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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