Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Healing Experiment

My New Year's resolutions tend to be a bit generic like "don't die" and "try not to kill others," but this year is a little different.

I say on a pretty regular basis that I want my health back, and it's coming along, but very slowly.  Sure I ran a 5k in October, but aside from the training for that, I'm still mushy and not to thrilled with my chemo recovery progress.  I admit that it's likely my expectations are too high, but I wanted a healthy, strong, awesome new me and I'm just not there yet.  My immunity still sucks and I get every passing cold, fever, and flu.  My liver went bonkers for a few months, but x-rays, CT scans and hida scans showed no problems other than the pain I was in.  I'm depressed and tired all the damn time, even though I'm taking depression/anti-anxiety meds and sleeping as much as possible.  And of course, allergies and asthma are kicking my ass.

So I've decided to reboot.  Start over nutritionally and really give my body what it needs to heal instead of scarfing down a piece of tiramisu after a few slices of pizza.  Yeah, that happened.

I'm starting the Whole30 this week with my coworker, Sabrina, which means I'm eliminating damn near everything from my diet for 30 days, then slowly reintroducing things to see what's making me feel like shit, if anything.  This includes sugar, soda, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, and dairy.

For starters, I KNOW I'm allergic to dairy, but I haven't removed it from my diet in many years, so I'm interested to see if removing it will help my allergy issues.  I've never removed grains from my diet so I'm a little nervous about that.  Also, removing dairy AND soy means no coffee or tea because I don't like them black.  We could be in for very rocky times, friends.

I'm excited about this little science experiment though.  It's something I've been wanting to do since I found out I had cancer, and I finally feel strong enough.  If you're tempted to join me, read this blog post about why you should go ahead and do it!

P.S. Did I tell you that I'm writing a book?  Cause I totally am.  :D

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How I Stay Afloat

I've been struggling a lot since my last post, what with procedure and diagnosis anniversaries all up in my face. I've had to resort to pulling all my coping mechanisms on board as literal life preservers just to stay afloat (yay, metaphors).  Last week I had a mini-meltdown and ended up on the couch in an Ativan induced sleep coma instead of at BodyPump, which probably would have made me feel better, but I couldn't handle the possibility of losing it in front of a crowd.

Since then, I've had some time to really think and look around me for the things I use to keep me from losing it.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.  Sometimes I just need one thing, sometimes I need all of them in the same hour.

Over the last year a lot of people have told me how strong I am, how they could never go through this the way I have, but I don't believe that. When you're knee deep in a pile of shit, you deal with it the best way you can. You get through it. You might make progress one day and be flat on your face the next, but you still move forward. The only way out is through.

So I've compiled a list of my coping mechanisms that help me get through my day, week, or just moment by moment because my brain is a terrible place sometimes.

  1. Anxiety meds.  I've tried stepping back from the daily meds, but I've finally just admitted that I need them right now and that's ok.
  2. Emergency anxiety meds. Sometimes I need these too.  See meltdown above.
  3. Hugs.  Hugging is the best. Just feeling a connection to someone else can often get me out of my head enough to break the cycle.
  4. Shopping.  Sad but true.
  5. Breathing.  Deep breaths help me calm down and focus.
  6. Guided meditation.  For when I really can't get out of my head.  Having someone to lead my thoughts to a pretty place kinda rocks.
  7. Affirmation meditations.  My self-esteem took a real thrashing.  I really had to hit bottom before I could build myself back up and I had to see the ugly side of a lot of people before I realized that it wasn't about me.  This has helped a lot.
  8. Espresso Chip ice cream.  It is delicious.
  9. Yoga.  Occasionally, but not as often as I'd like.
  10. Running.  When it doesn't hurt, it's awesome.
  11. Therapy. Part of the meltdown involved knowing that I needed help, reaching out, and getting frustrated by lack of help I received in return. I finally got in touch with someone who guided me to a good therapist that's weird like me, close to work, and takes my insurance. Win.
  12. Reading.  I recommend tinybuddha and The Happiness Trap for help in changing your perspective and dealing with difficult feelings. Yay, feelings.
  13. Beautiful days.
  14. Talking to friends. Even if it's just a quick 'hey, I miss your face' or sharing some silliness.
  15. Being crafty.  Even if it's frustrating, just being in the moment while creating something is enough to engage me so that I forget about whatever's going on in my head.
  16. Focusing on what I'm experiencing right now, in this moment.  Whether it's examining a rain drop on my windshield or just making an effort to feel 5 things touching me right now.
  17. Focusing only on myself. Some days I just don't have the energy to invest in other people, not even online. It doesn't mean I don't care anymore, but I only have enough brain power for me and whatever I'm dealing with at the moment.
  18. Letting go.  Not taking things too seriously.  Looking for the good instead of focusing on the bad.
  19. Doing things outside my comfort zone by myself (which is also outside my comfort zone).  Like checking out a brand new coffee shop and just hanging out there alone, or going to an event filled with people I've never met. It freaks me out for a few minutes, but I know it's good for me.
  20. Embracing the things I enjoy.  They make me me and no else can be me. I kinda like that.

