Anxiety can be a constant companion after cancer. For some, the thought of cancer is enough to bring on panic attacks. For others, there develops this undercurrent of anxiety that seeps into every day life. When life has it’s changes, you know, normal life stages we all go through, I find that anxiety rears it’s ugly head and tries to drown me in a dark sea of emotion.
There are many techniques to battle this foe. Many choices of armor and weaponry. In the past, I only was really conscious of therapy and psychiatric medications. There are so many more. Think of them as various tools in a tool box. Some work, some don’t, but often you have to dig through your tools to find the right one for the job.
Massage helps the muscles to relax which in turn helps the mind relax. Acupuncture worked amazing for me, which surprised me as I wasn’t very familiar with holistic medicines. Herbs, teas, and aromas help as well. I found that having my favorite smells around, and breathing deeply, helped to bring me to the present surrounding me, and calming me.
The one I turn to the most, my most significant of all of my coping tools, are my animals. To me the best therapy, hands down, is the peacefulness of a cat’s purr. Science is finding that a cat’s purrs have healing properties. Cat’s purrs help them heal themselves. Perhaps they help us to heal too?
It has been proven time and again that having animals in our lives is a benefit, perhaps that benefit is bigger than we know…
“And as I sat here musing without at thought or care, there came to me a wee small voice, out of the din and gloom that said ‘Cheer up, things might get worse!’ So, I cheered up, and sure enough, things got worse.”
That is how I feel right now. I know things are under control, and I know all the issues going on will work themselves out. Part of the process seems too easy. The emotional part seems too hard.
Natural consequences are wonderful parenting tools to use in many situations. It works remarkably well with teens. For example, if you don’t put gas in the car, you get stranded somewhere. If you decide to sleep in and not show up for work on time, you get fired. Simple things, really. However, if we keep rescuing our kids (making sure the tank is always full, or being the alarm clock so they wake up on time), how will they learn these lessons?
The problem comes in when we are, as parents, are too worried about the consequences of today, rather than allowing a lesson that will probably be learned once. Not many kids will run out of gas more than once. The shame of getting fired is apt to deter any employee from being too late. When do we want our kids to learn these lessons? Early? Say running out of gas on the way home from high school, or a date? Or would you rather it have been on the interstate during rush hour? When do you want them to learn to be their own alarm clock? That summer job? Or the first big job away from home?
I am struggling with some of this because we are at a stage where the stakes are higher, but not yet too high. College. First apartment. How do we get across the importance of getting a roommate? We let the money run out and then let him figure it out. If he doesn’t want to get a roommate or a job, stop paying for the apartment, right?
Then what? My feeble mommy brain pipes in. “What will happen to him? Will he end up on the street? Do I let him come home?” Note: if he is still refusing to get a job, allowing him to come home might not be the best option for him to learn the lesson. Many young people starting out have no concept of money and spend themselves, and their parents, into a hole. Cut off the funds.
When baby birds learn to fly, they first have to leave the nest, or in some cases pushed out of the nest. Some of them have to fall all the way to the ground, and flounder around a bit before learning how to fly. It is terrifying as a parent to do, but the bird has to learn to fly on his own, we can’t do it for him.
Be loving, be encouraging, help problem solve, but don’t rescue them. Don’t enable them to continue to live off of you. It isn’t healthy for them, or you.
So, now that I have given myself this little pep talk (thank you, self), I can go back inside and remember to let his problem of finding a roommate be left his problem. I will not ask, I will not remind, I will not point out. I will let it be.
Oh, this is going to be hard. Breathe in, breathe out. Go inside.
2245, otherwise known as 10:45pm, might not be late for some people, but for me, I should be on my third dream sequence by now. Welcome to my insomnia. Usually it isn’t this bad, except that hubby is deployed again.
Happens every time.
He is gone and I just plain can’t sleep. Even when taking something to help me sleep, I can’t sleep. The most frustrating thing is that this has been going on for almost 22 years now. I would have thought that whatever I needed to adjust to, I would have by now in order to sleep.
Fortunately, he usually isn’t gone for more than a couple of months. Just long enough to get so sleep deprived that I fall asleep at all hours, except bed time. He returns home and I sleep the sleep of the dark side of the moon and nothing wakes me from full, blissful, relaxed slumber. There is just something about knowing he is in bed beside me, or downstairs watching a movie, or in the kitchen, or talking with the boys, or whatever. The point being: he is home. My body registers that fact and kicks in (or out?) some bizarre hormonal sequence that permits the melatonin to flow freely, and the cortisol to finally take a break.
However, until that time, I cannot quite fall asleep, so I feel drowsy, almost hung over as if I was drugged with Bena-whatever. I forget everything. I cannot put two thoughts together, nothing makes sense, and I forget everything.
The boys are young adults now (GASP!) and they really do not need me as much, yet I am still stuck in an on call type of job description where I am still not relieved of duty, but am required to lay low in the back ground, and only come forth if requested. Translation: My sleep schedule is also not my own. Son #2 had a trip to Hawaii, poor thing, and his return flight got home late. I was at the airport picking him up at about 2300 (11:00pm) last night. Well, that didn’t help the insomnia. Now my body decided it is appropriate to stay up equally semi-functionally again tonight.
Sigh. Brain fog aside, I should attempt lay down and sleep. Of course that would be a lot easier if I was not aware of son #2 attempting to “try something” and open a bottle cap by using another bottle cap, bottle up ended, and yet not spill either. Right. At this point, as long as he is in the kitchen, trying this over the sink, I don’t really care anymore.
Eye lids are heavy. I give up. I will go toss and turn and attempt for find slumberland for at least 30 consecutive minutes. Wish me luck.
When I was 14, and a freshman in high school, I had to endure the horror of a close friend committing suicide. I was one of the last people to see her alive. I have been working with her for two years to try to help her. It was terrible. A little over two months later, I moved. During those two months, I had to deal with the rumors, the accusations, the funeral, and trying to just pick up the pieces. I didn’t feel like I had much support during that time, but boy was I wrong. When I moved, then I realized how much support I had then. All my social support was gone, and my new school felt cold and hostile. I look back now, and realize my whole high school career was tainted by what happened. I shut so many people out, pushed so many away, and didn’t see how wonderful the friends I did make were until almost 20 years later.
I have often wondered what I would tell my 14 year old self, if I could. I think I now know.
1) It’s OK to be happy and smile, and laugh again. It will not dishonor her memory, and she would be sadder knowing you couldn’t smile. She didn’t do this to hurt you.
2) IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. Rumors flew for me about it being my fault (yes, I was told this, even by adults), because I was her closest friend and “did nothing”. They were totally wrong. Ultimately, we control one person: ourselves. Even then, we don’t always do a very good job. Nothing you could have done could change the choices that she made. It was not your job to do so. Even at 14, I needed adults stepping in to help her. It shouldn’t have been just me.
3) There is no timeline for healing. Don’t let anyone tell you that you should either grieve less, or grieve more. This is your journey alone with God, let it take its course.
4) You will go on, and in time the sun will shine again. Remember that on the dark days.
5) Her memory will always be with you, but in time, you will be able to remember the good things.
6) This will shape you, but do not let it define you.
7) It’s OK to be mad, it is part of the healing process. You won’t be mad forever.
8) Let people love on you. They are trying to. You need it.
9) You will not understand why God “let this happen”, and you never will. Just know HE is there for you to comfort you. (If you get mad at HIM, that is OK, too. HE is big enough to handle it.)
10) Lastly, breathe. Deep, healing breaths. Breathe in, breathe out, and repeat. You will be OK.
New Year’s already, and I realized that it has been forever since I have written anything. New Year’s brings new challenges, new choices, new joys, new heartbreaks, just like last year did. Some of the ones I already know that are ahead of me I am not sure I am ready for, to be honest. I wish there was a “between year” where we had a chance to get over last year, and not have to change over that calendar page and start the new year. I know that it really is just a day. Just the sun rising and setting like every other day. The only reason it’s a “new year” is that we give it that designation and significance, but I digress.
I want the between year: A time to have a vacation from life. Sort of like that thirty minute period on Christmas day just after everyone has opened their presents. All the anticipation is over with, but no one has to jump up to get dressed, or cook, or travel yet. We get to just sit, drink coffee, and enjoy the moment. I want time like that.
A week would do nicely, please. A week of not having to worry about what would happen in a year. A week of not having to wonder where I would be living in a year. A week of not trying to fervently plan that fundraiser I should have started planning a month ago. A week to clear my mind of all responsibility. A week where the house cleaned itself. A week where the animals fed themselves. A week where I just plain wasn’t needed, but didn’t have to leave home to get the quiet I so wanted.
It’s nice to dream. Besides, It’s only mid-January and I was already late wishing my brother a happy birthday, I attended a nephew’s wedding (it was beautiful), and I am trying to organize and prioritize what needs my attention. The realization that hubby has been in the military for 21 years, and that might be long enough for them, and maybe for us, too, is looming. Right now that is a terrifying thought. We have sort of been used to being told where to go and what to do so the thought of getting to choose is a bit daunting. And how much of my energy does that really need right now? I don’t quite know. And we need a plan. And we don’t have a plan, and nothing is for sure yet either, and, and, and…
Like I said, I need a between year for a week.
I realized that I really do not post very much anymore. I still journal, but not post. There are other things in life to see and do that are not cancer related. Seeing as how this blog was about my cancer journey, I hesitate to write about any other topics.
Then I realized that was not the real reason. The real reason was that I was tired to writing about cancer, thinking about cancer, talking about cancer, dealing with cancer: everything cancer. Facebook is looked at once in a while rather than non-stop. It is too difficult to see how many of my friends either have a new diagnosis, new treatments, recurrences, or have lost the fight.
Speaking with a great friend of mine, who is a true cancer champion for herself and many others, I reaffirmed the obvious (to me): I am done, for now. See, I have mentioned many times how the journey to healing from cancer is a long one with many similarities to the grieving process. There are stages to be dealt with daily. Interestingly enough, one of the stages is to just be DONE. All of us get to a point where I am, and where this friend is. WE are done. It’s not that we are unsympathetic; it was more like a compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue was where you tire of doing good works. Compassion fatigue comes from fighting for something that has many setbacks, and you finally hit a wall, and need a break to regroup, recharge, and move on. Sometimes you move on in a totally different direction. Any volunteer agency sees this all too well. In my field of animal rescue, we spend hours every day explaining to people why they should spay and neuter their pets, and hours later with those same people explaining why we are too full to take in their unspayed cat that is now spraying all over their house. It’s never ending, it’s exhausting. We go through many volunteers who cannot do the job. They find themselves crying and yelling out of frustration knowing that the cat is suffering, and they cannot get through to the owners.
These are great people, with great compassion, who are tired because the reality was that these are never ending battles. No matter how much we do, and no matter how hard we work, there will never be an end to the problem. When that reality was more than we could handle, that was compassion fatigue.
I think it is also the reason why so many survivors do not wish to talk about the fact that they are survivors anymore. They are tired of the stories. They are tired of the “I knew a gal, blah blah blah, who died.” We know how this ends for too many of us. To keep our own hope, we step back into the non-cancer world as if stepping into fresh air. No hospital smells. No starched sheets. No medications. No treatments. No cancer. No death. Just life.
It is what it is, and it is alright. Breathe in, breathe out, and just do the next thing. Be kind to yourself, this stage is normal, too.
As I drove to San Francisco for the first time, my palms were sweaty, I felt jumpy, and the traffic bothered me more than usual. I was nervous. This wasn’t because of excitement about seeing San Fran for the very first time. Sight seeing is not one of my preferred activities, and that was not why we were there.
My nervousness was due to my plans while in San Fran that day: I was getting my first tattoos.
For those of you that know me, try not to die of shock. They are not cats, or flowers, or birds, or hearts, or butterflies. They were my last step in my breast cancer recovery. I tattooed my nipples back on. Boy, that sounds strange to say. So, let me clarify.
With the surgery, my nipples were removed. The scarred, but blank slate that was my chest has now been re-adorned!
I fought this step for the last three years because I felt that having the image of them, without them being real, seemed more upsetting than not having them at all. There is an in-between step, for those of you considering this but are also unsure, temporary tattoos can be bought and tried out. Hubby liked those so well they were the inspiration (size and color wise) for the tattoos.
Hours were spent looking at all the tattoo portfolios of artists who do these kinds of tattoos. If an artist is associated with a cancer doctor, or plastic surgeon, insurance will cover it. However, I did not care for any of the work that those particular artists had. So, I widened my search beyond 50 miles. I found a fabulous gal by the name of Sasha Merritt, of Dragonfly Ink, whose work was phenomenal! Some of the before and after pictures were so similar, I had to look twice to see any differences (as in, I had to look for the scars to tell they were the tattoos…). Insurance would not cover work done by her. That being said, I was willing to pay out of pocket for something that I (Hubby) would like.
I still drug my feet, winched, and shirked the thought of having this done. So why did I? I did it for my wonderful Hubby, who has seen me at my worst as a wife, and as a human being, and steadfastly hung on to me anyhow. He has been nothing but supportive through the whole thing, and he expressed that he really wanted the tattoos. Not on him, but on me…
His Birthday is in April, so I decided to have this done as a Birthday present for him. I originally was going to surprise him, but that did not quite pan out. Instead he went with me, and I was glad he did. Having him with me really enhanced the experience by bringing us even closer to each other. I wanted to do this for Him, and he knew it.
