Writing Sabbatical!

Cynthia Bailey, MD|January 12, 2017

I’ve jumped across the Pacific to cloister myself for 6 weeks and write. I’m still stunned. Not because I’m here, but because writing is an endeavor I would never have guessed for myself, and yet, I’ve come to love it. My penchant for this unlikely form of expression started with my dermatology blog. I love writing my blog for you. It has mushroomed with a calling to write a book about how to be really sick and survive, and then thrive.

Those of you who have read my blog for a long time, or who know me personally, will know that in 2013, I was diagnosed with the BRCA mutation and 2 separate highly aggressive breast cancer tumors. The diagnoses and necessary lifesaving treatments abducted my life. In those first two months, salvo after salvo of blindsiding bad news rained down upon me. I morphed from a successful and ambitious working professional into an emotionally and physically fragile patient – and then I got my ‘anchor’ in the journey of being ill. All the time I took notes, journaling the process, thinking this might be my last journal I leave for my kids.

That Cancer Year ended well. I turned a dismal prognosis into a rosy one. I endured 4 months of ‘scorched-earth’ chemo and many horrible surgeries, all while living in an uncertain limbo looking towards the next test to foretell my future -  would I live or soon die from a fearful death? I made it through every challenge.

After the final surgery of The Cancer Year, I fled the country. I doubt that the anesthetic had even worn off, but I didn’t care. I ran straight to the top of my bucket list item of going to Italian language school IN ITALY. While there, new acquaintances could not believe what I had just been through because I looked great - my complexion, my vitality, my sense of peace. At one point, I rendezvoused with a dear Australian friend whose first words upon seeing me were, “You don’t look like you’ve been infused with all that horrible poison and had all those dreadful surgeries. You look like you’ve been to a health farm!!” Two explanation points are intentionally included to capture her happy surprise. That’s ‘The Path’ I’m called to write about. I can see from my journals how this is possible for anyone.

In general terms, surviving a major medical calamity and turning it into an opportunity for positive change is about both how you handle your medical care, and how you take care of yourself. The specifics of how you do that are The Path. I can tell you from my experience as a physician that we are all going to face at least one major medical calamity in our lifetime, maybe more. Either we ourslves will be seriously ill or we will be a key support for a loved one who is ill. The probability is high that every one of you reading this will face what I just went through. 

A major medical calamity starts with finding yourself in a sort of sci-fi zombie apocalypse. You are in the unfamiliar medical world with its different language and culture and its horrific predictions and plans for you. You are the lead character in a surreal, life-abducting drama. In shock, while also gravely ill, you need to make many high risk decisions about your survival that call upon you to weigh foreign technical information. Getting your anchor, surviving and then thriving is The Path. During my turn at this modern experience, I took notes. I’m also a doctor, and so I know the zombie world from the inside. I can see a common path to getting out of this apocalypse well, and onto thriving because of it.

So, I’ve jumped across the pond to visit that same dear friend in her coastal cloister on the Sunshine Coast for a writing sabbatical. The book is almost done, but at home, those last steps kept taking second to the busy life I’m sabbatical-ing from. I’m going to finish this book and I have a beautiful writing space here to do it in. The book will evolve gracefully, and will do so without me pushing myself over the limits of what I can handle – no soldiering on exhaustion; it’s a lesson learned during The Cancer Year. 

Read more about my cancer journey in the recently published Sonoma Discoveries Magazine.

To learn more about me and my survivor/thrivor experience, here are related posts:

Oh my, you are in the right stone in your life.  My daughter last year had breast cancer, stage 2,I think.  She is now through with chemo, awful; surgery (one mastectomy, but wait there was another lobe near the one they were treating; and finally the 25+(5 additional doses for the other one).  She is exhausted, afraid she will not be able to work and I have suggested she write a journal to help her heal.  No matter when you write, I feel it helps.  It helped me going thru heart transplant 19 years and 17 months ago.  She was my caregiver at that time.  Good luck in your path!

By Marsha Koehler on 2017 01 12

Thank you Marsha. We sure have been through it haven’t we! Best wishes to your daughter. I like your idea about the journal.

By Cynthia Bailey, MD on 2017 01 13

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