No Day Like Today to Begin

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Several years ago, when I found out I had breast cancer, I went through many emotions in a year’s time. Some were predictable, others unexpected. Some came and went, others lasted or repeated. Of course, there were some overlapping feelings and contradictory emotions. But they were mine, all mine, directly a result of having a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

I met others on the cancer journey, and we shared our stories. I found that friends I had on Facebook had suffered from the disease as well as other from types of cancer, and some still suffer. I made new friends in person and online because of people reaching out. I discovered that although my feelings were mine, my sisters suffering from breast cancer, as well as others dealing with various types of cancer, had gone through or were going through many of the same emotions as me.

I’m committing to writing about the emotional experience of breast cancer, which is intertwined with and yet separate from the physical and medical experiences. This blog will have 30 posts. There’s no day like today, at the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to begin. I hope you read the blog, get something from it, and share it with others. I’m thankful that you’re in my life and cared enough to get this far.

Hugs and love,
Denise

P.S. I am not a medical or mental health professional and I’m not pretending to be one. This blog is based on my experience and insight. Always consult qualified professionals for your health and well-being.

#breastcancer #cancer #breastcancerawareness #breastcancersurvivor #cancersucks #cancersurvivor #chemotherapy #survivor #chemo #cancerfighter #breastcancerwarrior #cancerawareness #health #breastcancerfighter #cancerwarrior #breastcancersupport #pinkribbon #covid #pink #womenshealth #cancertreatment #breastcancercare #breastcancersucks

Day 28: Manic Happiness

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When I was in radiation therapy, I couldn’t wait until the last day. I wanted to ring that bell at the center. Life likes to put a damper on things. As I was about to have my last treatment or two, the radiation equipment went down. I went to the center and found out that there was no treatment that day, and they would call me about rescheduling.

I was so disappointed! The treatment center folks told me that I had to go to another center to finish my treatment. I lost a couple days in the process. It was weird. It was anti-climactic. It wasn’t exactly what I had imagined but I was through with my chemo AND radiation. Hooray!

At that point in early October, I felt much better than I had in summer. I was still tired and somewhat weak but I had built up my stamina for day to day activities. Now I was free! It was strange to not have daily appointments, and I loved it.

As I got further out from the treatment days, I started to do more fun activities. I’m not too adventurous, but to get out to the movies, go out to eat more, and shop were glorious activities for me. I felt giddy some days. This is what I called feeling manic happiness.

I remember going to our high school’s craft show. I love going to that craft show, and I go any year that I physically can do it. Of course, the corona, as my sons say, has moved it online this year. Interesting, but not the same. Anyway, in 2016 I felt so happy to be there. I was walking on clouds. I went with a friend and an intention to buy gifts! I saw a lot of parents that I hadn’t seen in a while, and they asked how I was doing. Now, it seems surreal. It was just a normal craft show day, but it made so happy to experience it.

I felt this way off and on for up to six months. My friends and I found some new places to shop, and it seemed like more fun than ever. So many cute outfits, so little time. Lots of silly laughter. We’d have lunch, and it seemed like the best food ever. When I went places with Jeff or our whole family, I was so thrilled to enjoy their company. I felt the manic type of happiness that knowing I survived and was finished with the hardest parts of beating and preventing cancer brought.

Another time of sheer happiness was when I had enough hair to go without a head covering. I started on it slowly, going from a full scarf to a band scarf or knitted band. I wasn’t confident at first, then one day in January, I took the plunge. It felt weird to have this short short hair, AND it felt great to have a head covered in hair.

I’m not sure if others saw this manic happiness in me. I may have seemed normal or frantic on the outside, I’m not sure which. I can only speak for what I felt and perceived of myself. As 2017 went on, I settled into a pattern of more normal emotions, back to my old self with a boost of kick-butt confidence.

If you’re in cancer treatment or have been in it, don’t forget to let yourself be happy! The feeling can be selfish, it’s okay. You’re saying to the world, I faced a beast, struggled more than I ever have, and I came out on the other side, smiling.

