A friend of mine is “battling” breast cancer, and I spent some time with her today, running errands, having lunch, chatting. She asked me if I am different after cancer. I told her a few ways I’ve changed, and when I got home I checked my blog to see if I’ve written about this. I found an old blog about how I’ve changed and I just re-read it.
Everything I wrote is true, but those changes had as much to do with my divorce as they did with my cancer. As I ponder this question now, there are some changes that I have come to see as permanent, and directly related to cancer.
I have less energy. This one has been tough. I’ve been used to having bouts of illnesses, followed by a few weeks of total recovery. I always had at least 2 weeks of my usual energy to catch up on things. I no longer have those bouts of energy. If I do have a bout of energy, it usually only lasts 1 day, and I have to rest up the day after. This is my new reality, and I guess I’ve come to accept the fact that I will always be limited.
I no longer chastise myself for a lack of energy! It’s such a badge of honor in our society to be the one “doing” the most. I put myself through Graduate school working 2 jobs, and I did so with tremendous pride. I got up at 5:30 every morning to exercise before getting my children ready for school and myself off to work. With pride! I totally bought into the idea that the busier you are, the better you are. I am hopeful for the Millennials, for they seem to inherently understand that a full time job is enough. Weekends are for relaxing. And, they are crucified for this, which is crazy. I think that if we looked back in history we would find that many our hardest working generations took time off, if for no other reason than they had nothing else to do.
I do something good for myself every day. I do yoga, meditation, and eat something healthy every day. Most days I write. If I had some extra money I would probably buy myself little gifts. In some way, each day, I do something that makes me feel good.
I am always cold. Or hot. There seems to be no in-between anymore. This is a bummer.
I no longer feel guilty. I don’t feel guilty about not wanting to go out late at night, I don’t feel guilty about my bouts of anti-social behavior, I don’t feel guilty about not being the life of the party, or saying no to the party.
I rarely do things I don’t want to do. Sometimes my house is a mess for days and I honestly don’t care. I might even have the energy to clean, but decide not to. If I do have a cleaning attack, I get over it quickly. To put this into perspective I used to get rid of the kids every Saturday morning so I could clean the house, top to bottom. Then I would get up early on Sunday so I could shop at each different grocery store, getting each store’s specials. No More! Tasks that I used to invest tremendous energy in get done quickly or not at all.
I think about cancer every day. It is my 2nd thought every morning (1st being did my teenager get out of bed yet?) and most nights my last thought. It is a constant reminder that I am on borrowed time. It is the thought that helps me say no, do nice things for myself, not sweat the mess.
I no longer think “why me”. I’ve had a long 19 years of chronic illness, then cancer. I spent all of the years before cancer thinking poor me, how can this possibly happen to me, what did I do to deserve this. I now get it – Bad Things Happen and it Sucks. Good things happen and they are good. Any one of us can get hit, at any point, with something terrible, or something great. It’s a toss of the coin, a roll of the dice. No one is punishing me, or rewarding others. Life just happens.
I no longer feel envious of others. This one is interesting to me. There are a group of people in my community, my ex’s GF among them, who appear to be “perfect”. They have beautiful houses, they have summer barbeques around the pool, the carve pumpkins together in the fall, and ski together in the winter. And for all the money in china (does China even have much money? Haven’t they given it all to us?) I would not want to be one of them. The exhaustion of keeping up with neighbors is no longer an issue for me.
I don’t worry about my future as much as I used to. This is also an interesting one to me. I am disabled, most likely going to have to “battle” cancer again, going through a divorce with no job and 3 children, but I am less worried now then I was 10 years ago, when I had a “stable” marriage and a good family business. I now know 2 things: 1) there are a lot of people out there who will help me when I need it, and 2) there is no shame in accepting that help. And ultimately, I have no control over what is coming tomorrow, or the next day or the next, so why worry?
I accept myself, even on my bad days. I really bought into the idea of “happy wife happy life” and, when I wasn’t happy, blamed myself for everything negative that happened. I now understand that not only is life random, but I can’t control how anyone else feels, any more then they control how I feel. It was never up to me, as a “happy wife” to create a “happy life” for my family. Only they can create a happy life. And, more importantly, I am not the unhappy person I was made out to be. I have a full range of human emotions. I am normal.
I’ve accepted that I have to actually do homework with my son. I really hate this one. I don’t want to learn Spanish, or re-learn algebra, or re-read old novels. I have learned though, that in my attempt to not be a helicopter parent, I saddled my kids with more than they could handle. So I spend an hour every day with my son, organizing, studying, checking. His grades are improving, his organizational skills have skyrocketed, and, most importantly, he truly believes I am on his side. When he fails he’s not ashamed to admit why. Today he failed a Spanish quiz and he said “I thought it would be multiple choice and it wasn’t and I panicked”. I wish I had known things like that about myself at his age.
I enjoy public speaking! Am I terrified before I do it? Hell yes! Does it stress me out and suck up most of my energy for the day? Absolutely. Do I love it? Hell Yes! There is something really special about making people laugh, then delivering an important message. It’s powerful.
I take life one day, or one moment, at a time. Most of the time. I am having people to my house for Thanksgiving and every day I think “geeze, I should start planning that”. Then I forget about it. Will I regret this the day before Thanksgiving? Maybe. Will it make today better? Absolutely!
Christmas is no longer my favorite day of the year. I used to work my ass off the make a fabulous Christmas for my family. It was really hard, and by the day after I was a puddle of exhaustion (and resentment, truthfully). My favorite day now is a day in which all my boys are home, we order take out, and sit at the table gabbing. We use paper napkins and don’t set the table, we have no set start or end time, we make no effort to make things “pretty” or artificially “right”, but it turns into a great night.
Ultimately, all I want is to sit with my family and be. Who knew, it really is the little things!
PS: My Thanksgiving was stress free & Fabulous!! Unfortunately, I found out from my sons that Christmas is their favorite day of the year and they really want it to continue as usual. I am back to working my ass off, but not as much as before, and when the exhaustion hits, I hit my bed. With No Guilt!