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“I’ve tried to replace fear with positive things that make me come alive, like writing.”

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By Julie Klein

I survived two aggressive cancers that almost killed me: first breast cancer, then cancer of the appendix. Within a period of four years, I faced chemo, radiation, and multiple surgeries—back-to-back overwhelming traumas. I was white-knuckling it.

I coped better the first time around. I knew many women who had survived breast cancer. The course of treatment was clear. I kept my life as normal as possible; I laughed a lot, and I hung out with my friends.

The second cancer involved extreme terror and uncertainty. I got a call from my surgeon, telling me they had performed the wrong operation on me. As a result, cancer cells might have escaped, and I might have tumors in my digestive tract for the rest of my life. I hung up the phone, shaking. Then I self-medicated with wine and Xanax.

I had other challenges with the healthcare system. One day I received a letter canceling my health insurance because I had a pre-existing cancer. 

That was one of the worst moments. I had no control and no options.

Eventually, I made it through the worst of the cancer treatment. It suddenly occurred to me, “I may just live!” But I was still suffering physically. I only had two hours of energy on a good day, and I was left with my own thoughts the other twenty-two hours. You can imagine the negative self-talk. When I lay down at night, all I thought about was cancer. 

In order to regain control, I told myself not to dwell on the pain or the fear of recurrence. Instead I’d say, “It’s time to focus on planning the rest of my life.” 

I’ve tried to replace fear with positive things that make me come alive, like writing. I wrote a book about my experience, called My Healthcare Is Killing Me! One of my best friends became my editor and helped me get it published. She pulled the story out of me. She made the process fun.

Writing my book gave me a sense of purpose. I wanted to document the awful, life-destroying flaws in the U.S. healthcare system so that others wouldn’t have to endure what I had. It’s amazing to see that my story touches people and can make a difference.

Writing privately has also helped. Many people told me to keep a gratitude journal. At first I couldn’t do it. I had to grieve for what I’d lost. But now I’m so grateful for simple things. 

Sometimes, when I’m out in the evening and the light and the air are just perfect, I will tear up because I feel so happy to be alive.

_________

Julie Klein is the author of "My Healthcare is Killing Me!: A Personal Journal", which came out of her experience battling two aggressive cancers. She was disheartened by the realities of an unsympathetic and often unreliable healthcare system. She continues to be an outspoken advocate for affordable quality. She lives with her fiancé, George, and is now healing through love, laughter, and better health insurance! 

Image Credit: Ben Rusnak/The Verbatim Agency for OptionB.Org

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