After the Flood: Learning a New Normal with Cancer

Stories from Survivors
Flooded home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

It’s been more than a month after a record 6.9 trillion gallons of rain — enough to fill 10.4 million Olympic-size swimming pools — pounded Louisiana for an entire week.

The intensity of the rainstorms, flooding, aftermath and recovery in my hometown of Baton Rouge reminded me of my own 7-year battle with peritoneal mesothelioma.

Mother Nature, like cancer, does not discriminate. It battered the young, old, black, white, rich and poor. Flood lines on buildings resembled the surgical scars across my body.

Some people lost everything to the storms. Those of us who survive an aggressive cancer, such as peritoneal mesothelioma, understand the meaning of loss. And like those people left without homes, survival is a road you must take to overcome that loss.

Remembering the First Round of Storms

After baking and delivering goods to various retail outlets, I usually spend Thursdays running errands and visiting friends. I use Fridays as complete days of relaxation.

The first weekend of August would be different because forecasters predicted heavy rain and flooding. Constant rain and flooding is normal in Baton Rouge, but no one thought we’d be hit with that epic flood.

When I looked out of the window Friday morning, the sky was almost black. No raindrops, no sign of bad weather; however, TV reporters were still forecasting heavy rain and flooding.

The news channels reported a few school and road closures, a common precaution ahead of extreme weather. My children were elated at the cancelation of the first day of school.

My husband left for work but periodically called to check on us and make sure we were inside and not running errands around town. Convinced that he was being overly cautious for no reason, I didn’t take his calls seriously.

On his way to work, he checked on Amber, a family member who was home alone. When he entered her neighborhood, he noticed water at the entrance of the subdivision and was sure her street would be flooded within minutes. After waking Amber, he persuaded her to pack her valuables and evacuate.

An hour later, Amber and her 10-month-old daughter were at my house with garbage bags filled of clothes, baby bouncers and baby toys.

We both thought my husband was over reacting. But two hours later, we realized his premonitions were dead on.

The Flooding Begins

Within minutes, flood waters engulfed more than half of my hometown.

Amber went into shock when she saw her house on the news. The water level reached the roofline.

That’s when I realized life would be different for Amber and many more. My heart broke as I watched loved one after loved one lose everything they owned in an instant. The experience reminded me of my mesothelioma diagnosis.

Within seconds of my diagnosis, my life, too, was forever changed.

Time to Rebuild

After the initial shock of losing everything, the rebuilding process begins.

Before one can rebuild, one has to accept what has happened, and go forth with an attitude of victory and not defeat.

As I watch my family and friends sort through contractors, it reminds me of my physician selection process. Selecting the right person who could possibly save your life is a daunting task.

Rebuilding and getting back to “normal” isn’t a race for the swift. It’s for those who can endure the highs and lows, rejection and acceptance. There are small victories and setbacks. But eventually, the battle is won.

Now that the flooding is over, many are in the process of living a new normal.

Those who had houses, now live in apartments, shelters or with family members. Teachers hold classes in other buildings. Other people lost jobs, and businesses closed.

Lessons Learned from the Flood in Baton Rouge

After being granted a second chance at life, I no longer sweat the small things.

Friends and family who lost everything no longer place value on material things and possessions. The epic flood of Baton Rouge was a lesson in humility, resilience, self-discovery and pure will.

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