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What’s your secret? Just be honest with yourself

I have a secret. I’m betting you do too. We all live within a self-made shell. Those of us who seem like open books, could be protecting the most – often from ourselves.

Each day shapes every day that follows. Many an inspirational quote begins – ‘Today is a brand new opportunity…blah, blah, blah’. But it is true! Every day we have a choice. A choice to live as we have been; or choose a new path, a new outlook. But it must be chosen anew each day, each moment. We all have had bad things happen in our life. What qualifies as a traumatic life event is unique to us all. A diagnosis, a loss, a pandemic. These events will often take place with little input from us. How we handle it is up to us.

I was diagnosed with a rare incurable blood cancer in 2001. I rarely shared this information with others as I journeyed through the initial diagnosis and subsequent years of treatment. As a matter of fact, my oncologist at the time downplayed the name, stressing it wasn’t cancer like I thought of cancer. Honestly, I heard I didn’t have the scary disease people whispered about. That calmed me at the time. It was a gift that allowed me to look at the illness and not the folklore. Yet, it also robbed me of identifying with a group of people that may have supported me through the beginning years. For years my husband and I lived in fear as we tried to go about our lives, raising our family with threat always present; alone.

We needed a vocabulary to put to what was happening to me. So we came up with new words to use for reference sake. Cancer became disorder or condition, a significant bleed was an episode, and the many scans, bloodwork, and tests became procedures. We turned referrals and consults with out-of-state specialists into vacations. I even trained myself to think of the patient as someone else, not me at all. By doing this the fear-factor was significantly reduced, as I was helping someone else. Though in hindsight, my chosen path did not allow for others to show their love or support of us during this time.

And so my secret was embedded. It became a part of us. So much so that one day, more than a decade after diagnosis, when I casually commented on my cancer treatment a family member replied, ‘you don’t have cancer.’ That is how much we protected ourselves from the truth. But the truth shouldn’t be feared. In the end, it is the secret that is damaging.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I didn’t have to live in constant fear that I was going to die of cancer. I simply had knowledge of something going on within my body. But that information did not take away the possibility of several other ways that I could die. There are accidents all the time that change and shift the world. The diagnosis didn’t take away the joy, laughter, and peace I could still experience.

So I stopped focusing on the cancer. I stopped focusing on the research and the medication side effects. I stopped focusing on the limitations. I deeply knew that other than this cancer thing I was very healthy. I was young(ish). I had a loving family and life would still go on whether I opted to participate or not. So I chose to live each day as it came.

Sure, I have trials, tribulations like everyone. There are hurdles I must clear every day. Those are just pieces of my life, parts of the whole. Sometimes the memory of a past event haunts my day. But then life isn’t lived in a straight line. I try to explain this to others who are still living in their worst moments. Try to look beyond. Be creative and push aside your negative thoughts and fears and replace them with gratitude, thankfulness, and positivity. Even if you don’t feel it. It will come.

Lesslee Dort is a board certified patient advocate who firmly believes knowledge is power when it comes to being in control of one’s health. She spends her days helping others navigate their healthcare and her free time exploring. Reach Lesslee at Friends Together via email lesslee@friendstogethermi.org. Read her here the third Thursday of each month.

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