Life after cancer—not all sunshine and roses
One would think that once the doctors declare “Remission!” or when you get your boobs cut off and they tell you “No lymph node involvement!” or you manage to make it through the chemo and/or radiation, that life would be easy breezy, beautiful Cover Girl. Not really. Yes it is a relief and it is less of Crisis Mode. But as I found out, there are a slew of other physical and mental issues to deal with that get in the way of appreciating that you’re alive.
I expected to be weak and have to rebuild myself physically. I did not expect having to rebuild myself mentally. I didn’t expect to be depressed.
That is not to say that I don’t appreciate being alive. I do quite a lot! I do every single morning when I wake up and my sweet dog jumps up on my bed after my yawn or stretch signaling to him that I’m awake and greets me with a lick on the cheek and is so happy to see me. I pet him and say every single day “Isn’t it great we have another day together?” because I am acutely aware that we almost didn’t. And yet this hyper awareness of the gift of life brings its own burden. There is a constant fear that the cancer may be back and you don’t know it because cancer is silent inside your body (if you ever see me running my fingers down the sides of my neck, this is what I’m checking), and that the gift will be suddenly taken away. And there is the constant wonder if you’re spending this precious life energy wisely. Every second of every day.
Very recently, I went through a period where this hyper awareness of the gift of life and the fear that it may be suddenly taken away, actually made me depressed. I was so acutely aware that I am lucky to be alive that I kept thinking, shouldn’t I be doing something extraordinary with this gift? Every day felt like a waste if I hadn’t made a tangible difference in the world. It was an enormous pressure and ironically paralyzed me into not doing much to make a tangible difference in the world. There was a lot of “should-ing” going on: I should be seeing the wonders of the world! I should be speaking to large groups! I should be volunteering! I should at least be selling my book! Everything I was doing—cleaning up the kitchen for the sixth time that day, figuring out how to do email marketing, even going to my kids’ swim meet and watching them swim from here to there—seemed supremely unimportant. Nothing I was doing seemed to matter in the grand scheme of things. Depressed.
I looked around at people and wondered how they could stand to go about their mundane lives. Many people I know are actually up to some great stuff, impacting the world and making it better for a lot of people. After the harrowing experience I went through with my back-to-back cancers, the dicey stem cell transplant, the double mastectomy and so much chemo, I felt that I could make a difference for people. I wrote a book during my recovery from the second cancer (titled WTF?! I Have Cancer?) with the intention of helping cancer patients make it through this kind of hellish experience. Released in May, the book has sold to a hundred or so people. Which is wonderful! I have LOVED hearing from people that it has made a difference in their lives. And yes writing the book was a huge accomplishment and I am super proud of it. But I hadn’t even been able to plan a book launch party in my depression paralysis. And I didn’t have the money to hire out the publicity/promotion/marketing because I have huge medical bills that I’m still paying off!
I got through this blue period by getting away to the beach for nearly a week and being with my family, my mother, siblings and nephews for my mother’s 80th birthday. There is something cleansing about the ocean that brings me back to center (both spiritual experiences in the book happen at the water’s edge and are the reason for the beachy cover image). And being with my family, laughing, celebrating and connecting deeply was what I needed.
I came home and was able to get to work. I put all of the great tips people had been giving me on how to market my book onto Post-it notes and organized them on my kitchen wall. I have a goal to do at least one (and the more the better) each day. Most of the Post-its are tasks that push me beyond my comfort zone. I am not a natural extrovert and promoting myself isn’t my forté. But I can and will do what is needed to get the book out to the world.
Sidenote: It’s funny how many people have asked me if I’m going to write another book. I’m definitely flattered by the question but it’s kind of like when you’ve just given birth to this beautiful little baby and someone inevitably asks if you’re planning to have another and you think, “Could I get this one out of diapers first?” My book needs to get on its feet before I start anything new—it is still lying in the bassinet cooing at me.
I’ll continue blogging and sending you bits of helpful info on living a healthy, clean lifestyle, the kind that got me through not one, but two back-to-back deadly cancers. I’m alive and grateful for it and really do love sharing what I’ve learned with you!
In good health,