Those of you who’ve read Help Me Live… likely recall Monica, the now-9 year survivor of non-Hodgkins lymphoma whose cousin told her to visualize green leafy vegetables and even offered to make her a chard milkshake. Monica’s real name is Jane Powell (I used pseudonyms for all my interview subjects), and we’ve stayed in touch over the years.

One of the statements people with cancer want others to know is, “I need to forget and laugh.” Jane recently sent me a piece she wrote, and though it won’t make you forget, it might make you laugh, and will certainly touch you. Beneath Jane’s levity lie wounds most of us have sustained.

Labeled “the bad girl of bungalow writing” – she’s authored six books on home restoration, including Bungalow Kitchens - I also consider her “the bad girl of cancer warriors.” You’ll see why below.

Always hope,
Author • Editor • Speaker
Five Good Things About Cancer
By Jane Powell

In 2000, I was diagnosed with Stage IV non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I survived. But all those who think this is going to be some cancer-is-a-gift-you-can-use-it-to-transform-your-life article can stop reading right now. Cancer sucks, and this is merely an attempt to look for the almost non-existent silver lining in the whole thing. After treatment and remission, I was horrified to discover that I had gained perspective and actually felt gratitude, but I’ve come to accept it. So herewith, five things for which I am grateful.

1. A Do-Over for Your Hair
Chemo makes your hair fall out. I hated being bald. I worried about what would happen when treatment was over and my hair grew back, having heard that hair was often different when it re-grew. Sometimes it was a different color. Having been a redhead all my life, I began to realize just how profoundly I was invested in having red hair, to the point that I saved the hair that fell out, so I would know what color I needed if I was going to have to start dyeing it. Luckily, it came back red. But here is the cool part: no gray. It’s been eight years since I finished chemo, I’m about to turn 57, and still no gray. We cancer survivors sometimes joke that treatment takes ten years off your life, and it may, but at least our hair doesn’t look it!

2. No More Zits
Sometime when I was a teenager someone told me that acne was an adolescent curse that would end when I got older. Clearly this person was lying. Although it got better, I continued to have pimples occasionally and was still having them at the age of 48 when I was first diagnosed with lymphoma. After treatment? Zero, zip, zilch, nada. Coincidence? Possibly, but when you’re looking for good things about cancer, you’ll take whatever you can get. I’d like to report that it did wonders in regard to wrinkles as well, but no such luck.

3. Instantaneous and Apparently Symptom-Free Menopause
I had exactly one period after I started chemo. That was it. Since then, without any hot flashes or mood swings, hormone therapy or anything else, I left my fertility behind. My female friends, already jealous because I never had cramps in my entire 36 years of menstruation, thought this was unfair, while I thought it was a very small payback for having had cancer.

4. Chemo-Brain is a Ready Made Excuse
Studies have been undertaken that show there actually IS such a thing as chemo-brain. One of the things that’s affected is your ability to remember words. For a writer, this is a problem. I once spent 45 minutes staring at the computer screen trying to think of the word “euphemism.” I couldn’t even think of a euphemism for “euphemism.” Another thing that’s affected is spatial perception, which I use as an excuse for why I’m so bad at parallel parking.

5. Not Being Dead
Perhaps this should have been number one. I will never again be depressed on my birthday. I am grateful for the most mundane things- a favorite song on the radio, a warm day in January. And I no longer have to view the outside world as a minefield. Chemo suppresses your immune system, which leads to endless internal debates every time you venture out. “How many sick people are at the pharmacy?” Now I’d almost be happy to go and stand in line at the DMV. Almost.

I still have lymphoma - I relapsed into a chronic form of the disease two years ago. Now I’m grateful for Rituxan- the monoclonal antibody that is keeping the disease under control while not making my hair fall out again.

But all this doesn’t lessen the loss of my friend and photographer Linda Svendsen to ovarian cancer, my friends Beth Montes and Jim Ploss to pancreatic cancer, or my friend Ron Reuter to prostate cancer. I’m grateful to have survived, but frankly, I’m now a member of a club I never wanted to join, and I’d happily trade gray hair, zits, and hot flashes to have my friends back.

This post originally appeared in Lori's CarePages blog, Hope for Cancer: what helps. what hurts. what heals.

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