The Secret for Recovery from Post Change Syndrome

sadWhether change is from a death, disease, divorce, depression, disappointment, or other disaster, hey, the trauma ended, move on; get over it. Were it so simple. So, I’ll share a secret here first. I’ve figured out what ‘cured’ my PCS (Post Change Syndrome).

Two years ago, Dr. Simpson, exasperated, asked what kept me in sadness when the cancer was in remission. Tears were my silent answer. My risk remains high, so imagine my wonderment that (for the most part) I did get over PCS. But someone recently reminded me of my low time in PCS. Now, with my brain finally engaged again, I’m on a quest to belatedly answer Dr. Simpson’s question.

Origin of the Quest

Trail on the trail 8:2013Trail the Westie’s sensitive terrier nose worked the ground zig-zag, seeking the source of some fantastic smell no human nose appreciated. His determined quest was to sniff the butt of the dog ahead. My intent, compatible with his, was to stay close and keep him safe.

2011-08-05 09.05.22We overtook a shy blind dog that dove behind her human’s legs. Larry, the human, and I untangled leashes and exchanged names. While the dogs lapped sun-warmed glacial water, we admired the magnificence. Larry is also an aspiring writer so next we traded domain names. And then Larry’s reaction to my blog on living  breastlessly: ‘wow, you have a great outlook’.

This response still surprises me. During and since diagnosis I met many with outstanding outlooks. I expected my blog on joyful breastlessness would prove mundane. A chance encounter plus a brain freshly freed of chemo fog launched my quest.

The Questions for the Quest

Being passionately curious, I unleashed my inner terrier:

  1. what is a great outlook?
  2. what are the qualities that facilitate a great outlook despite adversity?
  3. are those qualities common? and
  4. can those qualities be taught, learned, or are they innate (you got ‘em or you don’t)?

I asked my research assistant, Dr. Google, for data on great outlook after adversity. Hmm, 31,100,000 choices. Nap time.

 Methodology of the Quest

in perfect repose 8:2013From the hammock under the apple tree I undertook conflict analyses, rigorous research, and thinking about PCS. No apple fell so I studied Trail’s perfect repose for inspiration.

Findings from the Quest

1. what is a great outlook?

A great outlook is whatever gets someone through PCS feeling sane and healthy on the other side. If it isn’t sane and healthy, it likely isn’t a great outlook. The twin tyrannies of positive thinking and good attitude are privileged as the ‘right’ way to weather PCS’s aftermath, but there’s different adaptive capacities. Cancer Curmudgeon, for example, has a feisty attitude that brooks no guff. It works for her and I always read her posts.

 2. what are the qualities that facilitate a great outlook despite adversity?

In my hammock-based analysis, there are four qualities that made it easier to walk through the PCS goop that clung to my shoes. In order that I employed them, they are:

        1. Resilience: treatments for Triple Negative Breast Cancer were horrible and toxic and I felt gratitude.
        2. Mindset: I don’t quit.
        3. Optimism: it will get better.
        4. Discipline: if that’s my goal, whatever it takes, I’ll do.

3. are those qualities common?’

There are loads of blogs about how breast cancer made someone better, wiser, or nearer God or to life’s meaning. But the qualities that enable the process for doing any of those (should you want to) are not commonly joined together in the blogosphere. These qualities haven’t, previous to this, been identified as the cure to the PCS I invented.laugh

4. can those qualities be taught, learned, or are they innate (you got ‘em or you don’t)?

I’m pleased to report the four qualities of a kick-ass great outlook are indeed quantifiable, measurable and attainable. Resilience and Mindset are teachable traits, Optimism is learnable although it’s also associated with genetics, and Discipline is just a bitch that has to be wrestled to the ground like a runaway.

Conclusions from the Quest

We’ve fragile creatures, body and soul; anyone’s a diagnosis away from disaster. A sudden verdict or invitation can spin us like a tilt-a-whirl midway ride. Recovery from dramatic life altering change is a process. If PCS isn’t a real condition, it sure felt like it when I was inside its grip.

Each person’s cause of PCS is path dependent. Mine can be summed up as: “how do I avoid premature death?” My experience was of PCS as a giant mental vacuum. For me, PCS was the suboptimal edge of panic over what foods to eat, how to rest enough, when to exercise, who’d diagnose new symptoms, where to meditate, why no follow up treatment for Triple Negative Breast Cancer.

Dr. Simpson asked a simple question: what was keeping me stuck in PCS? I didn’t know the answer. The answer I now give Dr. Simpson is to a different question: what got me unstuck from PCS?

Resilience     Mindset     Optimism     Discipline

The next four posts will muse about each quality.

My medical choice is different than Angelina Jolie’s

For anyone who missed Angelina Jolie’s May 14, 2013, NY Times Op-Ed My Medical Choice, she announced her prophylactic (preventative) mastectomies. Now that people have stopped talking about it, I have an answer to the questions I’d dodged about her letter. Oh, to be as quick with a quip as say, Oscar Wilde. Nope, I needed weeks for a comeback line. And here it is: all breast cancers, like all breasts and all risks, are not the same. So the choices are different.

Pretty lame huh? Yeah, pathetic that in two months I couldn’t come up with anything wittier. Except, it’s my truth. Here’s a few ways her experience and mine are different, and then an answer to the big so what?

Angelina had a risk of breast cancer. This was not like facing Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Angelina has small scars, nothing that would make her children “uncomfortable”. That’s different than scars from armpit to sternum on both sides of my chest. Angelina feels she had “a strong choice that in no way diminishes [her] femininity.” I took less than two seconds to choose not being dead over being feminine. Angelina had reconstructive surgery for new breasts that are “beautiful.” I choose to live with a chest as flat as the prairie whose photograph I picked for this blog. Angelina traded her perfect breasts in for other perfect breasts. I donated my perfect breasts to the tumor bank for research without regret or request for visiting privileges.

That’s the ‘what’. And the ‘so what’ is: We have in common we’re both women who weren’t born with breasts, won’t die with our own breasts and didn’t want to die because of our breasts.

Angelina wrote: “Everything else is just Mommy, the same as I always was.”

photo credit: hollywoodlife.com FameFlynet

photo credit: hollywoodlife.com FameFlynet

What else could we be but ourselves, whatever gets amputated, mutilated, rearranged or droopy? But, really, she’s the same as always? We come through trials transformed, like characters in a good novel (or even in the novel I’ve written).

But I understand, I think, what Angelina might have meant. To those who love us and who we love, we’re still here, still strong, still attentive to them. We’ll shove aside our fears and doubts and nightmares and the quivering parts of our guts that worry we’re not out of danger yet, to answer “Here I am” when our loved ones cry out their fears and doubts.

Finally, here’s the ‘what next’. I’ll hug Decker, and Beth, and Marcus, and Andria, and friends and family, and even Trail the Westie Terrier to my flat chest and assume it’s just as comforting and comfortable as Angelina’s perfect implants. Because our loved ones will hear our hearts beat for them, breasts or no breasts.