During my 4th week of chemo (2nd treatment) I went to dinner with 2 friends. I clearly remember telling them, "I hope I hurry and learn all I need to from this cancer journey, so I don't have to learn it again. I need to be as focused on this process as possible." And both of my friends saying, "I think your cancer and treatment will be something you'll continue to learn from, long after the treatments are finished." A light bulb went on in my head, and I knew they were speaking the truth. While my cancer treatment was the sprint, my cancer healing and learning is the marathon.
After reading Lynn Folkman's blog post this past week (http://livingbeyondbc.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/blog-back-healing-and-embracing-change-after-breast-cancer) and her comment about healing being an ongoing process, I realized I am not the only one who feels this way, what a relief! The only difference is that Lynn is 5 years out, and I'm 9 months. However, I certainly am not the same person as before my diagnosis.
Differences? Well, I do get tired more easily. I've learned to honor that feeling and act on it. In the past I pushed and pushed, knowing that I could push past my limits and succeed. Now I know that if I push I will fall, so I try to not run faster than I can walk. I am learning to go to bed early, to relish the times I can sleep in, and to not feel guilty about needing a nap or saying "no." Yesterday afternoon I had lunch on my front porch, leaned back to soak in the sun and fell asleep. Hurray!
I cannot multi-task anymore. On our trip to Hawaii in March I was rushing to check voice messages, get into the store, listen to my husband, and think about what I needed to purchase, all at once. We hurried through the store, walked into the parking lot, I looked into my purse for the car keys (to the rental car we had to have back to the airport a half hour later), and I couldn't find them. I immediately knew where they were - on the seat of the car - the locked car. We were able to get help and make it to the airport on time, but I can no longer do more than one thing at a time, particularly if I want to be effective at any of the things I'm attempting to do. This is an extreme example, but I see my lack of multi-tasking skills significantly diminished.
I am prone to anxiety. Too many questions, too much pressure to perform, and too much on my plate set me off. I get a headache, feel as if the walls are closing in on me, I feel confused, and I just want to run away from the stimuli around me. I am learning to stop, take a deep breath, and either focus on one item or walk away for a few moments, while I sort through things. This past year I've taken to keeping the radio off in the car and focusing on my surroundings. This has kept my anxiety at bay as well as allowed me to refocus. Practicing mindfulness and making time to meditate have been good tools to keep that anxiety at bay.
I forget. This is the biggest issue for me these days. Often I cannot remember what I did or said 4 hours or 24 hours ago. If I don't make a concerted effort to remember to remember, then I don't. This is basically my short-term memory. Often I forget what I'm going to say and then remember shortly after forgetting. If I don't quickly say what I was thinking, or do something physical (jot it down, use my fingers are a reminder) I'll forget again. I forget my purse walking from my house to the car, not noticing until I need it. I forget words - and cannot find them - not on the tip of my tongue or in the filing cabinet in my mind. I went to a workshop 2 weeks ago, came home, and 24 hours later could not remember anything about the day! Thank heaven I took notes!
Now these are the "bad" side-effects of cancer treatment. My doctor told me to consider my chemo brain and lack of energy to be similar to someone suffering from a traumatic brain injury and to treat this time and the healing process as such. So I do brain games (think Luminosity), I read a variety of material, I am sewing and crafting, I spend time writing, and most of all, I am learning to spend time "being" - to make time to do absolutely nothing. This tends to be the best time for me to heal.
The good news next post!
This is my "Trust" and "Titanic" series - ha!