The thing about cancer (and other hard things) is surviving one moment at a time

I’ll be honest and confess that I’ve been struggling with how to share what recovery has been like for me.

I want desperately to be a beacon of positivity, and I’d say that for the most part, I’ve been successful in keeping a good attitude. But it has been very hard, too, and I don’t want to put on a facade and make it seem like things are okay 100% of the time. In reality, I’m learning to live minute to minute and ride whatever emotional wave I’m experiencing in that moment.

Sometimes you have to laugh at what’s going on – for example the other day I started craving Annie’s Homegrown gummy bunnies and ended up falling on the kitchen floor and not being able to get up. I started laughing so hard I cried, as Bear attempted to lift me up by my butt. I also got so scared by the air conditioning vent falling out of the window that I went into hysterics again and couldn’t stop laughing while my mom and Bear looked at me like I was bonkers. And, this morning I somehow ended up in the ridiculous situation of wearing a black plastic bag and sitting on a folding chair in the shower while Bear heroically washed my hair.

But the truth is, this is hard.

I’m afraid of chemo and radiation. I’m scared this isn’t the hardest part of this “journey.” I’m afraid of metastasis and I’m afraid of death. I find it easy to go down a rabbit hole of anxiety and not as easy to climb my way out of it.

And on top of the emotional stuff, I was not prepared physically for what a double mastectomy would actually be like. I’ve never had major surgery, and I kept hearing “you’re young, it won’t be that bad.”

Here are some things I expected:

  • I used to have major migraines, and when you take migraine medication, the pain goes away. I expected taking a bunch of opioids would make my pain go away.
  • I thought every day would get easier. I expected that as you heal, the pain is a bit less every day and before you know it, things are okay.
  • I expected to be able to do some things by myself. Like lift my own water bottle, or pull up my own pants.
  • I expected that after a week or so, I’d be regaining my strength by going on long walks with my friends.

Unfortunately, none of this was true.

The truth is, recovery is not as simple as “every day gets a little better.” Some days are a lot better than the day before, and because of that, I maybe do a little too much. And the next day I pay for it with muscle spasms, stabbing pains where my breasts used to be, and exhaustion.

This was very frustrating and deflating for me, until Bear sat down and explained recovery to me.

He explained that when you injure yourself, you have to work every day on small exercises to heal. And the next day, it hurts worse for awhile because you worked your injury the day before. And that while things do improve every day, they still start off hard. And if you overdo it, the next day you’ll feel it. Your body will be stiff, and you have to work your way through the pain all over again. This is all normal.

Learning that was such a relief.

He also suggested that the key to not getting overwhelmed is to set small, attainable goals every day. Some days my goals are things like, “respond to three emails.” Other days, they are, “watch two episodes of Game of Thrones and take a nap.” Today it was, “survive the first migraine I’ve had in seven years.”

In an attempt to avoid the rabbit hole of worrying about the future too much, I decided to make “keep the faith” my #1 goal every day.

Keeping faith in the face of something life threatening is extremely hard. Through my divorce, my faith was strong, because I know that I am strong. No matter what crap I had to deal with on a daily basis, I knew I’d get through it. But cancer is different, because it doesn’t give a crap how strong you are. It kills strong people every day. During my migraine this morning, I cried for my friend Brandi and my aunt Lois, two strong women who lost their lives to breast cancer far too young. Not identifying with them, especially when faced with a positive lymph node, is proving very difficult. When I finished crying for them, and for myself, I decided that I needed a positive mantra to focus on any time I start to spiral out of control. This is how I’m going to stay positive.

The mantra is:

When I was 35, I kicked the shit out of cancer, and it never came back.

Surviving the good or okay moments is a piece of cake. But during any hard time, whether it be recovery from addiction or illness or divorce, there are hard moments. And in those moments, it’s about surviving just that moment.

This is what I’ve decided to say to myself in the moments that aren’t good.

I’ll let you know if it works.

2 thoughts on “The thing about cancer (and other hard things) is surviving one moment at a time

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