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My Attitude Adjustment

In July 2006 I was diagnosed with my first bout of breast cancer.  I did not do the recommended chemotherapy cocktail (three drugs), and I did not do the recommended hormone therapy or radiation.  I did go through with the recommended surgery for a bilateral mastectomy and had experienced one complication after another. I was hospitalized twice with a staph infection from the surgery.  I had a broken foot in a cast that had a pin in it as well as two knee replacements. One knee replacement had was crooked, and because of this, I went through two more corrective surgeries. I had my gallbladder removed, uterine surgery and other surgeries from the complications. 

I had 14 surgeries during that time, and it was excruciating. The recovery time in between surgeries looking back now, I’d say was not enough time before I was back in the hospital having surgery again. My attitude during that period was not very good starting; I was terrified when it got to be about the 7th or 8 surgery.

I was on antibiotics for months, which caused extreme nausea. I was confined mostly to bed. I used to be annoyed in the morning because the birds chirping outside my window woke me up very early and the pain would kick in preventing me from going back to sleep.  Being awake so early also meant I had a much longer day. It seemed like the time just passed very slowly. For me, time wasn’t relevant except for doctor appointments. I was lonely and bored quite a bit, and I did not want to be a burden on friends or my daughter.

I realize how depressing this sounds, but the truth is I was not happy with my circumstances. I needed help for everything like getting to the bathroom, showering and washing my hair and I needed my meals in bed. I did not want to see my chest in the mirror because where my breast used to be there were now two ugly gashes.  It took nine months before reconstructive surgery was complete. I was confined to bed and desperately wanted to be able to get out and visit friends.  All my family except my daughter lived in different states. I couldn’t drive or go for a walk outside. Now and then I would snap back to reality and remember that many people had to endure even greater struggles than myself, but regardless I am ashamed to say I still felt my attitude headed in a downward spiral.

Somehow I reached a crossroad where I knew I needed to change my attitude. I was afraid of slipping into complete depression and knew If I continued feeling sorry for myself I would never return to the optimistic woman I used to be. I used to write in journals, and I had stopped doing that when I got sick with cancer. I remembered in the past, writing down five things I was grateful for and how it always gave me a feeling of hope and regardless of the adversities I was facing in my life revealed my blessings.

 I knew it was time to start up a new gratitude journal so began immediately. I started by looking around my bedroom to find things to be thankful for; you’d think being thankful to be alive would be enough yet I was still afraid feeling miserable.  At the beginning of this new undertaking I had to push myself to write, and it felt like I was stretching just to take notice of all the goodness I had in my life. My sloppy handwriting barely filled up a 1/4 page.

It read like this,

My attitude did not change overnight. I was sad; I needed to forgive, let go of resentment, it was a process. I still felt cheated in life, not just from cancer, and my relationship that took a huge hit but I missed my family. I felt my spirit diminishing. You can do too much thinking when you are sick and confined to bed. There was a veil of despair separating me from everything good around me; I lost sight, but I was determined to reach happiness again. I always use to say, ‘If you don’t feel like smiling, smile anyway because the rest of your body will eventually catch on.

I wrote in my journal faithfully, and soon I was filling up an entire page each night. More time passed, and I was filling up two pages. My handwriting was not sloppy anymore, and finally, an attitude adjustment was taking place. It was getting to the point where I would feel concerned about leaving anything left unwritten that I was grateful for that day. I was grateful for the smallest things, like my soup spoon versus the regular teaspoons that caused more spills. I loved my flex straws for my protein drinks.I was grateful for phone calls from friends, we always laughed. I received a letter one day, and inside the envelope, there were drawings from my best friends daughter. 

 Now I was grateful to hear them singing because they were a reminder for me, someday I was going to be free again. I just knew I would get through it all.

I took this attitude adjustment project a step further! I wrote down positive affirmations on pieces of paper. “You are loved,” “There is beauty all around you,” “God is with you” etc. I printed pictures of fairies and colored them in careful detail with pencils; they cheered me up! Their big beautiful wings reminded me of freedom, the long flowing hair and whimsical gowns signified femininity that I had been so afraid of losing because of what I had lost with breast cancer. I had my daughter tape these positive affirmations on my ceiling for me, including each blade of my ceiling fan over my bed so I would wake up to a room with positive messages and start my day with a smile. I felt inspired and beautiful on the inside and felt I could get through just about anything.

What I have learned is this, sometimes we are given too much to handle, and each of us copes with it differently. Adversity showed me my abilities, and it shaped me into a strong and compassionate woman. We all have the power of our perception to see a lifetime of success and failures any way we wish. Some will see a life of many victories. Others will see many failures. Our attitude and our perception can continually be adjusted. What we see is what we get.

In closing, I will share a short story with a compelling message.

“Once there were three bricklayers. Each bricklayer was approached and asked what he was doing. Their responses were quite different. The first one answered gruffly, ‘I’m laying bricks.’ The second replied, ‘I’m putting up a wall.’ But the third bricklayer said with great pride, “‘I’m building a cathedral.'”

The bricklayer story is a great reminder of how we can each have a different perspective of the same thing. Now when I am sick in bed, I have a different attitude. I can envision my body healing itself, and while I lay in bed resting, there is a whole lot of work going on inside my body by me being at peace and having an attitude of gratitude. Thank God I am alive and healing.

September 14th, 2012