The short answer is a lot.
When I look in the mirror in the morning and at night and I see my silver grey hair that’s only a little more than an inch long. My hair was never super long, but it was my hair in a style and color I liked. Now I’m getting used to a different look that I didn’t choose. It doesn’t matter to me that I “rocked” being bald. I have more hats and beanies than I’ve ever owned before in my life. Long gone is the teenager who used to go to the bus with wet hair at -20 F. I now have to wear a hat of some sort in the spring and fall to keep my head warm. Some of it’s because of chemo and some because my hair’s just growing back.
There are the scars on my chest from a surgery I’d never have chosen for myself, and the perpetual numbness under my arm where a pad of 20 lymph nodes were removed. The numbness will never go away.
I feel my skin pulled taut where the radiation has burned and damaged my skin. It rears it’s ugly head when I try to stretch the arm on the tumor side of my body because a combination of surgery and radiation have forever changed the way those muscles attach and stretch.
I notice it every time I move my feet, put on shoes or walk any distance. My feet are perpetually cold, mostly feel numb or sometimes kind of tingly. It’s sort of like having slippers on inside your feet. I have similar numbness and tingling in my fingertips. Sometimes it affects my typing because I can’t feel the nubs on the keys to tell me where home row is anymore.
I am reminded that I am sick every time I try to clean my house because I don’t have the energy to keep up with it all anymore. Vacuuming leaves me exhausted, and sweeping or mopping the floors are no better. I sometimes need a break while making my bed or cleaning my shower.
I am reminded when I am winded walking up the stairs to swap the clothes from the washer to the dryer or even just walking to the mailbox.
Three or so times a day when I look in the refrigerator I am reminded that nothing tastes good anymore. And that for a little while longer, not much will taste even tolerable. Then there’s the fact that I have no appetite to speak of and am eating just to make sure my system has enough calories and protein to do all the healing it needs to do. Except when I’m taking steroids. Then I feel like Garfield around a lasagna and there is constant eating. These food swings aren’t me. They’re the disease.
I am reminded when I remember something I was going to do hours or sometimes days or weeks after I thought of it the first time. Or that I can no longer remember a list of anything in my head. I have to write everything down and set a reminder to go back and either look at it or do it.
Then there are all of the reminders on my calendar to do what used to be trivial things. Like needing to find a number or to start or finish a task. The one that bugged me most was needing to set an appointment to check my calendar at the end of the day in case I had a meeting the next morning so I’d remember to get online to attend. Otherwise I’d forget I had a standing meeting with my boss.
Every time I pick up a book or try to read, either for work or pleasure, and I have to re-read sentences over and over because I can’t keep my place on the page. Nor can I recall most of what I just read only an hour later. Then there’s not being able to follow multiple characters or plots because my memory can’t keep up.
Believe me, I’d love to forget for more than 5 minutes that I have cancer and how much it’s impacted my life over the past year. Cancer’s just not intent to let me do that. At least not yet.