CANCER, THE SKELETON HAUNTING ME

Many think once you have beat cancer, the fight is over, and you are home free. You can just go back to your life and continue on like nothing ever happened. But it doesn’t work that way. Cancer becomes like a skeleton hiding in your closet, and popping out just to scare the daylights out of you. It’s also hanging in your closet just to remind you of what you have been through and what cancer did to you. The skeleton just won’t let you forget; it’s always there pointing its boney finger at you, threatening to haunt you for life.

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The other day when I went to buy food on my break I mentioned to a fellow employee I no longer have to push up bra straps.

She looked at me and said, “Didn’t I tell you, you wouldn’t miss them? You kept saying you would get reconstruction and I told you boobs are good for nothing. Aren’t you happier without them?”

I told her, “Yes, it feels good not to have to wear a bra and I don’t miss them, but yet sometimes I do miss them.”

What I didn’t tell her is the scars on my chest are a constant reminder of the cancer I fought. Each day I look at myself topless, the skeleton of cancer stares at me and I can see its boney jaw moving, “Look what I did to you?” Each time I reach for a bra strap I no longer have, the skeleton says, “I won’t let you forget.”

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I don’t just have scars on my chest from this illness I have scars on my soul. I fear constantly something else happening to me, having to go through another surgery or another crisis. I started getting pain in my left foot. My mind whirled. I just went through cancer, I just had two surgeries within three months, I just had needles poked into my right breast, and now I have another problem. I can’t go through another surgery. I don’t want to spend another summer recovering from procedures. I can’t be poked by more needles. This can’t be happening to me.

My foot doctor diagnosed me with plantar fasciitis and tendonitis and sent me to physical therapy. I had surgery for plantar fasciitis a few years ago. There is no way I will go through another surgery. I’d rather suffer. So a-long with therapy, I am getting treatments from my chiropractor. I got a note from my doctor to sit in between customers and I am doing ice and stretches every day. I’ll do whatever it takes to avoid another surgery.

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When I saw the breast surgeon who did my mastectomy last month, he said, “Your chances of getting cancer again are very slim.”

The first thing that came to my mind was, “How do you know that?”

Yes, I had a mastectomy and a hysterectomy. Those body parts are gone and are no longer a risk, but there are other parts of my body. A co-worker a few years ago died of bone cancer. A friend at my writing group told of his friend who died of pancreatic cancer. A co-worker went through colon cancer. The BRCA gene puts me at high risk of skin cancer. I have many other body parts where cancer can pop its ugly head up. How can he confidentially say I have a slim chance of getting cancer again? How can I not be afraid cancer may invade another part of me? How do I stop the fear?

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I live my life with cancer lurking in the closet of my mind and soul, but I can’t let it rule my life. Each time I look in the mirror at my chest I say, “Aimee, you are still beautiful. Cancer didn’t take that from you.”

My friend and fellow survivor, Jamie, messaged me, “You might open a real closet and talk back to the skeleton and give him the what for. Then laugh at it as that’s even more sticking it to him. When he raises his ugly head just tell him no.”

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She’s right. I have to face the skeleton of cancer and stand up to it. I have to fight back and not let it run my life. I have to look at those scars and say, “These scars are proof that even cancer can’t hold me down.” I am a survivor. I kicked cancer in the butt, and if it ever rears its head again, I will beat it again. Cancer, you can try to haunt me all you want, but I will always rise above you.

If you overcame cancer and are finding it hard to let the emotional scars and physical reminders go, tell yourself, “I won an awful battle and I will not let it haunt me.” The shadow of cancer or skeleton of cancer will try very hard to haunt you, but use all the strength in you to face it and tell it to go away. Life is short. Live life to the fullest. Enjoy each day you are a-live and be proud of the battle you won.

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The skeleton of cancer keeps trying to haunt me and hold me down. I’m doing what my friend told me to do. I’m laughing at it, I’m talking back to it, and I’m telling it no. Because I won’t let the memory, the scars, and the fears control me, I stand tall within the light of recovery.

