Still struggling with cancer

Cancer – and the aftermath of cancer – doesn’t go away. I may look better and feel better than I did last year, but cancer is with me every single day and my body is still struggling. I’ve never operated at less than 120% physically, and now I’m at a permanent 70-80%. It’s depressing. I have to think about every movement my left arm makes: can’t have it below my heart too long, can’t have anything restrict it, can’t have it above my head, must be aware of restrictions even though I can’t feel most of it since it’s numb, can’t sleep on the left side, must remember to wear compression sleeve, can’t lift heavy objects (what is considered a heavy object?) The list goes on and on. Who doesn’t take their body, their limbs for granted? Why would we ever worry about not lifting, not walking?

People have compared my cancer to breaking a bone, appendicitis, getting the flu, or getting stitches. They’re somehow trying to relate to what’s happening for me. But you typically recover from those things and you usually never need to think about them again. Twenty percent of my body is disabled. Forever. I don’t wake up and ever feel 100%. This wasn’t a skin tag removal so please don’t compare cancer to everyday maladies.

The damage is physical and, I hate admitting this, but it is psychological as well. There is definitely some PTSD  going on here. Giant waves of paranoia, fear, and helplessness crash over me multiple times a day and drag me into a black hole. And I’m hard on myself about it. I tell myself to get over it, that I’m being pathetic, that it’s not so bad, that I’m just feeling sorry for myself, or this very ugly one: that somehow I deserved this. I am horribly mean to Leah.

Coming to terms with cancer is going to be a lifelong journey and it’s a crappy, crappy road. I keep searching for a silver lining that doesn’t exist. I suck at ‘living every day to its fullest.’ I am not a grass-is-greener-bright-side kind of girl; that will never be who I am. I am a Reality Girl driven by half facts and half dreams.

The amount of cancer related appointments I continue to go to is never ending. In the last two months I’ve had visits to my oncologist, radiology oncologist, gynecology oncologist (more on that in another post), physical therapist, general surgeon, and breast surgeon. There are reminders on the calendar screaming at me that cancer is in the room, every day, every week.

None of my doctors has declared me “cancer free.” They say, “We certainly hope you’re cancer free, but with HER2 receptors and lymph node involvement we can’t say for certain.” With each new ache or pain I stop and ask myself, am I ok? Is the cancer back? Has it metastasized? When should I worry about a new symptom? My radiation oncologist says I should worry if something increasingly worsens or is persistent. His words become my mantra when I have a pain, ache, or visual changes.

Writing feels like therapy for me. If I spew it out without holding back, with no filter, no end or beginning, no thought of where I’m going, maybe it will be easier to walk into the black hole of the future and away from the black hole of the past.

4 responses

  1. My heart overflows with my love and respect for you.
    Is it because of cancer? The short answer is “probably”
    Directly, it is because you have shared your core through your words.
    And cancer brought that experience forth; baring your soul.
    I have learned much from you through listening and hearing you.
    And you are a blessing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Leah,

    I’m trying to think of what I want to say to you that isn’t fatuous or equivocal or shallow. I know I want to say that aging itself is a continual journey with an altered body, sometimes pieces of it given up for one’s health, an internal organ, a breast, two breasts…and always aging is a sense of weakening, muscles not so strong, joints not so flexible, and inevitably a sense of mortality, even if cancer hasn’t struck. Only a very lucky few go through middle age without realizing that somewhere along the journey, one lost one’s body – the way it is remembered, the way it was so totally and unthinkingly taken for granted. From my vantage point in my seventh decade, I know few friends who haven’t had an unwelcome confrontation with mortality and now live altered lives. And yet we embrace life and are glad for it.

    As for living post cancer, that innocence cannot be regained. Will it help to hear that several of my closest friends had breast cancer with lymph node involvement many years ago and are here still in health enjoying life? This is true. And one of my dearest friends who had no nodal involvement did lose her life. Cancer strikes without a logic that medicine understands. What you must take to heart is that you are newly post treatment with all the advantages of therapy in your body. Take this time as yours. The best anodyne is living itself which brings forgetting.

    And happy new year to you and Amelia.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cancer is in your rear view mirror! With this new year, you are turning the page to begin a brand new chapter. I hope it brings renewed strength of spirit and mind as your body continues to heal from all that you’ve endured over these long and many months. Cancer can’t steal what you refuse to relinquish…the essence of who you are will always remain. And your silver lining? You may not see it, but I do. It’s your voice…your words that you’ve shared with all of us. You have a gift, Leah. Not everyone can write from the heart as you do. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with those of us who truly do understand.

    Liked by 2 people

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