helps me get through the day, and work is a reason for me to get out of bed in
the morning. However if work isn’t for you, recalculate and try to find something
you enjoy doing when you’re feeling well, whether reading a good book, watching
old movies, seeing friends – maybe attending a support group – whatever is
right for you.
RECALCULATING Friendships and Relationships: Having cancer
affects your relationships with others. Normal conversation changes when you’re
worried about your next treatment, another tumor, whether you’ll be here next
year… It’s harder to talk with others about things that were once normal,
because your life has changed so dramatically. It’s okay to tell friends and
loved ones that you need your privacy and will be back in touch when the time
feels right. Sending an occasional email update (always best to blind copy the
recipients) can be an easier way to stay in touch. Or writing a blog if you’re
up to it. Taking care of yourself and your emotions, and being less concerned
about others, is paramount now.
RECALCULATING Plans: Planning vacations, buying theater
tickets, and making dinner reservations is a normal part of life for many.
Looking ahead to good things keeps you going when work gets tough, kids are
demanding, and the everyday stresses of life take over. It’s best, however, to
forgo planning when dealing with cancer. With changes in treatments and
schedules, unexpected side effects, and many doctor appointments (just to
mention a few kinds of interruptions), it’s difficult to know your schedule a
week in advance, no less months in advance. Recalculate your thinking and enjoy
a last-minute getaway (good deals can often be found online) or take a trip by
car. (It can be a relief not to have to go through airport security, and
packing is so much easier when traveling by auto.) Want to go to the theater or
a sporting event? It’s not necessary to always buy tickets in advance – see
what’s available the day-of, and you may be nicely surprised.
When I first started writing this piece, I read some of it to a
dear friend who had battled another rare type of sarcoma. Much of what I wrote
resonated with her, and something she said particularly resonated with me. She
said that to get through many of life’s challenges (not just illness),
individuals need to recalculate their thinking – whether to cope with the death
of a loved one, handle unemployment for a prolonged period of time, or get
through a divorce. Without recalculating, we are more apt to get stuck in a
myriad of emotions that could end up paralyzing us. Recalculating is a way to
rebalance oneself to survive whatever the challenge.
HOPE for the future is the only thing I will not recalculate. I
need to keep this resolve for all of the battles I have yet to fight.
I hope you try recalculating in your life. It might just help
you find your way.
If you wish to reach me, email [email protected]
© 2011 Judith Zamost Grossman All