colorful bras on a clothesline to signify optimistic attitude about breast cancer diagnosis

On Tuesday, November 14, 2017, I heard the words “You have breast cancer.”  I knew the words were coming.  Somehow, I just knew. I had had a routine mammogram the week before…a week and a half after I had noticed a lump.  A lump that my doctor had NOT noticed 3 weeks before. Within 2 days, I had a biopsy and I could tell by the atmosphere in the room that they thought it was suspicious.  They’ve seen enough malignant lumps to know one when they see one.

So, I wasn’t surprised, but I WAS shocked.  How the hell is this happening to ME?  Haven’t we been through enough?  I’ve been taking care of a husband with a rare disease for 10 years, who 7 years ago had a motorcycle accident and broke 10 bones, in addition to raising 3 children, running a household, and working full time. In between the major crises, we had so many mini-crises that I’ve lost count…sepsis more than once, dead cars, financial crises, a daughter with a ruptured appendix, broken appliances, more car issues, and now my own cancer diagnosis.  And did I mention my car just died last weekend?

I’ve seen a lot of statistics over the years about how caregiving can impact the health of the caregiver.  Logically, it can have a huge impact on depression rates, but it can also impact the physical health of caregivers.  We are told all the time to “take care of ourselves,” and “take time to pamper yourself.”  As caregivers, I think we can all agree that is much easier said than done. I mean, when exactly are we supposed to do that? We go into auto-drive and we do what we have to do.  We think about the people we take care of…the sick, our children, our jobs and responsibilities, and our finances. The last thing we think about is ourselves.

I’ve seen the statistics and I’ve always thought that it will never happen to me.  I’ve always told myself “I’m strong, I do what I have to do, it’s just our life now, I take care of myself by eating pretty well, I won’t let this get me sick, etc.”  I pride myself on having a positive attitude, a great (and frequently twisted) sense of humor, and my incredible resilience.

I have handled everything that’s been thrown at me.  I just put my head down and forge ahead and I do what has to be done.  I think that’s the common thread with caregivers.  Unfortunately, sometimes life catches up with you and says, “Hey, since you won’t give yourself a break, I’m going to force you to have one.”  I certainly don’t think of this as getting a break, but I do have several weeks to recuperate from surgery so I get a little bit of a rest.  The next treatment is up in the air at this point.  Chemo may be in my future, maybe not. I do just look at my cancer as yet another bump in the road. It’s just one more hurdle to get over.  I was lucky my cancer was found relatively early and my prognosis is great.

I’m not sure if I’m being super positive, if I’m in denial, or if I’ve finally lost what’s left of my marbles, but this isn’t going to get me down.  I have too much to do in life and I have people relying on me.  I’m going to kick cancer’s butt, and I’m going to look good doing it with my cute, perky new rack, and even a bald head if I have to.  I just do what needs to be done, and I will always try to do it with a smile on my face.

Written by Renee Palumbo
Renee Palumbo is living life with a chronically ill husband, three children, a dog, and a cat. In the 10 years since her husband’s diagnosis, Renee has learned that life can change in an instant, and we all have choices in the way we handle a crisis. She holds a degree in journalism and sociology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Renee writes a blog called Running on Empty, which is about seeing the humor in life, dealing with the stress of a family member’s illness, and looking at life from a slightly warped perspective. She hopes that by expressing her thoughts and feelings, she can help another caregiver feel less alone and more understood. Read more of her thoughts at runningonemptyblog.net.

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