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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Hurting to Heal

***Trigger Warning***

I’ve been in a very dark place lately. It’s honestly the darkest I’ve been in a few years. I was reaching out to friends seeking words of comfort and compassion. Instead, I felt like most have been trying to “fix” me. The whole adage of “You have to want the change” or “You have the power to change your mindset” or “You should seek therapy if depressed” no longer speak to me. The power of thinking positive no longer works for me. Why?

I was on Instagram this morning. I follow a lot of writers and sites that post quotes. The post I read today is what gave me the push I needed to step back from the ledge. This one below from Digesting Grace spoke to me in the way I needed. It spoke to my soul.

Before I saw that post above, I was starting to plan how I would end my life. I’ve had suicidal thoughts in the past. I’ve battled depression since high school. I acknowledge there is a scary darkness within and work hard to push those thoughts away. So far, my sheer will, and stubbornness has kept me from stepping off the ledge. I’m a huge proponent of therapy. I’ve been in therapy for years until recently.

I realized yesterday that my stress level keeps reaching new highs. The palpable grief is either following me or crushing me. I’ve been questioning the point of my life.

I’m in many online cancer support groups. I always see posts of how their husband and kids keep them going, etc. Well, I have neither, so what is the point of my struggle? I don’t have a legacy to pass down. The items I’ve saved and treasured since I was a child through college mean nothing to everyone but me. I can talk about it with friends and their kids, but they won’t fully understand or truly have a vested interest on the level I do because I’m not related to them.

Why would they care that my college cheerleading jacket looks as pristine as the day I received it?

Why would they care about the meaning behind all my tiaras?

Why would they care about my many, many photo albums and journals?

Why would they care about my beloved scrapbooks?

I then realized the following stressors:

  • The anniversary of a personal tragedy is this week.
  • My three-year cancerversary of my lumpectomy/reconstruction and the nightmare of waking up in the recovery room with blood soaking my sheets behind me because none of the nurses saw a tube was loose until I sat up is this week.
  • My one month of leaving the Catholic faith forever is this week.
  • It has been a month since the shingles insanity and stopping the post-cancer medication with my oncologist’s approval.
  • My next mammogram with MRI is on April 1st.
  • I’ve been medically induced into menopause officially two years now.

I don’t physically recognize myself. I consistently struggle with this unnatural chemo-induced curly hair. It will never be naturally straight again. This is it. I’ve been struggling with my weight since I turned 30 thanks to all the different antidepressants, hormone changes and now induced menopause. I was always very thin but muscular up until my 30th birthday. Then add all the steroids from chemo and the many, many surgeries and steroids post-treatment, no wonder I’m presently the size of a southern whale!

When I make the statement the right man for me doesn’t exist in this life, I’m consistently told the right man will love me no matter what size I am. Well, that’s untrue. I’ve always been drawn to preppy or artsy men.  

I’ll talk about race for a hot minute.

I’ve always been teased and bullied by the bulk of black men and women growing up and as an adult. I’m “different” and constantly told over the years that I dress, act and sound white. I’ve heard this within my own family, too. How about I dress, act and sound like an intelligent woman with a bit of flair?

Then I always hear from the bulk of white men and women that I “speak so well” and “you don’t act like you’re black.” What does that even mean?!

When I was Catholic, I would always have white men and women asking me if I go to the black Catholic church. It’s blow after blow of realizing they don’t see me as a woman of this parish. They see me as a black woman of this parish, and therefore, should go to the black parish.

The only type of men I seem to attract (except when I lived in LA) even when I was a size 6 are black thugs with gold teeth or creepy, old white guys. There was the occasional “my type” but the timing or compatibility wasn’t there. That is why I can make the statement that I won’t find love in this life.

When I look at my features (especially when thinner), I’ve always seen more than “just black.” My mother is biracial, and my father is black. My international friends are the only ones who actually notice that I’m a mix of a unique recipe in a beautiful and positive way. ­

I continue to deal with chronic pain, weight gain, unnaturally curly hair, soul crushing loss of what can never be, and what I didn’t know I wanted until all my lady parts were removed with zero sex drive. The enormity of these permanent and unwanted changes literally sucks my breath away.

Yet, seeing that post from Digesting Grace on Instagram this morning has given me the gentle but powerful nudge to find that miracle in my darkness. I suppose that’s what being resilient is all about.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie