After receiving a cancer diagnosis, I knew I needed a theme for my recovery

“Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes. How do you measure, measure a year?” – “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent”

For me and mine, this year could be measured in health scares, fears, prayers and, incredibly, joy. On September 27, 2022, I was diagnosed with cancer. After a myriad of tests, I learned I had two cancers, they were forming a third which thankfully never materialized, and I would need a temporary colostomy bag to prevent a possible blockage. My diagnosis changed everything, but at the same time it couldn’t change the most important things: the people I love lifting me up, joy in the little things and gratitude.

After receiving the news kindly, but matter-of-factly, I had labs drawn as my husband and sister who accompanied me tried to process the life-changing diagnosis. I am a self-proclaimed wimp when it comes to needles. Not only was this news impossibly hard to digest, we also wondered how this wimp could handle it physically. I haven’t been challenged with health trouble much but here I was, onto labs that would become the norm for me. 

As always when I get blood drawn, I promised to be a good patient but asked not to see the needle. I then spoke my diagnosis out loud for the first time. While taking my blood, Ketia asked me about my family, keeping my mind focused on happier thoughts. When she finished, she said: “You will thank your body for all it has given you to this point, your beautiful daughters and your health up to now, and your body will be strong.” Ketia made me stronger with her words. I became who my family and I call Christine 2.0. This new me was no wimp, proven when my sister had to give me shots at home for 28 days (she’s not a nurse). Christine 2.0 came just in time.

As we exited the hospital that day, I told my husband I needed joy. We aren’t going to tell anyone, I said. There were too many unanswered questions, so many tests scheduled. I couldn’t bear our girls, my parents and my friends worrying and stressing over my diagnosis. I wanted to share in their everyday joys and challenges. That plan is not right for everyone, of course, but it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was very difficult for my husband, but he honored my request with love. 

Always loving a theme, I declared one for this journey: joy, grace and gratitude. To get through the five weeks before my surgery while keeping the news quiet, my sister and I began sharing Today’s Joy daily. Today’s Joy came from simple things: pictures of children we love, funny stories, acts of kindness. I couldn’t have gotten through those weeks without focusing on the happy things in my girls’ lives and my sister sharing daily joy.

The theme of grace was a reminder for me to be graceful to all who were working to help me through this. The gratitude was easy. I don’t take little things for granted. I adopted my mother’s motto ‘Celebrate Everything’ and live it. I learned from practice that when you start the day with gratitude, it’s harder to get negative. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, it just happens less for me when I start with gratitude. 

Christine McCarriston
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