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The Art of Being: Cancer Journal- June 13, 2022 Life After Chemo

Today was my first radiation treatment, with 15 to go over the next three weeks. The only short term side effects of this treatment that I am worried about are a sunburn type rash on my right chest and some potential fatigue. I had my last chemo treatment in early May, which means that by now, mid June, the side effects and processes involved with it are all in the past. One more thing to cross off on the cancer treatment to do list.

Chemotherapy, is not comfortable, not really that safe either. It has its risks, as did the surgery which excised the majority, if not all, of the identified tumours. And, like that initial surgery, it is only part of the answer to surviving cancer. I found it stressful and exhausting. Even while feeling peacful about going this route as part of my cancer battle, I was plagued by doubts about whether or not I was doing the right thing to take such a risk. Even now I don’t and may never know what collateral issues it may have caused. But it was a calculated risk that has bought me some time by hopefully shrinking whatever bits and starts might be left after surgery. Although I didn’t “ring the bell” on the last day, it was a battle won, and a victory, for sure. But only enough to be going on with. “So.Now.What” is the question that looms in my consciousness everyday as I try and fail and fly and fall with all the new considerations and ways of being that will give me the best chances of winning this war.

My immune system is back to normal. Blood tests tell me that my white blood cell count is good at the end of a chemo cycle. They also tell me that my liver is very taxed, which must be addressed. I am drinking lemon water every day, and trying to get a handle on my nutrient intake,and finding out what foods and supplements are best and what to avoid. Using the best quality, and right combination of supplements and finding nutrition through food will lessen the strain on my liver and other body systems, and help me rebuild them. I need help with this. A naturopath can tell me where my body is at right now and what to do about it, considering all the elements involved. A nutritionist with the right training can help me understand my macro and micro nutrient needs. And there needs to be lots of prayer for assistance to make the right choices and be guided to the right sources of wisdom.

Although hair loss is a listed side-effect of the five years of hormone therapy which I started at the end of May (so I am still not holding my breath). I can tell that my hair is starting to regrow. And this time there is no chemotherapy looming to poison it out again. I have opted to forego a wig, and have a bunch of hats, mostly gifted to me by people who love me. I am still not used to my hairless (now very closely cropped) head and don’t think I will be running around hat less anytime soon. Even when my hair grows a bit more I will probably cover it until it is long enough for me to feel comfortable with the style. Especially as they say it comes in quite curly to start. I have found, to my chagrin, that my hair was and continues to be quite a point of vanity.

My vitality is beginning to return. I can feel it in my core, like a furnace on a slow start. The other day I walked up my basement stairs carrying three 6 foot long 2 by 10s and did not feel winded, or exhausted at the top of the stairs. That exhaustion has been a pretty normal feeling for many months, just getting my own self up the stairs with no extra burdens. I have normally had to grab something to pull myself up the last few steps. For many months I would have to stop and sit down for a few minutes after doing anything even slightly physical. Now I am finding that I can do things like pulling weeds, doing laundry, cleaning around the house.

I have to walk, daily if I can, to combat the bone weakening that comes with hormone therapy. My already osteopenic bones are even more compromised with estrogen blockers. The action of walking helps increase bone density, along with taking calcium and magnesium supplements. My stamina for walking is improving. I went for a 1.5 hour walk the other day! I was just a bit more than strolling, and was pretty beat afterwards, but it all helps toward getting my momentum back. I can almost feel the mitochondria, those tiny energy producing plants we all have in our cells, firing up and performing better and better.

I am learning to pace myself. I am finding the balance between rest and work that works for me. This is a new skill I needed to acquire. Putting everyone and everything else before my own needs has been my modus operandi for my whole life. Now, if I want to live to fight another day, I have to take the time to take care of this body of mine. Deciding what can wait, what someone else can do, or what I am able to manage on any given day is something I am incorporating into my daily way of being. I am learning to listen to my body and know when enough is enough and, even if a task is not finished, to walk away, knowing I can come back to it later. I haven’t even started looking at house renos yet, even though it bothers me to see the partially finished projects still waiting for me. But I will get there.

There are a lot of things I can do that don’t require much physical effort, which gives me opportunities to catch up on some of those back burner items that have been needing attention. There has definitely been a mental toll, and my brain function, memory, concentration, have been compromised and strained over the last year or so and especially during chemotherapy. My mental stamina is improving to allow me to do more of these types of things. Planning, researching, strategizing, writing, studying, creating. Things that the mental, emotional and spiritual strain of this illness has been putting a damper on for the last year or even more. Things that are food for my soul.

Since chemo, I have noticed that depression has been a pretty consistent companion. While lack of motivation is helpful for someone who needs to recuperate but is used to pushing beyond their normal human capacity, the PTSD aspect of this state of mind has been a struggle. I am choosing to recognize this as the “let down period” that follows an intense experience, and not get panicked by thoughts or concerns of old patterns coming back. This disease has been a lot to deal with. Dire, life threatening, soul consuming, emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually taxing times take their toll. I am recognizing that I need to, and can, surrender to the ebb and flow of these waves and currents without letting it ground me on the beach or pull me wildly out to sea. Intention, purpose, and spiritual inspiration will provide anchor, rudder, and sail, as needed by times, to help me keep moored, or moving in good directions as life and my conviction require.

