Don’t Thin Yourself

Once you receive a cancer diagnosis, you become increasingly aware of all the different cancer awareness months for all the different types. Just because I had breast cancer doesn’t mean I’m only aware of my type of cancer. If anything, I want to learn as much as I can about all the different types of cancers now that my body is open to a possible secondary cancer down the road.

I take this time to constantly educate myself and talk with others in cancerland to better understand their type of cancer and experience. The more I talk with others outside of the breast cancer world, I find more community, acceptance and humor. Though our cancers are different, there are many shared experiences which is comforting.

So, as PINKtober looms around the corner, I start getting requests to help with breast cancer awareness.  It’s difficult when people notice a skill that makes them want you to volunteer for everything breast cancer related. Instead of it being fun, it starts to feel like work, draining and stressful.

That’s how the thinning of oneself begins. People mistake my bubbly personality and upbeat voice as ready to take on the world. It’s almost like they forget that I’m still working fulltime with increasing responsibilities, which means using even more physical and mental energy during my 8-10  hour workday. So, driving to a volunteer meeting that adds another two hours to my day takes momentous effort.

The reality is most of the time I just want to stay home munching on peanut M&Ms while watching Dateline, Snapped and some other thrillers with a handful of dramas, a dash of comedies and a pinch of romance.

It’s fantastic to be noticed but at what cost? My body can’t handle stress the way it used to.

It needs more rest.

It needs more calm.

It needs more deep breaths.

Now that I’m in palliative care to help with pain management, I can’t do as much as I used to force myself to do before. Fatigue is overwhelming. I think people outside cancerland can’t fully understand that many of us aren’t just tired. When you’re just tired, it’s implied you can sleep and feel recovered the next day. Fatigue, with the added layer of pain, means there is no recovery or waking up feeling energetic. It’s another night of tossing, turning, groaning, never finding a comfortable sleep position and waking up feeling even more drained and quite cranky.

Time to speak up and say NO. Making myself a priority feels odd and selfish. I’ve had to retrain my thoughts to accept this is true self-care and not selfish.

I was at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Blood Cancer conference yesterday. I went last year and was blown away by the keynote speaker Dan Shapiro. So, this year, I wanted to bring my mother in the hopes of learning more about her rare blood cancer and give her the sense of community she craves but won’t admit she needs.

My naturally bubbly and talkative self couldn’t help but engage with others and the vendors. After all, I want to start getting more speaking engagements and writing opportunities that will lead to paid ones. One of the vendors asked why I was there because she noticed my favorite breast cancer ribbon barrette in my hair. I told her I was there for my mother and am a three-year breast cancer survivor and dealing with severe chemo induced neuropathy and fibromyalgia.

She said, “You don’t look unwell. You look just full of energy and healthy.” I always find that comment interesting, especially at cancer events. Don’t they realize the sheer effort it takes to appear energetic and “healthy?”

As much as I try to take my expressive nature down a few notches, I always end up thinning myself out. Naturally being a tad extra is exhausting once I come down off the high.

It’s just another reminder for me to practice more self-care and make it routine. I’ve only committed to a few events for PINKtober instead of everything like I’ve done in the past. Thinning myself out can easily mean another trip to the ER or with pneumonia like I was in April and May of this year. I’m not looking for a repeat of that.

Saying NO to volunteering for cancer events is our right and not selfish. Don’t let anyone guilt you into saying yes either. Be firm because you’re the one who must deal with the after affects and not them.

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Craving My Truth

As much as I love to socialize, I’ve been craving solitude more and more. I have limited energy. In some ways it makes me sad because I do love to talk, but my naturally expressive personality now wears me out. What many people don’t realize is cancer ages the mind, body and spirit.

My mind has been in utter chaos as I’ve tried to process my cancer experience. I wish I could forget the ugly parts of my cancer path. The thoughts and grief refuse to be swept under the rug. They continue to bubble and boil to the surface.

I still can’t fully verbalize all I’ve experienced and continue to experience. That’s why I write and started blogging. All I can do is continue to raise my voice and shed light on the difficulties of a cancer diagnosis. The fear, anxiety and anger never fully disappear. It sometimes moves to the backburner, but never gone.

I had become dependent on Ativan for sleep. My psychiatrist at the time kept enabling me. It took me two years to recognize that fact. Instead of helping me process, she was trying to keep in a sedated frame of mind. I finally saw the light this year and terminated the sessions and weaned myself off the Ativan. It was difficult and definitely caused additional stress to my immune system.

After I finished chemo in February 2016, I was shocked by how old I looked. Dark circles like a panda, pale gray skin and lines like a turkey around my neck. Heck, even my hands looked old. My baby face was gone. What I noticed most was the look in my eyes.

They looked haunted.

They looked pained.

They looked scared.

I still don’t recognize this body. So much has physically changed. The chronic pain wears on my patience. I can’t just get up and go, go, go like I could in the past. Every move is slow and deliberate. I don’t want to fall. I have a permanent handicap sign thanks to neuropathy.

