TREE FAIRFAX - CANCER SURVIVORSHIP INTERVIEW
Thank you so much for offering your time to share your experience with our audience. As you may know, my professional background is providing emotional support for patients and families affected by cancer.
From my experience, the most common struggle seems to be post-treatment. The time when physical appearance is returning to their previous self or “normal” to the public eye, the constant visit to appointments decrease, and the consistent check-ins from friends and family members start to taper. At the same time, friends and family are also struggling, with the right intention to support, but without the know-how.
Through these “life after cancer” series of interviews, I hope to shed some light on how we can best support our friends and family as many of us are affected by this disease. As an interviewee, I hope this interview will be a source of encouragement and a safe space for reflection and process.
I am so grateful your beautiful bags brought us together. I love watching your behind-the-scenes, and real life stories as you share bits and pieces of what you deal with post treatment. To get us started, I’d love to know what your cancer journey was like and where you are now...
I often hear about the side effects and emotional roller coaster brought on by the diagnosis. What was the biggest challenge for you during your cancer journey? Did those challenges change post-treatment?
My biggest challenge in the beginning was finding an oncologist who could explain the next steps. I first saw my OBGYN and then he sent me to the mammogram center and that is where I received my diagnosis and a referral for an oncologist. The oncologist could not see me for at least a month, so here I was trying to process the breast cancer diagnosis at 37 years old and having to sit with scary thoughts for an entire month. I was terrified and going to google for answers... which is not the right thing to do!
Thankfully I worked with women who were breast cancer survivors and had family members affected by this disease as well and they were able to refer me to an oncologist that could see me much sooner. His name is Dr Fintel and he is amazing, eased my mind, answered all of my questions, I went from panic mode to a bit of calmness once I received the answers I needed.
From the time I received the diagnosis, time stopped and it felt as if I was in a dream and then reality hits. It's an emotional roller coaster but things got better as time went on.
It's so great to hear that you had support through your journey. I'm curious, as a person watching from the sidelines, and with my own family experience with cancer, there’s always an itch “to do” or “say the right thing.” What did you find most helpful during treatment and post-treatment? (i.e. person, quotes/mantras, gifts, activity/hobby)
The most helpful thing for me was having space, time to myself and not feeling like I have to allow friends and family over to take care of me. I was blessed to have my husband and two teenagers at the time and they understood me and the space I needed to process this and heal. I think it was hard for my friends, the people I worked with and grew up with to understand that space that I needed. Sometimes we can mistake the need to be alone for depression or sadness but for me it was just not having to talk about cancer all of the time, it gave me time to reflect, listen to music , it actually made me appreciate life more, sit silent outside and hear the birds chirp.
I actually dreaded going back to work after my surgery and chemo treatments, I knew I was loved and supported but I just didn't want to feel overwhelmed with emotions and questions, I just wanted everything to be like it was before. It’s hard for the people that love you, they want to say the right things and be there for you and there is no way to know how to correctly do that. For me it was space, space to process, heal, talk with God, sit in nature and go for walks alone. The best times spent with family and friends were the times were I didn't have to talk about cancer, where I laughed so much that I forgot about it for a moment.
The gift of space, I love that. I imagine a lot of reflection took place during your solo time and self-care. How has it changed your perspective on life?
I appreciate life so much more! Every breath, every sight and sound I experience differently. I have always said this little prayer in the morning, thank you for breath in my lungs, sight in my eyes, sound in my ears and a body free of aches, pains and disease. I still say that now but it’s felt on a deeper level. When I first went through chemo treatments, I stayed home for the first six months, those were the hardest times of my life. During that time I was able to sit outside in my yard, feel the sun on my skin, watch the season change and let the rain hit my feet from the porch. That's when my perspective on life had changed, I no longer wanted to just go to work, cook, build my business and be in this routine. I want to enjoy life, that doesn't mean that I need a lot. I want to notice when the leaves change, I want to hear and feel the rain, I want to listen when my family and friends talk. Just enjoy this life!
What would you advise family and friends who are affected by cancer?
Take it one day at a time. It’s hard as hell and there is no easy way to move around this and it affects everyone in your life. One day at a time!
I can imagine life might look different post-treatment, and how you nurture your body. How do you nourish your soul with joy?
I nourish my soul with laughter, music, silence, a hot lavender- sea salt baths, food, good friends and meaningful conversations. Also my new joy comes in a cup of chai tea, I fill it with warm, vanilla almond milk, cinnamon, turmeric and ginger. I sip it slowly and enjoy every sweet and spicy taste. Those are a few ways I nourish my soul with joy.
Lastly, what would you advise someone who is currently going through treatment?
One thing that helped my while I was going through treatment was planning my escape for the good days. So my treatments were every 3 weeks and after treatment I knew the first 14 days I would feel my worst but by that 15th day I knew I would have a little more energy. On my down days I would stay home, mostly in bed and not eating but on my goods days I would have a plan for all the things I wanted to do. Eat all the food I loved (if it still tasted the same), take a long drive, listen to music, sew, and I even went to a few wine festivals.
It’s good to do something that brings you joy during this time, on those good days soak it up!
Is anything else you'd like to share? The realities of survivorship?
I will say this, cancer sucks! Even though it’s been five years I still think about, triggered by it and it leaves a lasting memory. My hair is thin, my skin is dry , my body is heavier and my hot flashes are frequent. The scars remind me of everything I went through and that’s the thing I try to remind myself , I went through it!. I am so blessed!
Your story means so much to our community, and I appreciate your time SO much. To learn more about Tree and her amazing business of handmade bags, check it our here. I have two bags and use them daily!