Creating conditions of health and balance in my body is top of mind right now. The days of emotional eating, lack of care and planning, that have taken their toll on internal systems, and led to pain and weight gain, have to be over. I have been, and am, even more so now with estrogen blockers part of my life for the next five years, dealing with hormone imbalances that must be understood. I have to strip back my diet to identify the stressors and get my body back into more healthy rhythms. It’s time to trade in immediate gratification and emotional justification for forbearance and maturity. Because I live with other people who don’t share the same imperative, sadly, there are many moments of friction when I must have that inner struggle with myself to stay the course or stupidly participate.

I can't afford to put off learning more about my body, its systems, and what is needed to get things operating optimally. If I want things to be different, I have to do things differently. At 56 I am facing my senior years, and with a diagnosis of cancer added on to normal aging concerns, I need my body to be clean, strong, and resilient. Even more so knowing that little seeds of death have potentially been sown through metastasis. Quality of life means so much more now that mine has been so severely threatened.

There are still some things that remain to be explored and mitigated. I still have a cyst in my chest, a potentially compromised thyroid, circulation issues, and metabolic imbalances that need to be addressed. Oh yes, and another breast to get removed. It’s time to start looking at those “problems for another day” that were relegated to the back burner in favour of more immediate survival needs. In my life after chemo, the journey is far from over. And the spectre of recurrence remains. But because of it, I have gained some ground , some time provided by the intervention, the resources of growing energy, knowledge, spiritual confidence, and a connection to medical expertise, to continue the campaign for my health, my life. Onward and upward to each new victory. I have been here before

In my mental health experience, chemical treatments operated in similar ways. Medication, a powerful but imprecise tool and important intervention, had its purpose to help slow the progression of the disorder. It was not comfortable, there were risks involved, and it wasn’t the entire answer. But it gave me space, a moment, a platform, from which to launch the next part of the battle. Having a name for my pain and a reason for the dysfunction was great, but not good enough. The “So.Now.What” question loomed. And as I started answering it a bit at a time, my prognosis improved, my future looked brighter, and I made friends with myself again.

I went through a period of time when I was able to simplify and purify my diet, make better decisions about my sleep patterns, and improve my physical resilience through a more active lifestyle. I could feel the health, and the stability beginning to form at my core. While I didn’t keep it up, sadly to the detriment of my physical condition, that period helped me discover what worked and what didn’t to preserve my emotional and mental equilibrium and move forward toward joy and contentment. There were oh, so many things besides chemicals that were required to get me back on my feet. The medication was a stopgap to further deterioration, but not something I could depend on long term for the well-being I was seeking.

I began to feel small patches of happiness in the valleys. I began to feel not so out of control in the upswings. A fragile stability reigned and it gave me the time and mental clarity to begin learning about my illness, what was happening to me and why, and researching then implementing the changes that had to be made. That fragile stability strengthened (with a few ups and downs) into eventual wellness as I was able to incorporate solutions and mitigations in other areas for my mind, body, spirit, and life. My confidence in and ownership of my mental health increased.

Even now, I will come up against parts of that journey that I previously had to put to the back burner, as problems for another day because I didn’t have the internal or external resources to manage it. I could only do what I could at the time, working with what I had, to move forward inch by inch. Until I had gained enough ground and amassed enough resources to move on to the next challenge. Many battles to fight, and ground to gain on many fronts, each victory leading into another to win the war.

There are still campaigns that need to be undertaken to solidify the gains I have made and strengthen my hold on the territory I have reclaimed from the disorder. Every time I go through a life challenge, utilizing the tools and wisdom I have gleaned from past experience and learning, I have the opportunity to work on my well-being, and the perspectives and skills that help strengthen it, a little more and more. As time goes on, I need to look honestly at what I have available for the next campaign to tackle something of what is left. Onward and upward to each new victory.

In saving and building communities, some fixes come easy, some come hard, but all of them are borne out of a combination of need, current knowledge at the time, and using what resources were available at the time to make things better enough to be getting on with. There are highs and lows as we continue, flying and falling, in our journey. Each victory, big or small, every ounce of wisdom, knowledge, every resource found or created by every bit of ground we gain, makes possible the generation of more wisdom, knowledge, skills, and resources to move us farther forward in our campaigning for something better. What we could only barely manage,10 years ago, will have paved the way for being able to tackle something we could not have imagined we would ever be ready to take on.

That intervention, back in the day, may have been uncomfortable, may have had some risks involved, and was not necessarily the final answer. Very few hard won interventions are. And often, if they continue to be applied with no thought for next steps or broader application, it can cause more damage than good. There is a spectrum of treatments and approaches, each making a change and each change adding more to our resilience and ability to make more changes. We need to keep moving forward, assessing where we are, where we have come from, and where we still need to go. Holding on to what gains we have made to help us strengthen and increase our available resources. Looking honestly at what we have at our disposal now, that we didn’t have back then, that we can deploy to help solidify those gains, can arm us for the next campaign. Onward and upward to the next victory.

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1 commento

Shirley Penny
Shirley Penny
14 giu 2022

Beautiful and eloquent, as always. I love you my Deborah and I think that you are so awesome.❤️

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