My spirit has also taken a beating. I don’t ask why I got cancer. It was inevitable, especially after looking at my family history. I ask more why did I get cancer under 40 and still alive? I see others whose cancer has metastasized with significant others and families. Why have I been spared – the single cat lady – and not them?

Life post-cancer continues to be a daily struggle. There always seems to be a new pain or issue or unforeseen medical bill popping up.

I crave stability.

I crave my truth.

So, I wrote a poem that was originally crafted using a writing prompt from the Unspoken Ink Writing Class through Lacuna Loft. I finished it this morning.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

Is dating off the table?

This question is more complex than it was before cancer.  I honestly don’t know what to think anymore. I’ve heard of others meeting “the one” during treatment and after. I’m boggled by that.

Who has the energy?

Who has the sex drive?

Who has the funds?

I’ve been a body I don’t recognize since my 35th birthday, which is when I believe the cancer started growing. That’s when my thyroid got out of whack and major weight gain occurred. Even though my energy was somewhat lacking, I was still dating back then.

I’ve had my heart shattered once and deeply hurt once. I had begun to date myself and take time for personal growth when the cancer beast reared its ugly head. Dating was not even a remote thought once the cyclone of appointments swept me up.

I’ve been 43 years old for a month and starting to feel lonely. My life has been so busy trying to heal, battling long-term side effects from chemo, surgeries and radiation, serious depression and anxiety, chronic pain, medical leave, then more surgery and now I’ve had time to really process all that has happened since the cancer call on 9/14/15.

Things won’t magically become all right once I meet the ‘right’ guy.

I can’t expect to find happiness through someone.

I can’t keep waiting for someone to take care of me.

I don’t think like the woman I once was either. I’m jaded. I don’t even watch romance movies anymore. I used to be a sucker for those. I don’t read trashy romance books anymore either.

It’s like a light switch was turned off once I was medically induced into menopause at 40. Losing so many body parts all at once did something to me. I feel hollow. The only thing that makes me still feel like a woman are my tears.

I hear all the time “the right man will love you at your worst.” Well, I think many of you will agree that men are very visual creatures. Sure, I have a pretty face, but not a pretty body.

My body is scarred.

My body is numb in certain areas.

My body radiates and burns with pain.

My body is out of shape and struggling.

My body is utterly fatigued.

How can I date in such a low physical state? It was hard facing rejection when I was stick thin. I sure as hell can’t handle rejection looking and feeling like this.

I also realized that I can’t date a regular guy. I’ve nearly died. I’ve been through something life shattering and life altering. How do I make small talk about trauma? I don’t think lightly anymore.

Does that mean I need to meet someone also has/had cancer in order to relate? Hmm…

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

A Cancer Triple Threat

For those in the theatre world, you know what that term means. For those not in the theatre world, ‘triple threat’ means you can sing, dance and act. Well, in terms of the cancer world, it means I have neuropathy, fibromyalgia and chemo brain happening at once. I knew I was talented, but this takes it to a whole new level.

I start off each morning with a painful and groaning performance before I even get out of bed. It’s usually been a fitful night of sleep tossing and turning trying to find a comfortable position due to painsomnia. That’s when I access my pain level for the start of my day. I do some stretching to get some circulation flowing, especially my ankles. I have no feeling from the upper balls of my feet through my toes. Zero, nada, nothing. It’s been that way since my very first Taxol chemo treatment. I didn’t know neuropathy could be this severe and happen so suddenly with that first treatment. The permanent damage was done. No acupuncture will help.

Then I move my fingers and warm them up. I have neuropathy in them, too. The nerves are still regenerating in them because I feel tingling and many times stabbing pain like little needles in them, especially when I’m typing, like now. From there I move my head side to side and then stretch my legs.

Now I’m ready for my walk across the stage, aka the bathroom. I always have my cane next to my bed. I wake up with the fibromyalgia pain and osteoarthritis in my knees every day. Lately my hips have been in immense pain. We all know the hips don’t lie.

The groaning turns into a full on one- minute monologue of expletives as I make my way across the stage, hunched over like the Elephant man and holding onto my cane for dear life. Sometimes my fibromyalgia chronic pain is all over my body. It can often feel burning, especially my lower back, legs and arms. Then, of course, the extremely tender points on my neck and shoulders. It can move into my hands as well. That’s the thing about fibromyalgia, it can move, so I never know what to expect each day. The one major chronic pain area that I never, ever feel a smidgen of relief is my lower left back since that blasted hysterectomy/oophorectomy in 2017.

I’m fully awake now and ready for the pièce de résistance. I walk across the stage, aka the living room to the kitchen, with my usual straight posture from years of ballet and musical theatre but slow and short steps because my balance is still off. I see my many post-it-notes, notepads and planner filled with lists and reminders of things I need to do, to buy and to respond to. If I have something super important that I must remember to do that day, I always put a post-it-note on my front door above the locks, so I’ll see it.

I’m already exhausted and haven’t even driven to work yet. That’s my life in the spotlight of being a cancer triple threat.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie