“ Take it moment by moment, and don’t overthink things.
March is Colo-Rectal Cancer Awareness Month. Michelle Hastings has the honor of being the second Featured Colo-Rectal Cancer Thriver this month! She is a an accomplished blogger and a proud wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. Were impressed by the honesty and heart in her blog, Mission Remission. We first connected with her a few years ago on facebook. We are very honored to reconnect with and ask her a few questions!
mK: Thanks for doing this Michelle! What/ when was your diagnosis?
MH: I was originally diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer after a colonoscopy on May 23, 2008, which is also my mother’s birthday. Imagine having to break that kind of news to your mother. Unfortunately, that task fell to my husband, as I was busy juggling phone calls to and from a new oncologist, imaging facility, surgeon, and primary care office.
I was re-diagnosed Stage 4 colon cancer (with metastasis to my lungs and abdomen) in March of 2012, after routine 6-month check-ups found an elevated tumor marker and a PET scan showed the new tumors.
mK: What were your symptoms?
MH: My original symptoms were changes in my bowel habits (diarrhea and constipation) and blood in my stool. I had been having these for about 6 months prior to my diagnosis, and when I mentioned it to my husband, he insisted that I go see a doctor. Thankfully, my primary care doctor didn’t blow me off, as I’ve heard happens to so many people my age, and I was able to see a specialist, who recommended the colonoscopy.
mK: You have a very popular blog. How did you start blogging?
MH: My original intent when I started blogging was to remain in contact with my family and friends (stateside and overseas). I didn’t want to have to make the same phone call over and over again, especially as I started surgery and treatment, and this seemed like the easiest way to do it.
Over time, my blog has evolved into a way for me to get thoughts, feelings, concerns, fears, and celebrations out of my head so that I can process them. As luck would have it, others have found my blog and tell me that it helps them to understand what I’m feeling, what they may experience as they go through their own journey with cancer, and that it helps inspire them (which I have trouble understanding).
mK: Who is your hero or are your heroes?
MH: I have met so many amazing people since I was diagnosed, and I have to say that, in their own way, they are all my heroes. Each person that I have had the privilege of getting to know has their own personal way of dealing with their diagnosis, and they all teach me something that I’m able to apply to my own life. In some cases, they teach me what to expect as I face yet another challenge. Some teach me to celebrate the small successes. Others have taught me what living and dying with dignity looks like. Each and every person I meet teaches me about the kind of person I hope to be, and the kind of person I hope my children try to become.
mK: What motivates you?
MH: I guess, in all honesty, the thing that motivates me the most is that I am not yet ready to give up this fight. I live each day in the hopes that I can go to bed at night, knowing that I have done my very best for and by my children, and that I have no regrets. I am having way too much fun in this amazing life I have been given to give up, and the fear of losing what I have pushes me through the difficult times.
Another thing that motivates me is that I have too much left to do. My children need me – and, more than that, I need them. My husband and I still have too many things on our list of to-do’s (visit Ireland, build our own home, watch our children raise their own babies). I have a niece that I haven’t yet met. My youngest brother is getting married next year. I want to visit my other brother and his fiancée in Sweden. I want to use my own journey to help others, and to make sure that they aren’t as scared or as alone as I was when I was first diagnosed.
All of those things help propel me when I am feeling down, or when the labs don’t come back with the numbers that I want, or when a test result doesn’t show quite what we were hoping for.
mK: When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
MH: I found a new version of myself after diagnosis. I can honestly say that, for me, my diagnosis helped me become the person I didn’t even know I wanted to be. Before I was diagnosed, I was someone whose primary focus was work and school. Now, my focus is on my family and myself. My children are my reason for living, and my husband and I have worked really hard to get to a place where my cancer isn’t another entity in our marriage.
After my original diagnosis, it took a while for me to learn who this new version of me was. I needed to learn how to incorporate my cancer into my life without allowing it to rule or overcome everything else.
Once I became comfortable with that person (about a year after I finished treatment), I really fell back in love with myself (isn’t that an odd thing to say?), and I’ve become quite proud of the person I am today. No, I am not perfect, but I am the best version of Michelle that I can be, for now. Each day that changes just a little bit, and every time it does, I treasure it.
mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
MH: My children make me laugh every. Single. Day. They are my pride and joy, and I can’t imagine my life without them. My husband makse me laugh – it’s one of the reasons that I fell in love with him.
I rarely cry – it’s just not something I tend to want to spend energy on. Same thing with getting angry – I only have a finite amount of time here, and I have learned that I don’t want to spend what time to *do* have left angry or sad.