 

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ARE YOU A FIGHTER?

I have been sick for two weeks so I have been resting instead of writing. So here is an older blog post. I hope you enjoy it.

 

In order to recover from mental illness, you must have determination, strength, and willpower to live a healthy life. You have to fight harder than you have ever fought in your life. Facing your mental illness is one of the most difficult challenges in your life. In order to fight, you must educate yourself about your illness, take your medication as advised, participate in therapy, and do any homework your therapist suggests.

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When I found out in college I had depression, I collected pamphlets, I checked out books at the library on depression, and when I got a therapist, she gave me a video on depression. I needed to understand what my illness was and if I could get better. When I got sick again, years later, and found out I was a self-injurer and I had borderline personality disorder, I researched online and at the library and I bought books on my illness. Through research my life began to make sense. Many of the problems I had as a child had a reason. I wasn’t a freak; I was ill.

Once I understood my illness, I became determined to live a normal life. In order to reach recovery, I had to fight. Fighting meant going to therapy and learning to change my way of thinking, to look at my life in a different light, and to take my medications as prescribed. Most importantly, I had to want to get well more than anything in the world and I had to learn to believe in myself. In order to believe in myself, I had to love myself, which was a struggle of its own.

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A friend kept telling her psychiatrist what medication  to put her on and took herself off medications when she thought they didn’t work. By doing this she only made herself sicker. I found that even when medications didn’t seem to be working, I had to stay on them and allow my psychiatrist to change them. I also learned I had to try many medications until I found one that worked. By being patient, I did find one that has helped me reach recovery and stay within recovery.

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I spent my life drowning in negativity and believing I was ugly and worthless. My thoughts dipped into darkness and raced uncontrollably for many years. I burst out into angry episodes and broke things. How could I change all that? Within my heart I knew the only way I could learn to be positive and control my thoughts and episodes was to go to therapy and do the homework my therapist gave me.  I had to fight for my right to be happy and to find the positive side of life.

So dig deep down in yourself and find the willpower to fight. If you can’t find the power within you turn to God and ask for his help. By fighting, I am living a wonderful life and I have found true happiness above the hole, in the rays of the light.

A NEW FOCUS

When we are going through an illness, we tend to put all our focus on treatments, procedures, and recovery. Our lives become centered on the process of healing. Even the people around us become focused on our illness, taking care of us, getting progress reports, and so on. Everyone around you concentrates on the illness you face and simple talk becomes centered on things like how you’re doing, what treatments are you going through, how do you feel, what’s the chance of reoccurrence, and so on. Sometimes you get so bogged down with your illness and recovery that your mind feels like it’s going to explode. That’s when you need a new focus.

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When I was working towards recovery from mental illness, my life centered around my illness, and what I needed to do to get better. I had to direct all of my attention on the battle before me. Everything else in my life was at a standstill, even relationships. It became important for me to put myself first. I had to go to therapy, do my homework for therapy, take my medication, keep appointments, and battle my inner demons. It was a lot of work and a lot to focus on.

During my recovery process, a friend insisted on setting me up on a blind date with a guy named Lou. I wasn’t sure I was ready after a bad relationship led me to the mental health hospital. Was I ready to date again? Could I trust another guy? Would dating be a distraction from my recovery process?

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I debated on meeting Lou, but my good friend, Kelly, and my therapist encouraged me to give him a try. So I agreed to one date. Before I knew it, I was falling in love. Within six months of dating, Lou proposed to me. Before I knew it I had a new focus, a focus on planning a wedding and a focus on a new life with a man who spoiled me with love. For the first time in a long time I had something else to think about.

Lou went to therapy with me to learn about my illness. My parents had invested a lot of time in helping me get better. My mom went out of her way to find me help. Than Lou came into my life and my focus wasn’t just on my illness; it was on him and the life we were to build as husband and wife. He gave me a new purpose, a new meaning to my life, and a new focus. Being with him helped lift my depression. I had so many wonderful things to think about, a marriage, finding a home, starting a new life, and building new memories. I no longer had time to just center myself on fighting my illness.

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May of this year I was diagnosed with breast cancer. For six months my life became centered on appointments, decisions, surgeries, and recovery. I lost touch with reality. I spent a lot of time on the couch watching movies and taking pain killers. My husband focused on taking care of me so much he put off taking care of himself.

Then I returned to work and each day customers and employees asked me how I was feeling, do I have to go through chemo, how was my recovery from surgeries, what’s next, and so on. Customers would stand in my line just to see how I was doing. I know they meant well and I’m glad they cared, but I got tired of my world being focused on how I fought cancer and recovered from it. All I wanted to do was put it behind me and move forward, but it seemed like I couldn’t get past it.

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Then Tuesday, February 12th, a reporter came to my house and interviewed me for Erie Pennsylvania’s channel 12 news at 11 o’clock. After I was aired on television, a link to the interview went online and my Facebook became filled with my friends sharing the interview. Suddenly it went viral and my friends were texting me and instant messaging me on how proud of me they were. Instead of my customers talking about how I went through cancer and asking how I was feeling, they began calling me a celebrity, they started commenting on how proud they were of me, and they started asking about the book I’m published in and so on. I suddenly had a new focus.

The author of the book, Alexander Kovarovic and members of the National Internet Youth Safety and Cyberbullying Taskforce are coming to Erie next month. I’ve been busy helping them plan events. Alex asked me to do book signings with him and to speak at an event. I finally have a new focus. I’m focusing on wonderful things that are happening in my life instead of the battle I fought.

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I have a new focus, a focus on helping others, on new adventures in my life, and a positive 2019. When you are going through an illness, it is important to put all your attention on getting better, but after you reach wellness, you need to find something new to center your life on. Find a new purpose to your life, a new beginning, and live life to the fullest. Focus on how you can use your experience to help others and center yourself on thanking your loved ones for being at your side.

It is so nice to have a new focus. It feels good to have good things happening to me and to be using my experiences to help others. With my new focus, I have a brighter future waiting for me within the light of a fresh beginning.

GOOD COMES OUT OF THE BAD

Life is full of ups and downs. The unexpected happens, hard times fall upon us, and we go through many trials. We make mistakes that throw us down rough roads, unexpected health problems happen, and sometimes it seems like the bad stuff takes place at once. During these times, it’s hard to see anything positive coming out of the negative,e especially when you’re suffering with mental illness. When you’re feeling sad, all you can see is the bad, but if you look hard enough, you’ll see good things.

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I’ve been through a lot in my life. In my elementary and high school years I faced bullying. I was put down continually by my classmates and teachers. I was told I would never be able to do anything on my own because I had a learning disability. Kids from school threw rocks at me in my own yard. Daily I was called a retard, dummy, or stupid. When I tried to make friends, they were turned against me. My teachers assigned students to give me answers on tests.

I slowly slid into depression and stopped talking, yet I pushed myself to persevere. I struggled with my self-esteem and self-worth. I became obsessed with proving everyone wrong in high school. In time I made the merit roll, then the honor roll, and finally I became inducted into the National Honor Society. When I graduated from high school, the principal gave a hidden hero speech about me and I received five scholarships.

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Now years later I am writing blog posts for the National Internet Youth and Cyberbullying Taskforce, and I am writing quotes for their cyberbullying social media page. I have written a memoir about being bullied and I’m preparing it for publication. God opened doors for me and helped me use what I’ve been through to help others. Through the Taskforce I am helping spread the word about bullying and the damages it does to a person. I am a part of an organization that helps kids with things I have faced myself.

I hit rock bottom of my depression when my cousin was killed in a car accident and I started college. I began self-injuring regularly, I couldn’t sleep at night, I couldn’t find joy in my life, I got sick continuously, and I became suicidal. While I was at my worst a person I considered a friend abused me, sending me deeper into depression, causing me to have anxiety attacks. I couldn’t keep food down. I recovered for a few years and fell back into depression and into another abusive relationship. I was hospitalized after sticking my hand through a window.

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I worked hard to reach recovery. On my road to recovery I found a very kind man who was willing to go to couple therapy with me to learn how to handle my illness. Six months after we met, he asked me to marry him. Now we have been married going on 12 years and he is my world. He takes care of me and spoils me.

I am also writing this blog to help teach people about mental illness and to inspire those who have it to fight for the light. I am also writing about mental illness for the Taskforce blog and I’m writing quotes for the Taskforce mental health social media page.

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Then last year I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within three months I had two major surgeries. Recovery from a mastectomy and hysterectomy was rough. For the mastectomy I had drains that hurt every time I moved, I couldn’t take a shower for two weeks, I couldn’t brush my hair or even sleep lying down in bed. I was exhausted a lot.

The hysterectomy hurt when I stood up, when I climbed up the stairs, and when I walked. My husband had to help me put on my pants, under-garments, and help me in and out of the shower. Before the surgery I went through a painful biopsy. Through the whole process I was given lots of information, I was pricked, probed and cut open. It was rough.

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While I was off work, friends brought us meals, sent me cards and gift cards, my job did a fundraiser for me, and family came together to support and help us. I became a part of a very supportive breast cancer group, Linked By Pink, and I wrote a blog post for them. I made new friends through the group. I have started writing about my experience with breast cancer in my blog. My blog has become about recovery from mental illness and breast cancer.

Now I’m struggling with tendonitis and plantar fascists. After going through cancer, another problem is heart breaking. It hurts to stand and to walk. Even though I have another health problem, good things are happening. I got published the National Internet Youth Safety and Cyberbullying Taskforce founder’s book, Change Your life. I have a story about bullying and depression in the book. I was also made assistant to the director of the Taskforce. A writer friend is setting me up with a reporter from channel 12 news in Erie, PA, to talk about my accomplishments. Alex and other members of the Cyberbullying Taskforce are coming to Erie and I will be singing books with Alex. I’ve been helping them find places in Erie for events.

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Out of everything bad that I have gone through in my life God has brought something good and has given purpose to my struggles. If you are going through rough times, remember good things will come. God helps us through the rough times and turns them into positive things. Instead of dwelling on the tribulations in your life, think of the good things that will come. If you take the time you might see some sunshine peeking through the raindrops. Our trials teach us, and strengthen us.

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Everything I have gone through has led me on new and exciting adventures. They have strengthened me and have helped the light within me to shine brighter with determination.

 

 

 

HOW MUCH CAN A PERSON HANDLE?

Life is very unpredictable. It constantly throws us into rough times. Bad stuff happens over and over again. We lose hope; we feel helpless and wonder if there is an end to the rough time. We are told that God doesn’t give us any more than we can handle, but yet we ask, “How much more can I handle?” It’s easy for someone with mental illness, and even for someone without, to be unable to see anything good in our lives.

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You all know about my struggles last years with breast cancer and two surgeries within three months, but I had other struggles before that. Not as bad as cancer, but bad enough. Over the years I have gone to physical therapy for tendonitis in my shoulders, ankles and knees, for plantar fascists, back injuries and so on. I’ve had a surgery to remove my gallbladder then two years later a procedure done to relieve plantar fasciitis, and two years after that I had a detached tendon in my ankle repaired. I’ve worn that annoying boot many times. A year after my ankle repair I was diagnosed with cancer.

Since I returned from work after my hysterectomy I’ve had a pain in my heel. Each time I stand at work, the pain gets worse. When I walk, I feel the pain shooting throughout my foot. When I sit down and get up, I can barely walk. I wanted to ignore the pain with the hope it would go away on its own.

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I told Lou to promise me I wouldn’t have to go to my foot doctor. He agreed that I could wait if I iced my foot. So each night I rolled my foot over a frozen bottle of ice, and I did stretches I learned from my many trips to physical therapy. The pain continued to get worse and Lou noticed I was limping more. He insisted I go to the foot doctor. I resisted. I argued with him about it. Haven’t I been through enough? I don’t want another surgery, procedure or therapy. With my history of foot problems I feared the worse.

Reluctantly I scheduled an appointment. My podiatrist diagnosed me with tendonitis and plantar fascists. He wrote me out a slip for physically therapy and agreed not to put an injection in my foot unless I really needed it. When I got home I cried. All I wanted was a healthy 2019.

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I asked God, “Why me? How much are you going to let me go through? Haven’t I been through enough?”

Deep sadness filled my soul. It seemed like nothing but bad things happen to me. My health problems and bad luck were endless. I couldn’t help but feel like God was punishing me. I told Lou whatever happens I refuse to have another surgery. I’d rather suffer. My heart shattered. Depression threatened to overtake me.

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My Friend Cheryl texted me, “Even though you have had negative things happening to you, you have also had positive things happen. Write in your journal the good things.”

So in my journal I wrote: I had two stories published in Alexander Kovarovic’s book, Change Your Life. I was given a chance to buy the book at a low price, sell them at a higher price, and keep the profits. I was made assistant to the director of the National Youth Internet Safety and Cyberbullying Taskforce Inc. I’m helping make a difference in people’s lives. I have a good loving and supportive husband.

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My friend Roberta instant messaged me, “It’s not that the Lord doesn’t give you more than you can handle. It’s that he helps you handle all that happens. Just like he helped you handle cancer and mental illness.”

She’s right. God has gotten me through a lot. He has never left my side. Even when I doubted God’s existence, he was there and he will be there to get me through this too. Despite the bad, God has given me good things and is helping me reach out to others through my writing. I might be struggling with heel pain, but I am also making a difference within this world. I might have to go through physical therapy, but I won’t be doing it alone God will be at my side.

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If a lot of negative things are happening in your life and everything seems hopeless, take a moment to write down the positive things in your life. If you look around you you’ll see that despite the darkness there is light. For every bad thing that happens to us, there is something good. Instead of asking God, “How much more can I take?”, ask him, “Lord, will you help me get through this?” Than believe he will be there no matter what.

With the help of the Lord I will get through the tendonitis and plantar fasciitis. Because I believe he is at my side, I will overcome this rough time and in time I will dance within the light, pain free.

MY WRITING MY THERAPY

People have different methods of relieving their stress and handling the rough things that take place in their lives. Everyone has something they do that takes them away from reality for a bit or relaxes them. Some draw, some paint, some knit, some sew, some exercise, some do sports, some take pictures and so on. While going through mental illness, I was told by several therapists to find a relaxing hobby that to help me deal with the rough times. I was told, “When your mind is racing find a hobby, when your anxiety is high find something relaxing to do, when you’re depressed find something constructive to do, and so on.”

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In my elementary and high school years I was bullied so much that I stopped talking and sunk into sadness. In high school I started writing stories. I created imaginary worlds and people I could control. I had them go through bad things, but gave them happy endings. These were the things I couldn’t do in my own life. I had no control over the mean things kids and teachers said to me or how bad I felt inside, but in my story I had full control. I decided what happened to my characters, I chose how my characters felt, I created the worlds they lived in, and I gave them happy endings. Writing became my escape from reality.

I wrote every chance I could. I hid in my room and wrote. I went to a camp with my coach and girls from my basketball team and while they went outside to do things, I sat alone and wrote. When I sat by myself on the bus I created stories in my head and once I got home I put them down on paper. During times my classmates were teasing me, I jotted down a story in my notebook. Writing became my world, my escape, and my therapy.

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For a while my stories were pretty depressing, because I spilled out all my inner pain into them. I said on paper what I could not say to anyone in person. My mom told me I needed to make my stories happier, but I didn’t feel happy. Writing what I felt was my release. I didn’t tell my parents everything that was happening to me in school and within me. I kept my feelings pent up inside me and the only way I knew how to handle them was put them in writing.

Throughout school writing became my passion, my escape, and my therapy. I continued to use my writing to get through rough times in my adult years. When I was placed in a mental health hospital after a relapse and an abusive relationship, a friend gave me a journal. I carried my journal everywhere: to work, out to eat, to family events, and to church. I put all my feelings and thoughts in my journal. It became my lifeline. In time I stopped needing it so much and took it with me less and less. I still journal, but not as much.

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It has taken years for me to deal with what happened to me in my school years. So I decided to write about it in a memoir. I started writing how badly I was treated in school and how I found love and acceptance at the family garage. Writing the memoir has taken me three years because I had to rehash and relive some awful times in my life. I had to feel those emotions I felt as a child and teen all over again. It was hard and at times I had to take breaks from my writing. I continued to work on my memoir despite how hard it was, because for the first time in many years, I was letting go of the past and releasing some feelings I had been harboring for years. It was therapeutic.

Writing is my therapy. Even writing these blog posts is my therapy. I’m not just helping people; I’m helping myself, and self-care is very important when you struggle with mental illness, breast cancer, or any kind of illness. Find something that helps you release your feelings, calm your nerves or deal with what’s happening to you. Find a talent, a hobby, or something that helps you deal with your illness. I have a friend who finds comfort in exercising and I have another friend who keeps herself busy with crafts. Find that niche that helps you and use it to your advantage.

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My writing continues to improve and it’s helping people and me in many ways. My writing gets me through a lot and helps me dance within the light of recovery of not only mental illness, but also of breast cancer.

THE ROAD TO NORMALCY

The road to recovery from a serious illness or surgery can be a long one with several stages. During the beginning stage you rest at home resting, healing while you watch movies. In the second stage you’re up and getting around and slowly doing things around home. In the third stage you’re feeling good and you’re released to go back to work on light duty. In the last stage you get off light duty and start back on the path of normalcy. These stages sometimes take a while and can be cumbersome.

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I had my first surgery on July 17 and my second surgery on November 2. In between surgeries I worked a month and a half. Altogether I spent 13 weeks in the first and second stages of recovery and a lot of time on light duty. I became accustomed to light duty. As a cashier light duty meant express register. That meant smaller amounts of groceries to ring up and put in bags. There was also no lifting of heavy items. Sometimes I got put on a register at the far end of the store where it could be pretty slow. Although it was boring at times, I occupied myself by writing blog posts on receipt paper and filling out survey slips.

Light duty could be busy, but it was much easier than working the regular registers. In addition to less lifting and fewer groceries, I didn’t have to load the customers’ carts. Express was a good place to continue my recovery and to allow my body to fully heal. It gave me time to ease back into the working world and to slowly buildup my strength. I got to talk with customers, bring in a paycheck and feel useful. I liked it, but I knew it wouldn’t last forever. I knew in time I would have to return to normalcy.

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Wednesday I went to the surgeon who did my mastectomy and he cleared me for regular duty. Friday I went back on big register for the first time since July. I was overwhelmed with the endless cartloads and lines. It didn’t help that the weathermen were calling for a snow storm over the weekend. Even though in our area we have snow storms every winter, people panic. They stock up on food like they may never be able to leave the house again. It was a bad time to go back to regular duty. Luckily they allowed me to go back on express for the last two hours of my shift.

Customers kept putting their cases of water and pop on the register even when I told them not to. I tried to use the hand scanner on them and ask the customers to put them back in their carts. Some customers were accommodating and some weren’t. For those who weren’t, I had to lift the heavy items. My third customer turned out to be a three cartload. By the time break came, my body hurt all over and I was exhausted. Getting back to normalcy was hard, but it felt good deep inside to know I’m healed enough to do it.

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On full order register I got to see some customers I hadn’t seen in a while. They wanted to know how I’ve been and about my journey through breast cancer. They were excited to see me and I was happy to see them. When I told them, “I’ll see you again,” it wasn’t just a saying, but the truth. I beat cancer; I went through two surgeries within three months and was finally on both feet standing tall. In my eyes I out witted death and was going to be around for a long time to see my customers.

Not only have I gone back to regular register, I have decided to set goals to return to my writing and editing my memoir on a more regular basis. The road back to normalcy is hard, but I’m well enough to take it. I’m a changed person and a stronger person for it. Work will continue to get easier and I hope to get back to working out. My life is getting back on track. It feels good even though I ache all over.

