Sunday, June 17, 2012

Still alive: the good and the bad (but mostly good)

It's been a long time! I'm finding it hard to put my day-to-day life into words. I'm still job-hunting - the hunt was delayed by a few health issues, though now I'm back at it with a vengeance. I'm still spending time with friends. I'm still hiking. I'm still in a strange limbo space.

I thought I'd write about some parts of the post-cancer experience:

The good: Have you ever really looked at your hands?
Not all of the life-appreciating bliss of cancer treatment has carried over into my current state, where I'm obsessively checking job sites, cleaning the house, grumbling at the lack of dish soap, and doing all kinds of mundane things I couldn't do before. While kind of sad, this also seems like a good sign that I'm finding what the cancer press calls "the new normal".

However, there are places where my focus narrows to the present moment and the mindfulness is definitely still present. Recently I heard a cancer patient say that she appreciates food so much more, and I realized that this is also true of me. Months of busted taste buds and nausea can really make a gal appreciate the subtleties of the blandest potato.

So, I get totally blissed-out by food. I drink really, really mild tea and my brain is pretty much transported to a forest full of jasmine. I also get blissed-out by sunny days, pretty flowers, a warm breeze... I always liked these things, but I get kind of overwhelmed by them in a new way. It's surprising and nice.

The bad: Recurring nightmares
So, uh. It's that thing we don't like talking about: the possible return of my cancer, which is called a recurrence. As much as I'm keeping busy and filling my life with good things, a part of me is basically waiting around to see if I make it. The first sign of recurrence is a physical pain or nausea or other symptom, which is a hypochondriac's nightmare. Local recurrence (breast recurrence) is bad; distant recurrence is fatal.

The hard part is that my body's still pretty beat up by treatment, so I'm more susceptible to random health problems. So far, I've had...

  • a loss of hearing in one ear. Brain metastasis? No, just a random virus.
  • knee pain, foot pain, shoulder pain. Bone mets? Nope, just my body desperately trying to get itself together.
  • a terrible pain under my rib cage that is fortunately mostly gone. Liver metastasis? Nope, just my gallbladder acting up.
  • redness, itching and pain at my surgery site. Inflammatory breast cancer recurrence? Nope, just a nasty infection that landed me in the hospital, a terrifying experience that I won't go into here.

And there have been so many more. You can see how this might get a little maddening. It doesn't get in my way most of the time, though typing all of this out has been hard.

The in-between: I kind of liked the old normal. Do I really need a new one?
Every day I wake up and I'm alive. I can't say how grateful I am. Some things are more frustrating to me, and other things have more weight. I love my friends so much and I'm so scatterbrained that I often forget to call. I have a hard time with my new body, though I love it so much when I'm hauling it up a steep slope and it's not tiring out.

Things are amazing. Things are sometimes bad, but the amazing parts generally cancel them out. I think it's this way for most people, and if this is my life, I'll freaking take it.