Dig a Little Deeper

There is a rather disgusting analogy involving a boiling frog. If you put a frog in tepid water and then slowly heat it to a boil, the frog does not realize it is being boiled alive. Today I realized that my cancer and cancer treatments are doing the same thing to me. I had to list my cancer side effects ( in MBC groups we call them side effucks) for a disability survey this week. Here are some, in no particular order.

Fatigue – Cancer fatigue is not like any other tiredness I have ever experienced. There are days I can barely wake up enough to take care of my dogs. I find myself walking around with my eyes closed until I can get back up to bed.

Sun Sensitivity – If my skin is exposed to UV light I develop a blistery, itchy rash. My face and forearms suffer the most from this since they are often exposed without me realizing it. I have two prescription ointments that seem to help. I apply sunscreen every day and try to avoid being in the sun. My forearms have horrid scars on them from a bad case of the rash this summer.

Hair loss – I lost all my hair for the first 6 months of treatment. Some of it has grown back. The hair on my head grows extremely slowly. I still have no eye lashes or nose hairs – and I never realized how helpful those things are when a person is outside where there is dust and pollen. I also have no eye brows, but that is a cosmetic nuisance only. I typically kept my hair long and I miss it. While it seems trivial, hair is an important part of our identity. The first hair to come back full strength was my chin whiskers. You gotta laugh.

Digestive issues – After the first 6 months, my nausea is limited. I do, however, experience the need for many, many trips to the bathroom now and occasionally it seems to not be something I can control. I’m just going to leave that there. It isn’t a party.

Pain – I cannot describe the extent of the pain. I live with it daily. Some days are better than others. I have good drugs but hate to take them because to take enough to truly control the pain, they make me groggy. The pain is a side effect of the treatment and also a side effect of having extensive bone mets. Bone mets won’t kill me but they make my life not so fun.

Chemo Brain – I have noticed a decline in some parts of my thinking. The biggest is the ability to come up with a particular word. My ability to memorize is not where it was. All our brains age, mine is just happening a bit faster from the chemo and 3 rounds of gamma knife. I play brain games on my iPad to try to stop the decline.

Anxiety – I saved the worst for last. To be fair, I inherited a lot of anxiety in my DNA and had it fully nurtured in my childhood environment. Some major events in my life helped to build it up even higher. Then cancer hit and anxiety took over my life. The blessing of high anxiety is that is makes some people (like me) be over achievers. We can never find any sense of achievement unless something is so hard we could barely get it done. Now, cancer anxiety is an ever-present voice on my shoulder. During a really happy family moment, cancer anxiety pops up to remind my this might be the last “fill in the blank” I get to see. When anyone mentions something a set time in the future (ex. Save the Date cards), cancer anxiety makes me wonder if I will be around to attend. A particularly painful day will cause my cancer anxiety to declare that the cancer is growing somewhere new. My schedule of body scans every four months and brain scans every three months mean I almost always experience scanxiety – wondering what the tests will show. A great scan only means that I have renewed my “license to live” for another 3 months (hopefully).

When I find myself in a pot of boiling water like the frog, it is time to take a step back and turn to my sources of comfort, peace and strength. And that is when I dig a little deeper to realize that my faith will see me through this lifetime, that I have a partner who wants only the best for me and will help me if I let him, that I have some close friends who I can turn to, that I have two dogs who sense when I need them most, that I can turn off my phone ringer, that I can say no to almost anything, and that there is something meaningful to be found in every day I am alive. So I am taking a break from negative people and things I don’t want to do. I am allowing myself the right to walk away from people who want to complain about everything and everyone. I don’t think this strategy is reserved for people with cancer. I highly recommend you jump out of your pot of boiling water, too.

One thought on “Dig a Little Deeper

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s