What Happens When I Can’t?


I’ve written lately a lot about things that have nothing to do with cancer. Mostly because cancer is a big enough burden on its own that it’s hard to carry it in the forefront every day. It’s not like I don’t know it’s there. The main reason for posting other stuff is because it’s good to get out of your own head once in a while. It’s also good to laugh and do things you enjoy so your body can relax and heal a bit.

Like most everyone else, I’ve had traumatic experiences in my life. Things like the loss of a friend or close family member, a serious accident, the end of a major relationship, a critical illness, or a major surgery. Some of us have witnessed or been victims of natural disasters like tornadoes, earthquakes or hurricanes. Nearly all of these things take a great deal of effort mentally, and sometimes also physically to sort out. It’s really important to take care of your body, mind and soul as you go through your healing process.

There are so many things about cancer that are, or can be, traumatic experiences, and I don’t think anyone is immune to the stress reactions that come along with being diagnosed with any kind of cancer. Starting with the diagnosis – you feel a lump that’s out of place; the mammogram, CT scan or MRI shows something abnormal; the biopsy – these are all things that are pretty scary as they’re happening. Learning about the treatment plan – whether you will have surgery, chemo or radiation, or a combination of them and in what order, along with how long the process will take – is daunting to think about. Just hearing the side effects of the drugs and the things the chemo team wants or doesn’t want me to do is enough to turn me back into the class clown.

Going through each phase of the process – surgery, chemo and radiation – is stressful. Which side effects will show up and when? How bad are they and what can I do to mitigate them? What happens when I can’t?

Indeed. What happens when I can’t? 

Listening to the nurse rattle off all the side effects of chemo and the things I am allowed (or not) to do while I’m on chemo brings out the class clown in me.

Nurse: “We don’t want you to participate in contact sports while you’re getting chemo.”
Me: “Dang!! I was all set to try out for the rugby team this week!!”

You’ve seen my anger, fear and anxiety in action already. The thought of fighting chemo brain for the next 10 years when most of the medical community pushing chemo refuses to recognize it or its seriousness as a side effect sends me reeling. I feel pretty much the same way about heart, liver and kidney damage as well as permanent neuropathy caused by chemo. Those 5 things are a lot before you even get back to the fact that it’s cancer you’re fighting. I still thank my lucky stars that I have breast cancer and not one of those cancers they have no idea how to treat yet. The fact that this is the most studied, most researched and best funded cancer isn’t lost on me, but it doesn’t take away the shock of the diagnosis and the fear of how long it will take to recover after this year of hell.

Laughter is great medicine! I saw something the other day on Facebook that led me down a rabbit trail that led me to another rabbit trail and I ended up on a few video clips of interviews with Robin Williams that started with one on Inside the Actors Studio. There was an Oprah interview with him and Nathan Lane when The Birdcage was released. And a wonderful skit with Carol Burnett. I found what is probably his last interview with David Letterman. I learned that Craig Ferguson has a similar sense of humor and is almost as quick as Robin Williams during his interview on the Late Late Show. I may have laughed as hard at this one as I did the Inside the Actors Studio clip.

Exercise is important and helps blow off steam as well as keeps my body strong while chemo is working hard to keep me down. Some types of exercise are better than others. Taking a bike ride is a good thing to do, but it’s harder for me to turn off my brain while I’m riding and it’s too dangerous to ride with earbuds stuck in my ears. I can sometimes think about a song to keep up my cadence, but more often than not, I’m having big conversations with myself. Doing that doesn’t always help. I’m not really able to go to a gym right now because I have no immune system. It’s a tough spot to be in.

Eating right and getting enough sleep are also things I have to make sure I stay on top of while I’m dealing with cancer stress. Sometimes I crave sugar now, and while I don’t have to give it up completely, I know I’m prone to eating poorly when I’m stressed. I also don’t sleep right when I haven’t attended to my feelings.

So… what else can I do? Remember that stuff that’s cluttering up my life? That stuff really comes in handy sometimes. I can escape into the books, movies and TV when I need a distraction. I can put some great rock & roll music on and sing with it at the top of my lungs. I can also put on something quieter and have a good soak in the tub to relax. The best mindful practices for me, though, are to journal and write (yes, like this blog), and to get the camera out and go take photos. Taking pictures lets me just clear my head of everything but what I’m doing, and my focus is more on seeing and experiencing whatever it is that I’m photographing than other stuff that’s been knocking around inside my head. Now that spring is right around the corner, I’m hoping to have enough energy to be able to get out a little more and do some shooting so I can get some more flower pics.

About Pink Ribbon Road

This blog is about receiving and living with a breast cancer diagnosis.
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