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I have a lot to be thankful for, and as I travel down the road to normalcy I stand in the light of recovery from breast cancer with pride.

SELF-INJURY IS NOT A JOKE

Many do not understand self-injury. It’s hard to comprehend why a person would intentionally hurt him or herself. It just seems illogical, and some think it’s a joke or just a way to get attention, but it’s not. It is very serious. It’s a silent cry for help, a way to ease pain and for some, a way just to feel something. Self-injury in any form should not be taken lightly and should not become a source for jokes, teasing, or gossip.

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When I was very sick and injuring my mom found a therapist for me in a nearby town. At first the appointments centered on my depression and an unhealthy friendship I was in, but when I confided in her about my self-injuring, things got rocky. She asked me questions about my injuring and I answered them.

During one of our appointments, my therapist sat across from me and looked into my eyes. “Could you be harming yourself to hurt others? Like your friend?”

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I was speechless. My mind whirled. At that time I wasn’t even sure why I was injuring. I just knew I was hurting badly inside and it was the only thing that relieved the pain. I started asking myself questions. Am I trying to hurt my friend for hurting me? Am I trying to hurt my family? Was I that kind of person who would hurt people on purpose? Was I that mean?

I didn’t answer her. Tears threatened to fall, but I fought to hold them back.

She continued on. “Sometimes people feel helpless and lash out in different ways to hurt those they care about. Your friendship is troublesome and maybe the only way you can get back at her is by harming yourself.”

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My mom picked me up from therapy and I cried all the way home. That’s when my mother decided to find me a new therapist. She called a hospital to find me better help.

Mom rubbed my back and told me, “If you were doing this to hurt us, you wouldn’t have hid it for so long and it wouldn’t have taken you all this time to tell us about it. There is a reason for it and we’ll find out what it is.”

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When I found a new therapist, I learned that my self-injuring was an unhealthy coping technique I used to release the intense pain inside me. The pain of hurting myself physically took away from the hurt within me for just a little while. She said I was crying out for help without even knowing it.

Years later I went to dinner at a co-worker’s house. She had invited a few other co-workers. We went outside for some of them to smoke and talk. One of them started telling me that a fellow employee self-injured. They laughed about it like it was a joke.

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One of the women took a puff of her cigarette. “She does it for attention. When I was in school I knew of a girl who hurt herself just so people would pay attention to her. It’s all a joke. Like doing something that dumb is going to make us care anymore.”

I was angry, but calmly explained to them what self-injury was and that it was not a joke. I even told them I had once harmed myself.

Another girl spoke up. “I understand you have a reason, but I had a friend show me her cuts like it was no big deal.”

I looked at her. “She was asking you for help. Self-injurers hurt themselves in private and try hard to hide their wounds. If they become brave enough to tell or show them, then he or she is crying out for help. He or she doesn’t know how to ask any other way. Self-injuring is not a joke.”

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They all went silent.

Later I talked to the girl from work who injured. I told her how I struggled with it for many years and how I worked hard to stop. She confided in me about how depressed she was and the problems she faced within her life. Like me, she turned to self-injury to cope with the pain within her. I encouraged her to seek help.

Self-injury is not a joke; it’s not a way to hurt others or a way to get attention. It is serious. It is an unhealthy coping technique for either a deep inner pain or for the inability to feel anything. It becomes an addiction and the person can’t stop without help and support. If someone is showing you what he or she has done to him or herself, then that person is asking for help the only way he or she knows how. If you know someone who is harming him or herself, don’t brush it off. Encourage the person to get help and to tell someone they trust who can help him or her find the right therapist.

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It took me time to tell my mom about my self-injuring, but because I did, I got help. I also confided in a friend who helped me to set a goal to stop injuring, and when I reached it we celebrated. Now I have gone 17 years without hurting myself. Because I asked for help, was taken seriously and worked hard I am standing in the light injury free.