I know a lot more about myself today than I did a week ago. I know that when a medical procedure is explained to me, and my initial intuition says “no way,” that I should listen. I know to ask for what I need, even if very kind and smart people tell me I’m strong and I can do it. If I know I can’t do it, I can’t do it.
I know that things can, unfortunately, always get worse. I know that while it is irritating to hear others tell me that I’m brave/strong/courageous/a survivor/badass, etc. it’s said from love.
I’ve been thinking about the above descriptors and how they’re used for cancer patients so often. It used to make me really uncomfortable, and I’ve only been in cancerlandia for two months. Why don’t people offer those thoughts to those with diseases like mental illness? I think I know why, and it won’t make anyone comfortable to say it. But that’s not what I do here, keep people comfortable.
We have a hard time helping people that have any type of mental illness because, well, the patient isn’t always nice or agreeable. We’ve usually tried a lot with negative consequences for ourselves as helpers. A cancer patient is more likely to be “thankful” for support and help, than say, your chronically depressed loved one that you’ve been showing up for, constantly, for years.
It doesn’t make the pain go away. Yes, as loved ones and caregivers we ache for pain relief, too. We strive for that brief moment of relief that the human we love is a little less hurting because we helped. The love is given as comfort, advice, attention, love. When the love and help is refused it is devastating. I know this because I’ve lived it. I’ve been on the other side of this equation, the person trying desperately to help the person suffering from depression, trying desperately to alleviate some of the pain.
The person fighting their own interior landscape and fighting mental illness is so extremely brave. They are fighting dragons every day, slaying so many, and still wearing armor ready to fight. Because they need to. They have to wake up every day ready to fight. It gets exhausting. It is repetitive. And it is costly. Costly to relationships, costly to self-concept, costly to joy.
Part of what I’m confronting is depression. I’ve always had a low-grade depression/anxiety disorder (that’s what the shrinks call it, something like that) and I manage it the best that I can. But now facing another health crisis, it’s made things darker. I still see my joy. I still see that live=joy+pain. But what is hitting me now is that this is another development in my life that I have to integrate into who I am.
Having cancer isn’t what I thought it was going to be like when I heard the words “it’s cancer.” I thought they’d do the treatments and somehow it would be the cancer itself that would hurt. I watch TV. I thought I’d be fine since I don’t need chemo.
No. It’s not the cancer that hurts. It’s the cutting open of the body, the medications and the procedures that change the body. My body is a wreck, and it wasn’t a wreck before. It’s very frustrating to go from being perfectly healthy to pretty sick in a short amount of time. I just don’t feel right. I’ve had two surgeries in 19 days, with an extra day of poking and meds in there for kicks (the botched attempt at non-sedated surgery). My body is not okay, and I don’t feel right. The feeling of being “high” on the narcotics after surgery has lifted mostly, but I still feel very…OFF.
So basically what happens when you are diagnosed with cancer is, you have to integrate this new level of pain within your body. You have to accept that your body has a new playbook. The old one was thrown out. You will always have something that hurts, because you have a chronic disease now. You learn that you will have good days and bad days and that’s just how it is. Ask me how I know. I’ll tell you the story of how I thought I was going faint while trying to type my PIN number in the keypad at the grocery check out. Or when I walked into my classroom. Or when I got up from the couch. If I don’t force myself to eat (I have almost zero appetite after this last surgery), I get nauseated, light headed and flushed like I’m about to faint pretty quickly.
There are books and medical research articles and whole websites and movements dedicated to helping people cope with how to deal with life after treatment. Oh my goodness. It’s another whole Choose Your Adventure book, probably like 10 books away from the book I’m on, but I can’t help but notice it when every.single.ad.that.comes.on.my.social.is.about.cancer. I know all about the bras and the medicines apparently. Now it tells me about post-cancer treatment depression. So it’s on my mind. I’m not ready to acclimate to this reality, let alone that one. The one with chronic pain and the depression of not seeing the doctors anymore-I don’t want that book.
I think everyone on the planet can relate to this concept, of not wanting to be part of this reality. I’m over the Covid, as are all of us. It is also very scary and hard to be doing cancer treatment(s) during this. It makes it all harder than it already is. It makes it harder because all the things I would have done in the past to comfort myself or bring me joy in this are ruined.
Everything is a whole lot. It’s a lot for me. And your world and your things are a lot for you, too. It’s all really so hard.
As I paused at the check out of the health food store, getting my organic veggies and healthy snacks, I had a moment of realization. Yeah, I don’t want everyone in the world to know I have cancer and have the conversation where the other person gets all bummed. So I’m not going to explain why I’m shaky and slow. But this day and all days I can go slower and just not care. I can choose to take the time. I can breathe.
I steadied my body and breathed deep into my belly. I put on a little hand sanitizer. I pressed the buttons slowly. I didn’t care there were two people in line behind me. I breathed some more. I packed my groceries into two small boxes. I walked slowly out the door pushing the cart. I put the food in the truck and put away the cart. All going about 60% of my normal speed.
And I got it all done just fine.
I’m probably the only one that noticed.
Go slow. Breathe to your belly. Open up your heart. Prepare to settle in with the new and the old, the new body pain and the old mental pain. All are welcome here. We sit and solve our corrosiveness together.
Because we are, in fact, warriors. We slay dragons and fight demons.
We do hard things.