In all honesty, though, I do get sad and angry, usually when I find out that we’ve lost another survivor. There were several that died around the holidays, and it’s hard not to get upset by that news. Even though we have never met face to face, social media has provided us with a support system that allows you to get to know people very anonymously and very intimately, all at the same time. Finding out that one of them died will really cause you to think about your own mortality, which is scary.
mK: So, what would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
MH: I think the most interesting thing I have ever done was an internship at Walt Disney World during college. I met the most amazing friends (we still keep in touch, mostly thanks to facebook), and had the best experiences. It also taught me some amazing business lessons, and has served me well in my professional career.
mK: Wait a minute… did you get to dress up as the characters? That’s a whole different interview… Back to this one… What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor? How did you overcome it?
MH: There have been so many, especially last year. I think the last half of 2013 was really challenging – I had two allergic reactions to chemotherapy, one right after the other. The first caused my kidneys to shut down, and I spent two weeks in the hospital, one in ICU. The second reaction wasn’t nearly as difficult, but coming on the heels of the first, it still took its toll and landed me in the hospital for three days.
A few months after that, I was in the hospital for 22 days due to extremely low platelet counts, which was the result of yet another reaction from a new chemotherapy.
I’m not sure how I overcame these times. I didn’t give up, but I could sure picture myself doing so. The first reaction was very scary, and having to go through dialysis and plasmapherysis was terrifying. But, I couldn’t NOT do it – my kids need me, and I need to be there for them. The second reaction was tough, as it came during the first post-reaction chemotherapy session.
22 days in the hospital was likely the toughest emotionally. I wasn’t sick, per se (my blood counts were low, but I wasn’t having any symptoms), and sitting in the hospital waiting for my numbers to come back up was draining. I couldn’t see my kids except on weekends, and I couldn’t help my husband with the household duties, kid duties, etc. Luckily, we had family and friends that helped out during each medical crisis, and I kept my attitude up by remaining hopeful.
There are times when it got really tough; after the first week in the hospital, you start to go crazy, looking at the same 4 walls. But, I tried to learn how to draw, I started some projects, I watched some movies, and I very much looked forward to the nightly Skype sessions with my family.
Sometimes, just keeping a smile on your face, even if you don’t mean it, can help push you through the crap you are going through.
mK: Just staying “preoccupied” is a great escape. What is your guilty pleasure?
MH: I don’t know that I have one. If I had to choose, I would say that I love 80s and 90s pop music. It wouldn’t be unusual for me to start dancing or singing in public if a good song comes on.
mK: We have a feeling you were a New Kids on the Block fan… Random Question time… If Hollywood made a movie about you, who would you choose to play you and your friends/family? What would the title of the movie be?
MH: Wow – I have never thought of this. I can’t imagine anyone playing me; I don’t think I look like anyone in particular. Is it typical to say Sandra Bullock? And, as for the title? “Mission: Remission” (which is my mantra), or “Keep On Moving”, which is taken from the lyrics of my favorite song, “If You’re Going Through Hell” by Rodney Atkins.
mK: Do you snort when you laugh like Sandra Bullock? What do you like to do in your spare time?
MH: What is this “spare time” you speak of? Actually, I just love spending time with my kids. Any spare time I have is usually dedicated to them.
mK: What are you up to now?
MH: I am currently out on disability, going through chemotherapy and trying to build up my strength and stamina in the hopes of going back to work in the next 4-6 weeks.
mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
MH: I usually tell people to take baby steps when they are first diagnosed; things are going to happen very quickly (you will get a ton of information thrown at you, for example), but they will also move very slowly (i.e., if you are waiting for a referral to a specialist, or waiting for lab results).
Take it moment by moment, and don’t overthink things. It can get so easy to try to think of every possible scenario, and to try to come up with a solution for everything. You can’t do that, and trying to is a waste of emotional energy. Get a good grip on what you don’t know, make lists about the things you need to ask questions on, and go from there. Everything else will fall into place.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
MH: When I was in high school, I didn’t want to get married or have kids.
mK: HAHAHA! Funny how attitudes can change… Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
MH: Thank you for what you’re doing; without organizations like you, we would all still be running scared from this disease. What you do is help us to get a better understanding of the fact that we are not alone, and that makes a world of difference when you’re facing a diagnosis like cancer.
Michelle Hastings: dedicated mom, New Kids On The Block Groupie, Sandra Bullock-type-sweatheart, and proud colorectal cancer thriver! We need to keep telling our stories to educate people about these horrible diseases! Check out her blog, Mission Remission. We’re definitely in your corner!