#breastcancer #cancer #breastcancerawareness #breastcancersurvivor #cancersucks #cancersurvivor #chemotherapy #survivor #chemo #cancerfighter #breastcancerwarrior #cancerawareness #health #breastcancerfighter #cancerwarrior #breastcancersupport #pinkribbon #pink #womenshealth #cancertreatment #breastcancercare #breastcancersucks

Day 27: Resolve

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It’s a good thing to be a wordsmith and even better when there’s more than one in the house! Today, I couldn’t think of the word for my emotion. As I described things I wanted to talk about, Jeff immediately said, “Resolve.” Bingo! My prize is to write about how determine I was to see this cancer treatment thing through to its end. I felt resolve.

When I started my radiation therapy, it seemed like my treatments were never going to end. 35 treatments. One treatment every weekday for seven weeks. Seven long weeks of driving 25 minutes to the center, waiting 10-15 minutes, changing clothes, getting a 5-7-minute treatment, changing back into my clothes, and heading back across town. Good thing Panera was located in between my house and the center! It made the experience a bit more pleasant!

I’d already gone through about 24-25 weeks of chemo. Now, when I was just getting back on my feet and even had tiny hair spikes poking out of my skull, I was headed back into the fray. Let’s talk about that hair, though! It was exciting to know I’d have hair again! I was so happy about that, it supported my resolve.

Radiation treatments weren’t bad. The hardest part was lying on a cold, hard table, then needing help to get up. I don’t remember feeling anything from the beam. Maybe a tiny bit of warmth? I honestly can’t recall. My skin developed a bit of a “sunburn” to it, but it wasn’t bad. Some people have radiation treatments for cancer that are very painful and damaging. I was lucky to not be in that class.

Dutifully, I took that drive every weekday. I’d count down the weeks, then later the days. At the end of some visits, I was checked by the radiation oncologist. I continued to get weekly blood tests as well, ordered by the medical oncologist, plus at some point I went for a CT scan, echocardiogram, and maybe some other tests. I marched into one appointment and the next, using my resolve to propel me further.

Resolve isn’t the most exciting of emotions but it’s the one that helps you get things done. It makes you determined to do or complete something important to you. It made this time seem like a routine that had a definitive purpose in a project sort of way – I’d complete this project and be free of all my cancer treatments forever! (Or so I hope.)

Cancer treatment can really drag you down. All the physical, mental, and emotional effects can make you want to stop and give up. When you feel resolve, it cuts through the noise in your head and says no matter how you feel or what you think, I’m going to continue treatments until the doctor says I’m done. Rely on that feeling so you can finish your treatments and really celebrate at the end! The radiation treatment center may even let you ring the victory bell on the last day!

#breastcancer #cancer #breastcancerawareness #breastcancersurvivor #cancersucks #cancersurvivor #chemotherapy #survivor #chemo #cancerfighter #breastcancerwarrior #cancerawareness #health #breastcancerfighter #cancerwarrior #breastcancersupport #pinkribbon #pink #womenshealth #cancertreatment #breastcancercare #breastcancersucks

Day 26: Mindful

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Today, I’m cheating. I’m a cheater-pants blog writer. Do people still say cheater pants? Okay, done chasing that butterfly, back to the topic. I’m cheating because mindful may not be an emotion. It’s more of a state of awareness. If I’m aware of my body, how I’m feeling, where I am in life, I’m being mindful. I’m feeling mindful. So today, I’m calling mindful my Day 26 emotion.  Go ahead, call me cheater-pants if it makes you feel better.

I mentioned in another post that I’d decided that my family should take a short, easy trip before I started radiation therapy. After chemo ended, I was ready for a break. Radiation treatments would be an everyday affair for seven straight weeks. If I missed my chance to do something with the family, I’d have to wait a couple months.

Usually, the oncologists scheduled radiation treatments to begin two or three weeks after chemo was completed. I asked for an extra week so we could go to a pretty state park in Arkansas to hang out. I thought the guys could get out in the water and hike around. I was just happy to be somewhere other than at home or at the treatment center.

While I was getting used to living the chemo-free high-life, I started to feel a bit more like myself. A regular flow of drugs was not messing with my brain and body. I was still weak and couldn’t do much, but I could feel myself slowly picking my way out of my cocoon. I felt lighter, more aware of things going on around me and like I might want to do something. Anything. I started to mentally assess how I was, how I would be, and how long it would take.

Meditation is often associated with mindfulness. I’m not a meditator. I’ve tried now and again, but I can’t seem to do anything but let my mind wander and to wonder how long I should try. For me, I became mindful as I just sat with myself, not particularly thinking or doing anything, just being. There were times before and during the trip when the guys were out, and I’d just sit in the room or find a chair with a view. I’d come away with a sense of where I was, emotionally, physically. Some days, it was good. I felt good about taking the break for my own peace of mind. Some days, I cried because something happened, like when I couldn’t go back in the pool because my swimsuit hadn’t dried in the air-conditioned room and was still wet. My sensitive body couldn’t take it. I cried because that’s where I still was physically, mindful of lingering limitations, then stopping. I realized that my mind and body were the way they and that was okay as I was healing from treatment.

By the way, the trip was enjoyable! Maybe a bit underwhelming for the guys. They’re so thoughtful, and they didn’t want to leave me by myself to do things. I was happy to know that they were out paddle boarding or whatever and having fun while I was relaxing. All these years, they haven’t learned that about me! One of the most fun things we did was driving around to capture Pokémon for the new Pokémon Go! mobile game. We were together and silly, and that’s what mattered.

So, I’m not sure if what I’ve described is what mindful is. Please don’t consult an actual philosopher! I’m saying this is what it was for me, and I’m standing by it.

Sometimes, when you’re facing a health or emotional crisis, you have to step back and leave room for you. You can take 10 quiet minutes away from everyone and just sit with your coffee or tea. You might say, “I’m too busy,” but I know there are 10 minutes in your day available! Don’t worry, don’t wonder, don’t make to-do lists. Just be aware of and accept yourself, whatever state your mindfulness indicates you’re in.

#breastcancer #cancer #breastcancerawareness #breastcancersurvivor #cancersucks #cancersurvivor #chemotherapy #survivor #chemo #cancerfighter #breastcancerwarrior #cancerawareness #health #breastcancerfighter #cancerwarrior #breastcancersupport #pinkribbon #pink #womenshealth #cancertreatment #breastcancercare #breastcancersucks

Day 25: Yearning

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Early in the process of my blog, I asked my Facebook friends if any breast cancer overcomers had thoughts on emotions to cover. I had a few days on the schedule that I hadn’t definitively filled in with a topic. Someone suggested yearning to me. At first, I couldn’t figure out how to fit it in, then as I was writing about being resentful, my mind started stirring on when I felt yearning.

Way back in the old days, specifically Day 17 of my posts, I wrote about feeling resentful of what other people were doing that I couldn’t do. At that point, I wasn’t yet looking forward. I hadn’t found my hopefulness or experienced the relief that comes with the end of chemo. Further along in the chemo weeks and after they were over, I could see that (nearly) normal life was possible again, and I yearned for it.

Think of all those things you enjoy, then block yourself from doing them for 7 months. Oh, wait, I think I just described 2020! It’s been hard to be trapped in the house, not be able to shop much, not go to a restaurant for months, and not attend any sporting events or entertainment activities that would draw crowds. Gyms closed, churches closed, theaters closed, and museums closed. Family visits were very limited, especially for visiting elderly people in nursing or senior facilities.  It’s been harder to enjoy 2020 than most other years!

When I was in treatment, I felt similarly trapped. Trapped by sickness, weakness, and too few blood cells, white and red! I couldn’t meet friends very often for shopping or fun. I couldn’t do many family activities, or even go out with Jeff so often. I was too sick to exercise. I couldn’t travel. I couldn’t scour the land for craft shows! I yearned to do all these things and more, but I limited myself to the most important things in my life because I didn’t have energy for all the rest.

Yearning wasn’t as painful as many other emotions I’d felt. When I didn’t feel well, I didn’t feel like doing anything, anyway. As the time came closer to healing from treatment, I felt the yearning for the things I could almost reach out and touch. They were getting closer, day by day. I yearned for something more, something new, or something I’d treasured and lost. Yearning was more of an emotional ache.

As with most other things that occurred during cancer treatment, I couldn’t change my circumstances, so I did what I could. I got out a bit on good days. I spent time with my family. Friends came to see me. I talked to others on the phone or message with them. I went to those most important events I’ve written about – the Wicked play, the senior year activities, the graduation and party. Even though I yearned to do so much more, it was good to get a glimpse of my “old life” to quell the yearning.

You can find ways to quell your yearning should you find yourself in a similar situation as me. It takes more planning and some prayer that all goes well, but it’s possible to get out of the house and go for a ride when you’re in cancer treatment. Get an ice cream sundae and, if you must, sit in the car to eat and talk. Invite friends to visit and ask them to pick up food. Have Facetime or Zoom visits with family members. Remember to save your energy for special occasions, if you have any coming up. You may still yearn for more, but maybe it will ache a little less.

#breastcancer #cancer #breastcancerawareness #breastcancersurvivor #cancersucks #cancersurvivor #chemotherapy #survivor #chemo #cancerfighter #breastcancerwarrior #cancerawareness #health #breastcancerfighter #cancerwarrior #breastcancersupport #pinkribbon #pink #womenshealth #cancertreatment #breastcancercare #breastcancersucks

Day 24: Relief

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My thirty-day blog has one more week left. I’ve loved writing it, but the daily deadline has been rough. I’ll feel a bit of relief when it’s over and will take time to consider how to continue my blog from there. You may feel relieved, too. (I’m grinning at you.) One of the times in my life when I felt the greatest relief was on the last day of chemotherapy! It was an amazing feeling!

Relief is an interesting emotion. When I learned that I might have cancer but didn’t know for sure, I was incredibly anxious and scared. I still felt that way when I was told my diagnosis. When I had my first oncologist visit, I felt a little bit of relief to have information and a plan. Little though it was!

The same type of feeling came when – you guessed it – I was losing my hair. Knowing I was going to lose it, watching it fall out, and sitting while Jeff shaved off the rest were traumatic events. After it was gone, I made peace with it and felt relieved to look ahead at how I was going to handle it and what I would wear on my shiny unadorned head. That’s what got me to the point of joking about it, even though it didn’t make me happy.

As treatment days occurred, then, a few days later, the bad sickness subsided, relief washed over me each time. When I needed help and had no energy, relief came in the form of my husband or sons. Every time a meal showed up at the door, I was relieved that we didn’t have to cook. I had many moments where relief was the main emotion I felt.

None of these moments could compare to that last day of chemo. My memory of the events is vague. Jeff bought me a big chocolate bar that said, “I beat Chemo”. He took a photo of me with the bar and with my Compassion Bag and soft blanket, a special gift from Compassion That Compels that I kept with me every treatment. Even if I don’t recall every moment, I do recall walking out and feeling lighter. I didn’t have to go back the following week! No more cycle of sleeplessness, sickness, and bone aching, round-the-clock tiredness! No more accessing my port or restless legs from Benedryl! I could more fully taste food and not react badly to smells! Well, all in good time. Relief, pure relief, is what I remember.

I still had seven weeks of radiation therapy to go, but I knew that it wouldn’t be nearly as terrible as chemo. I’d need to go through some follow up tests, and I’d be on an estrogen-blocker pill for at least 5 years. I’d continue to see the oncologist on a regular basis. And the kicker: after doing all that, I didn’t know if breast cancer will haunt me again someday.

For that last day of chemo and for several weeks after, I didn’t care so much about all that. I planned a short, easy trip with my family and took a week or two extra before starting radiation treatments. I enjoyed the feeling of no more chemo and no more feeling of desperation. I reveled in the feeling of relief.

#breastcancer #cancer #breastcancerawareness #breastcancersurvivor #cancersucks #cancersurvivor #chemotherapy #survivor #chemo #cancerfighter #breastcancerwarrior #cancerawareness #health #breastcancerfighter #cancerwarrior #breastcancersupport #pinkribbon #covid #pink #womenshealth #cancertreatment #breastcancercare #breastcancersucks

Day 23: Love

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Love. It’s an emotion we all want to feel, whether it’s familial love, romantic love, friendship love, or love for people in general. I was looking for a time during my breast cancer journey to talk about love because I felt it all along. Today is the day to let it flow out in words!

I thought about that time when I was looking ahead to my last chemo, knowing what I’d already experienced. It helped me to focus on what was important to me. I’ve talked about the support of my family, Jeff and the boys, in various posts. I felt their love from the inside and out. They were there for me, helping me in whatever way needed. This was the #1 thing I needed to get through that difficult period, and I had it. I felt love for them that was immeasurable, and I still do.

My extended family made me feel loved by calling, messaging, sending gifts, and letting me know how much they cared. It was hard for my mom and sisters and the rest of family in PA because they couldn’t be here to help! My in-laws were so supportive. My friends, too, near and far, close or more like acquaintances, everyone poured out love and support. I often felt undeserving. Love bloomed in my heart every day, even in the ones where not much else felt like blooming!

I want to give a shout out to the doctors, nurses, aides, technician, and medical staff that had any part in my care. These people not only care about their work but have a love for helping patients and for their work that helped to get me through many difficult days.

I could go on. You’ve read most of it already in other posts. If there’s an emotion worth hashing over, it’s love. When you’re in a difficult illness or situation, such as being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, no matter your age, your stage, or your condition, the one thing that can get you through each day is love. Let it fill you, and share it with others.

#breastcancer #cancer #breastcancerawareness #breastcancersurvivor #cancersucks #cancersurvivor #chemotherapy #survivor #chemo #cancerfighter #breastcancerwarrior #cancerawareness #health #breastcancerfighter #cancerwarrior #breastcancersupport #pinkribbon #covid #pink #womenshealth #cancertreatment #breastcancercare #breastcancersucks

Day 22: Hopeful

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When I was first told I had a spot on my mammogram, I was so scared. I felt frightened of my fate when I found out it was cancer. Once I found out the details of my cancer, although I was frightened, I never had a sense of doom or hopelessness. Sadly, some people with cancer or other diseases are diagnosed with a terminal illness; I don’t know how they feel. My disease was treatable, not terminal – it was the silver lining that eventually came shining through, letting me feel hopeful.

The hopefulness I felt was about not letting cancer bring me down as a person. That I’d come out of it almost the same as I had been before the disease attacked. During treatment, I got flashes of that hopeful feelings at times but it was really hard to focus on any of that. I just felt miserable and wanted it to go away!

At some point, probably in early June, I was halfway through my 10 week Taxol treatments. Taxol had followed the initial AC chemo treatment. I had already started counting down the treatments. There it was; I could see it. The end of the chemo. It was a pinpoint of light at the end of a tunnel. I felt miserable, tired, stuck, and sick but it was important to be counting down toward that final chemo day. It kept me going. That light was hope!

I had hope that I wouldn’t be so sick and so sleepy. I was hopeful that I could get out and do more activities. I hoped my hair would start to grow back and that it would eventually all grow in. I felt hopeful about doing work around the house and starting up my writing work again. I felt hopeful about truly enjoying my family and friends with my head in the game!

I had a lot of things to feel hopeful about. They didn’t hit me all at once. I’d think of them from time to time. After chemo, I still had to go through radiation for 7 weeks, but for my type and stage of cancer, I was told it wouldn’t have bad side effects beyond sleepiness and maybe a minor skin issue. I thought of all the things I hadn’t been able to do during my treatment, and I couldn’t wait for the days that I felt more like me! I felt hopeful for the days to come.

5, 4, 3, 2 …

#breastcancer #cancer #breastcancerawareness #breastcancersurvivor #cancersucks #cancersurvivor #chemotherapy #survivor #chemo #cancerfighter #breastcancerwarrior #cancerawareness #health #breastcancerfighter #cancerwarrior #breastcancersupport #pinkribbon #covid #pink #womenshealth #cancertreatment #breastcancercare #breastcancersucks

Day 21: Joyful

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I want to talk about happy times today! My last two posts were filled with worries over ruining my son’s senior year or not being present for the activities. Although not all was ideal, I made it through, and he enjoyed his year tremendously! As we watched him graduate and saw him enjoy his party with friends and family, I felt joyful.

There’s nothing like sharing in good emotions with those close to you. I was happy, proud, excited, and filled with joy over Tristan’s special days. Our whole family felt this way. I was so relieved to have been there and to have played a part in his special days.

Around this time frame, Tristan was working on his Eagle Scout project and had made a wonderful presentation of his work to community members and a few government officials. I was so proud of him as he did well in his presentation, explaining how he planned the project, and lead a team of Scout volunteers. He’d worked hard to achieve it and learned some life lessons. About the same time, he’d been accepted to college. It was a good time in his life, and parents are always happier when their children are doing well.

As for Jared, I felt joy about him coming home not only for the summer but back in town for his last two years of college. He was switching colleges. Although he’d live in the dorms and had only been an hour or so away, I knew I’d see him more often and likely be a bit more involved in his life. Not sure if he liked that but it sure made mama happy!

Jeff was still by my side, going through everything with me. That gave me a warm, lasting glow inside. With the boys (because they’ll always be my “boys”) around more in the summer, Jeff had a little more freedom to do some of his own things. I felt better that he was slightly less trapped as other mom-sitters were available.

I felt continued joy from my friends visiting and family calling and checking on me. I had improved a bit since my blood transfusion, although not a ton, yet I’d try to find a reason every day to smile and feel joyful. I wanted to feel joyful again on a regular basis, and I had to start somewhere.

You can do this, too. There are times when it seems too hard to feel joy, then your kids walk into the room, the dog does something funny, or a bouquet of flowers arrives and there it is, that little spark of joy. Embrace it.

#breastcancer #cancer #breastcancerawareness #breastcancersurvivor #cancersucks #cancersurvivor #chemotherapy #survivor #chemo #cancerfighter #breastcancerwarrior #cancerawareness #health #breastcancerfighter #cancerwarrior #breastcancersupport #pinkribbon #covid #pink #womenshealth #cancertreatment #breastcancercare #breastcancersucks

Day 20: Inadequacy

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When you’re young, you dream of what you want to be. As you get older, you hope you can fill certain roles well. I wanted to be a good daughter, wife, mother and friend. I wanted to go to church and be a good Christian. I wanted to be good at whatever career I chose, and to create and maintain a nice, attractive home. I wanted to be a good person and to be there for others. When I was in breast cancer treatment, I felt too inadequate to fill these roles.

Where do I begin? My surgery required a short recovery. It bothered me more emotionally than physically. As for breast cancer treatment, in the short term, it made me sick, weak, in pain, and, since chemo kills blood cells, vulnerable to infection. I felt the worst of those effects for more than six months, then slowly began to recover.

The feelings of inadequacy came when I couldn’t meet my own expectations. Let’s start with my family. In normal times, I cooked and cleaned up the house, grocery shopped, ran errands, and so on. When I was feeling sick from treatment, I couldn’t cook, clean, drive, shop or do much of anything. The guys fed themselves, did chores, and served me. In the beginning, I was sick on treatment week and more capable the next. Once I developed anemia and had been multiple treatments, I was always weak. I felt like the most inadequate mother and wife ever.

I wrote a whole post yesterday about being frustrated about the things I couldn’t do at my desired level during my son’s senior year. That added to the feelings of inadequacy. My personal interactions with my sons, husband, and friends weren’t always normal. Who wants to talk to a drowsy, out-of-it mom? Who wants to touch someone who’s sensitive to it? I could go on about my feelings of inadequacy, but I think you get the picture.

While I was in treatment, I didn’t go to church. I tried a couple times, but my white cell count was always too low to risk it. I swear church is the worst place for coughing and sneezing! Once when I went to mass, I had an anxiety attack about the germs, left early, and didn’t go back until all treatment was over and my white cells had recovered. It was an inadequate way to show my faith. I talked to God regularly, knowing he understood.

Lastly, I’ll address my feelings of professional inadequacy. It was hard for me to work the hours needed to do my job, and my thinking wasn’t on the level as it had been. I reduced my hours from 40 to 30. I reduced them again to 20, and finally, I quit. My employer wasn’t happy, but I just couldn’t stay awake to do the work anymore. I needed out.

I still feel somewhat inadequate from the lingering effects from chemo, now four years later. My family and friends don’t know and didn’t then feel the same way, it’s a problem with my self-perception. Have you experience this?

When you’re not thinking and feeling right, it’s hard to shift your mental state. Try to not be so hard on yourself. Know that others don’t think poorly of you. They care about you and understand what you’re going through. Do things for yourself that are positive. Call a friend. Take a walk outside. Play with your pet. Write in a journal. It will keep you from dwelling on those feelings of inadequacy.

#breastcancer #cancer #breastcancerawareness #breastcancersurvivor #cancersucks #cancersurvivor #chemotherapy #survivor #chemo #cancerfighter #breastcancerwarrior #cancerawareness #health #breastcancerfighter #cancerwarrior #breastcancersupport #pinkribbon #covid #pink #womenshealth #cancertreatment #breastcancercare #breastcancersucks

Day 19: Frustrated

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Being trapped in a body that’s going through cancer treatment creates one big fat frustrated feeling. I think the emotion resulted from a simmering down of anger, shock, sadness, anxiety and regret. I became mad about what I was feeling physically and how my life had changed. I was sick, upset, and extremely frustrated with my situation.

A major source of frustration surrounded the timing of my cancer diagnosis and treatment during my younger son’s senior year in high school. I looked back on my older son’s year, remembering it filled with “lasts” – concerts, banquets, photos, prom – and commemorative events like senior day, graduation, and a graduation party. Those days felt bittersweet as it’s wonderful to celebrate and see your child move forward in life, yet you know they’re leaving childhood and, in some measure, their need for you behind.

I treasured the memories from Jared’s senior year and wanted to repeat them with Tristan. With my treatment plan laid out, I was afraid that the activities would happen without my presence. I wasn’t afraid that I wouldn’t live through this cancer. My case was treatable. There are many women with breast cancer and people with other cancers that face that potential reality, and I feel greatly for them. In my case, I was afraid I’d be too sick or weak to attend.

The notable events for Tristan’s year were planned for April and May, right during the time I developed anemia! In addition to this, Jeff and I had planned to see Wicked in Dallas in May as he’d bought the tickets as my Christmas gift. I was so frustrated that I had to be in such a bad state to attend and to enjoy all the upcoming events. I wanted to force myself to feel better. Unfortunately, I was powerless to do so. I had to rely on Jeff and carry on as I was.

