I talk to people daily about cancer. In fact, I have multiple cancer conversations going. It seems unavoidable. Everyone I meet wants to connect me with their person who has cancer, who works with cancer patients or has had cancer in the past. They do this to be supportive, to help me and to encourage me. These talks take place between myself and women in varying stages of their treatment, some have completed treatment and some are like me, just beginning. It’s helpful…mostly. It’s also frightening. It’s often enlightening but it’s always rewarding. I am not alone. You are not alone. We are in this together. The setbacks, the steps forward, the surgeries, the chemo, the nausea, the pain, the appointments. All of it. Together. With every issue that creeps up for one of us I’m hit with some anxiety that the same could happen to me. Seizures? Metastatic cancer? Remission? 22 different surgeries? Recurrence? We all want to be that one who breezes through seemingly unscathed and graceful throughout treatment but how often does that actually happen?
Regardless where you are in this journey of cancer, and I’ll speak specifically about breast cancer because it’s the only thing I know about when it comes to having cancer, regardless of where you fall along this path I know that there are stages. For me, these are the stages:
1– Waiting & Wondering: is it benign? is it cancer? A lot of anxiety.
2– Discovery: this goes 1 of 2 ways, you find cancer or you don’t. A lot of fear. Fear of the unknown and of the perceived known.
3– Knowing: cancer found, confirmed and now you have this awareness. More fear, panic, confusion and distraction.
4– Understanding: this may not happen immediately for everyone but it hits you. The reality of your disease becomes apparent. I found some resolve. I felt the need to gather a mental game plan.
5– Processing/Doing: this, for me, is similar to acceptance in the 5 stages of grief. It’s the “new normal”. Some call this strength. It’s not what it feels like to me. It has become the routine. The intermittent nausea, the appointments, the chemo days, the non-chemo days, the work days, the fatigue, the aches the pains and the pills to manage it all. The diligent accountability for the very few narcotics I do take because I don’t want to come through this all just to be reliant on narcotics to get through my day.
So far, step 5 is my favorite part. (well, blissful ignorance had its place but it’s time to get real). Step 5 is action. Step 5 is what I have to do to get to step 6. I’m not even sure what step 6 is yet (stick with me and I’ll let you know when I’m there). I’m a person of action and I like to see results so when I’m marking off completed chemo days or appointments I feel like I’m that much closer to the end of this stupid battle.
Last night I took my first bath (as opposed to a shower) since before my surgery. It was relaxing for a minute but too hot so I cut it short. It’s nice to not have to shave any longer–I intended to shave my legs but turns out I didn’t really need to. I also had a moment in the tub where a couple of things hit me hard.
- I put a lot of pressure on myself to “be strong”, to “rise above”, to “fight the good fight”. I feel like a big faker because all I do is go to the appointments they tell me to go to and accept the medication they give me. I come home and do the things I’m supposed to do–spend time with family, clean house, cook, pay bills and now I’ve gone back to work. I don’t feel like I’m strong. I don’t feel like a fighter. I’m just an intermittently nauseated chick going through her day. I don’t feel heroic–especially when I’m asleep before 10:00 pm and awake at 4:00 or 5:00 am.
- I’m motivated by fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the known. The fear of regret. The fear of death. The fear of cancer. The fear of regret is huge–I would regret it terribly if I didn’t do all I could to get through this. What if I’m not strong enough? What if I cave in a moment of weakness? I kick myself for taking naps, for crying, for having moments of doubt. “If I could just be stronger…”. I said to a friend last night that I’m afraid if I don’t give it everything I have (all the time) and I die then I wouldn’t have tried hard enough. That would upset me. (truthfully not because I’d be dead but leading up to that death I’d be so mad at myself)
I realize these things are self-imposed and negative. I also realize that I don’t always have the ability to turn it around. Some days I just have to allow myself that time and as long as I don’t allow myself to dwell there I feel mentally healthy enough, as if I’m “coping well”. Most days I succeed.
PS: I adore Snapchat