When you are in hell – keep on walking

This entry was written by author and illustrator of the children’s book “Chemo Cat,” Cathy Nilon:

I was told stories of people who had a much worse prognosis of breast cancer and handled their cancer journey much more gracefully than I did. I was shamefully one of the angriest patients my oncologist and chaplain had ever met- not something I was proud of- yet I couldn’t hide my fear. I didn’t want to be selfish, yet, I was in sheer physical and emotional hell.

I had a lump in my left breast since I was 35 years old. I was told it was a cyst. Seven years later it was diagnosed as stage 2b invasive breast cancer.

I was a walking disaster, trying not to punch the people who told me to “have a good attitude” and that “cancer will be the best thing that ever happened to me.”

I had about nine surgeries in all- including a double mastectomy. Aggressive treatment was prescribed. After a few weeks, I accused my doctor of trying to kill me. “You’re trying bring me to death’s door,” I said.

My intuitive oncology nurse told me about one of her patients who had three small children and decided she didn’t want to go on. At that point, our son Luca was 4 years old and I was 43. I began imagining my husband and son living a life, without me in it. I was certain that the first chemo infusion would kill me instantly, my heart would stop and my life would be over at age 43. She was right, I didn’t want any more treatment – however, I wanted a life back, any life.

She helped to save my life. My nurse said, “When you are in Hell just – keep on walking!”

Nobody seemed to understand this need for wallowing and rebirth, except for other survivors. I never want to forget the important lessons cancer taught me. I have this lovely and yet bizarre empathy for anyone facing the disease.

I am here today to tell you I made it around to the sunny side of the mountain. I made it with the help of my husband, Bill and my beautiful boy, Luca. I made it with the help of cancer patients and the oncology nurses that keep us marching forward and looking upward.

Chemo Cat, Living Beyond Breast Cancer

Cathy with her husband, Bill, and their son, Luca.

After Cathy’s interface with breast cancer, she knew she wanted to help other women coming down the road after her. She was diagnosed with breast cancer when her son was four and struggled to find the right resources that would help her guide him through the cancer experience. How do you explain to a four-year-old that mommy has to have surgery, chemotherapy, and her hair will fall out in a way that won’t tragically scare the child?

Cathy Nilon is the author of the children’s book, “Chemo Cat,” a book that she started illustrating while still undergoing treatment. “Chemo Cat” is the story of Cathy’s family personified as a family of cats. The book gently explains to young children about the significant side effects of cancer treatment. “Chemo Cat” offers hope and help when it is so vitally needed and opens up an effective dialogue about cancer. All of Cathy Nilon’s proceeds go to Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC).

Visit the Chemo Cat website and order your copy today!

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