It’s not normal to wear a suit jacket and heels on a Friday, but that’s what I had to do because I was scheduled to host and facilitate a meeting to a group of directors, policy experts, and other executives from across the state. That was, let’s just say, a big deal in my work world. That was Friday, 10/14, and I performed as expected. With all that’s been on my mind, it was akin to an outer body experience, but I got the job done. It’s now been a little over 3 weeks since my breast cancer diagnosis and it feels like so much and very little has happened at the same time. I don’t even know how to explain this, but here we go.
The best analogy I can think of is when I knew I was pregnant with my firstborn, my son, Caleb. I spent the whole pregnancy learning everything that I could related to pregnancy, giving birth (except I intentionally skipped anything related to cesarean births and ended up having a c-section with each of my children), and the baby’s first years of life. I was consumed with educating myself. I watched countless cable network shows related to babies. Despite all of the real life stories I read about or saw on t.v., I didn’t actually know what it would be like for myself until my baby arrived. I knew he would impact my life in a major way and that I would never be the same, but I had no clue to what degree.
Except for the love and joy that I’ve experienced with my children, I’m having a similar “process” experience with breast cancer. I’ve been learning as much as I can from my doctors and medical team, through talking with friends with breast cancer and other cancers, and through my own research. I’ve had to make room for this diagnosis that I know will change me forever although I don’t exactly know how and to what degree. I know I won’t love breast cancer. I know I won’t get joy from it. However, I’m expecting to learn some new things about myself as I take on this fight. I’m expecting to birth something beautiful from this experience. This is not the end of the world for me. As I’ve written before, no one wants cancer, but I do look at this as an opportunity (as one would say in my work world).
I’ve never really fit into the normal category, but the normal that I’ve established for myself and with my husband, has been temporarily thrown out the window. I’m just now settling down somewhat…I think. It initially started off with back to back doctor appointments. I now have a team of doctors and staff working with me: a surgeon, oncologist, plastic surgeon, physician assistant, nurses, financial counselors and a social worker. There may be more. When I worked as a mental health professional, I was a key member of a treatment team. Although we attempted to convey and foster a partnering relationship with clients, my assessment had great influence on my clients’ lives. Here I am now, the patient, with a team of professionals working on my behalf. It’s a good thing that I’m a social worker too because I am skilled at coordination. I’ve made several calls and correspondences through email last week to obtain information on my genetic testing results and surgery appointments. It got to the point where I didn’t know next steps and it’s not as simple as calling one person. I eventually received the information I needed, however, I admit that this is on another level, even for me. As I go through the treatment (I haven’t started yet), there may be points where I’m unable to keep up. A friend with breast cancer recently advised me that she lets the team handle whatever she can’t because that’s their purpose.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve been maintaining some of my self-care “activities” although not to the same degree. They are healthy habits embedded into my daily routine so I haven’t veered off too much. I did slow down on the frequency of exercise, I haven’t tracked my food, and I haven’t felt like writing. It’s partly because of making room for the appointments and information gathering. Another factor is that I have been increasingly more fatigued. I’m not sure if it’s from the cancer or from the adjustments I’ve had to make to take this all in. The other part is that nothing puts things in perspective like a serious, chronic, and potentially life threatening illness. Losing that last 10 pounds doesn’t seem to matter as much anymore. Work deadlines are amusing and baffling. I was under so much stress the week before last as I was working on deliverables that I realized that I need to restructure stress management while in that environment.
I spent the day with my daughter on Friday because she was out of school and it brought me so much joy. Later that evening, as I was watching her watch t.v., my eyes watered thinking about how beautiful and innocent she is and how blessed I am to have her. It would be unimaginable for her to grow up without her mommy. When we had lunch earlier that day, I used that time to see what she knew and how she felt about the cancer. She was unphased. To my children, everything still seems normal. I don’t look sick. I go to work as usual. I still fuss about chores. But I haven’t started treatment yet, so they don’t know what’s coming, not that what’s coming will be so unbearable. But, I’ve been prepping them. More than anything, I don’t want them to be afraid that I will die. I explained to my daughter that the type of cancer I have is treatable. We talked for a while, she said ok and asked to go to the mall. I pushed myself because, at that point, I was exhausted after a few hours at work with her and lunch. I asked if we could go home first so that I could take a nap. She reluctantly gave her approval. I didn’t take a nap. We went to the mall.
Whatever the reasons for slowing down (self-care), I’m going to respect my limits. Taking a break (with the exception of going to the mall exhausted) means that I’m doing what I need to do (self-care) and I’m not going to beat myself up (also self-care). And sometimes, my thoughts do try to beat me up, but I don’t let them win. I use my tools like prayer and sometimes I have to just tell the thoughts to leave me alone and assure myself that things will be alright. Last week, I did resume exercising close to my usual alotted weekly time, I’ve been spending time with friends, and I committed myself to writing today. I even agreed to be one of the instructors at a Zumbathon this weekend.
Thus far, by far, the thing that I’m most grateful for is the outpouring of love, support and prayers in all of my networks (family, friends, church, work, fitness, etc.). I knew that I was loved and cared for, but the support has been amazing.
I am a planner. At work, we constantly plan for 1-2 years in advance and even longer. As a mom, I’m constantly thinking ahead. Bottom line…my new normal is to take things day by day. This is where my flexibility comes in handy. If I have more of whatever…BONUS. If not, it will be o.k.