Did it hurt? Well, yes and no. First off I was numb there….or so I thought. Touch and pressure receptors might have died off, but pain receptors will still alive and well. I described the sensation as like getting scratched by little kitten claws over and over. But after a bit, she gave me some lidocaine topical gel to numb it up. After that, it was no sweat.
Sasha was an artist before she started tattooing. She specializes in these types of tattoos, and it shows. She is a master at blending, shading, and giving the appearance of 3-D. So much so that I have had friends ask to touch them as proof that they really were flat! The tattooing was done lying down and sitting up. Since your boobs look different between laying and standing, so the tattoos do as well. It amused me to see Sasha standing back, closing one eye, and putting her finger at arm’s length and look at her work, like you think of a stereotypical painter doing.
After we were done I was given after care instructions, and we went on our merry way. I was a little sore as the lidocaine wore off, but it hurt about as much as a skinned knee. Nothing more. We went out for lunch, walked around for about an hour and then drove home. It’s been about a week, and I will say that I am happy I got them, not only for Hubby, but for me. Now when I look at myself in the mirror, I see “normal” first, and scars second. It is a nicer feeling than I anticipated.
Everyone I have shown has been floored at how authentic and real they look. I will need a slight touch up probably, but that is normal.
This is a long road filled with lots of different choices. Take your time. Do what you want in your own time. It’s your body, and you have beaten cancer. Do what you need to do for you to find your new normal.
As for Hubby, it’s a Birthday present he gets to unwrap every day. It’s his best Birthday present ever
Hubby and I were walking down the aisle of the grocery store, just plugging along. I noticed something interesting: I was getting mad because he wouldn’t always let me push the shopping cart. It was so stupid. When I realized what I was feeling, instead of lashing out like I wanted to, I asked myself why it upset me. The answer is textbook survivor: Control.
I wanted control.
See, even after all the treatments are done, you are left managing your care, still making follow up appointments and stuck at the mercy of being told when to be where, at what time, with what, and with whom. That is a reality of life post cancer. It will never end.
In the midst of treatments, we feel so helpless and so out of control, because we are. Everything we do is based off of what others are telling us to do. Is it really any wonder why our beloved caretakers get snapped at when they are doing something for us that we have always done for ourselves, like tie our shoes? We are frustrated that we cannot even do this simple little task on our own.
Back to the shopping cart.
I realized that I depended on that silly cart. After surgery, I needed it to lean on. Later I needed it to carry my bottomless purse that weighs a ton. Now, it has become a crutch of sorts, a stability in a time of storm. It was something I could control. In fact, as I recovered, it was one of the first things that allowed me to regain control in my life. Just controlling where that cart, when, how fast, and what went in it, allowed me a liberty that cancer had taken from me.
So when you see me in the store, knuckles gripped, with a look of a road rage race car driver, know that I am just exerting some of the last vestiges of control I still feel is completely mine.
Oh, and don’t even think about touching that cart.
1) I will never give up hope for a cure.
2) I will smile every morning simply because I woke up.
3) I will remember to thank my family and friends who have been there to support me.
4) I will quit looking in the mirror and wish I was 20 again.
5) I will remember that I am still beautiful.
6) I will remember to write/call/text/contact all my friends on their cancer journey to let them know I am still here for them.
7) I will pray for all going through cancer, and those who are now on the other side of cancer, and trying to reclaim their lives.
8) I will practice deep breathing and visualization daily.
9) I will find a way to at least go for a short walk every day.
10) IF cancer should return, I will fight it again, and again, and again.
Some routines are just better than others. Some come so naturally, some require constant reminders to self. One of my routines that I really didn’t think of as a tried and true routine is to come down in the morning, grab coffee, feed the critters, and hop onto the computer.
Our new house is configured so differently than our old one. In our old house, the computer was basically in the family room. Not the best spot, but I was around everyone, and knew all that was going on in the house. Here, it is sequestered to the extra room. Now, this room gets a lot of use, just not really by me. It is at the far end of the house, and is away from everyone and every thing.
My new laptop, which I bought so that I can be more portable with writing my book, and skype, allows me to have the computer in the kitchen without taking up too much space. It is fast, convenient and I am in the middle of it all. It’s perfect. When I need to use the printer or desk top, I run up to the extra room, but do not have to stay for long.
So, now I can sit, write, have coffee, and greet the ones awaking in the house with a quick hello between key strokes. Good Morning all.