I was able to take Tristan to a photography his senior photos for us, one of the easier things on my list. When prom came, we went to a pretty area near our house and photographed Tristan and his girlfriend. I didn’t last as long as Jeff and the teens. That was okay. I enjoyed the choir concert, although I remember feeling a bit out of it, especially when getting through to the seats and talking with a few people. Senior day – well, Tristan didn’t think it was such a big deal but I wanted to be there to show support and my pride in him, no matter if he wasn’t receiving any awards. Getting to the gym and bleachers was a challenge. I wanted to sit with friends. I needed help to climb a few bleacher seats. It’s scary to climb stairs when you’re weak and unsteady! I made it through the ceremony, not very comfortably but determinedly.

As for my non-school related event, Wicked, it came up when I felt absolutely weak and out of it. I’d wanted to see the play for years. I wanted to spend time with Jeff, who so thoughtfully bought the expensive tickets. It wasn’t an easy day, especially with lower balcony seats. Fortunately, they weren’t far down the steps and again (always!) with Jeff’s help, I made it. It was a great show. The scenery was amazing! I’m sure I slept on the way home.

The most difficult events were yet to come: the graduation ceremony and party. I cried many tears of frustration over these events! And now. Okay, give me a minute……………………………… I’m back. Of all the things that happened during cancer, I didn’t want ANY of it ruined for Tristan. I wanted it to be a joyful year for him. I didn’t want him to feel cheated out of things because of me. It had to be PERFECT. I’d guess many of you can relate to this.

For my older son, Jared, the graduation party was a picnic with family and friends. Tristan enjoyed it and wanted the same. I had in my mind how it would be. Could I make it happen? I reserved the park pavilion early, no problem. There was food to plan, shop for, and make. Party supplies to buy. Decorating to happen. Packing, transporting, and set up of the food. Things to be done during the party concerning food and guests. Ugh! Everything would be 20 times harder than before. I’d need to pace myself and scale down some plans. I did NOT like that.

I remember that my in-laws were visiting, and we were sitting at the kitchen table discussing the party. I got so frustrated and anxious that I just cried and said, “I don’t know if I can do it. I need help.” I had to leave the room to settle. They really hadn’t seen me do that before, so I may have surprised them. I don’t know. But they’re always there to help family and, when I returned to the table, asked what they could do. We talked about food they could bring and how they could help during the party. When the day came, I helped to set up as I could but had many hands and feet and hearts, especially hearts, doing most of the work. It was frustrating to be too weak to do more. Tristan’s friends came and family came and we had an enjoyable evening. Phew!

One more thing to talk about! The ceremony. The school district holds its graduation ceremonies at the Coliseum at the University of North Texas. It’s a big open basketball arena, plenty of room for more than 500 graduates. For the audience, you walk in on a level above the floor and half the bleachers. That means walking down steep steps. I’m not kidding about the steepness of these stadium steps! I knew I couldn’t go down those steps. Two years earlier, I couldn’t sit close for Jared’s ceremony because my mom was with us, and she couldn’t walk the steps. She and I sat apart from Jeff’s family because they were already seated. Now, it was happening again. I was forcing my family to sit up high and not have the best view – this time, we were seated first and everyone joined us. This was the most frustrating thing; I didn’t like impacting their enjoyment. I was sad about it, but what choice did I have?  It would have been nice to sit lower and closer to the floor, but I could never have been prouder to see Tristan sing with the choir and to get his diploma.

I still don’t know how I got through it all. I let my determination become a source of inspiration and motivation. If I could walk and function, I wasn’t going to let anything slip through the cracks. I wasn’t going to let frustration get the best of me, and it didn’t! I made it!

When you’re in a difficult situation like this, find your fire. Find what drives you. You may have to lower expectations a bit and ask for help. Remember, everyone understands that you need it. There are times when you can’t do what you want because you’re too sick or too vulnerable to illness. These days, we can find ways to be a part of things at a distance through live-streaming and videos. Do what you can without compromising your health.

When you are allowed and able to go out, don’t let frustration bring you down. Make plans, dream dreams, and let those lead you to joy.

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