That seems to cover it for now. Wow, that's a lot of things. I hope they're helpful if anyone else needs a little pick-me-up.

(also. fuck you, cancer. 1 year from diagnosis and i'm still better than you, bitch.)

Monday, August 27, 2012

That Tenuous Thread

It might be time to touch on a topic most people don't want to discuss:  suicide.  If this topic is going to bother you, best exit post haste.

When you're diagnosed with cancer or any other potentially terminal illness, your whole world does a 180 and everything you thought you knew about yourself and your life is challenged from every possible angle.  It is extremely stressful and heartbreaking, even on the 'good' days.  Even when you're laughing and making jokes at your own expense.  There's a lot of anguish and pain underneath.

It's been a little more than a year since I found my lump and almost a year to my diagnosis and I still struggle with the horror of it all on a daily basis, even though my life was never really in (that much) danger.  I still cry on a regular basis. I'm still going through the grieving process in various ways and struggling to feel somewhat like myself again.  I'm still struggling to accept what I've been through and that I'll never be the same again. I'm probably clinically depressed and suffering from PTSD.  That's all just part of it.

I think suicidal thoughts are also pretty common, even if you're going to live.  I went through about a month-long period during chemo when that was all I thought about all day.  I just wanted it all to end because it was pretty damn painful both physically and emotionally and all I could think to do to end it was, well, to end it.  It's especially hard if you're an atheist.  You don't have anyone to point the finger at and nothing to look forward to afterwards.  No one to 'forgive' you when you're an asshole and no one to 'forgive' for this thing happening to you.  You can't find a reason for it all, because there isn't one, and suddenly everything feels very, very meaningless and pointless.  Even the things and the people you enjoy.  It's a daily struggle just to be alive.

While that's a tragedy in its own right, the bigger tragedy to me is that we all don't realize what a difference we make in each others' lives every day until we're faced with our own mortality.  If I wasn't made aware on a pretty regular basis that there are people in the world who love me and whose lives I matter in, I think one day the voices that tell me otherwise would win out. Yes, even after all I've been through and even after I've 'made it'.

So if you're reading this, thank you.  You've had a hand in keeping one person (somewhat) sane and alive today.  Tell the people you love that you love them and that they matter to you right now.  They need to hear it more than you know.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Don't Call it a Comeback

I started exercising again a few weeks ago in an effort to get my health back and to lose the 15-20 extra pounds chemo added.  That's the ultimate insult in the end.  You think you'll lose 20 on chemo, but no. Unless it makes you unable to eat, but that's not really common for young women.  Instead, it nukes your reproductive system and hormones, which throws you into early menopause (some call it chemopause), and this plus any stress/comfort eating and no energy for exercise means your favorite jeans don't fit anymore.

Well mine do again.  Take that, chemo bitch.

I'm doing Body Pump once a week (hopefully twice a week soon), and running twice a week in preparation for a 5k in October (p.s. happy birthday to me, and go fuck yourself cancer).  My initial thought was that I just wanted to be able to run/walk the whole way and finish, all the while telling cancer to stick it up its ass.  Now though, I want to go faster and faster.  I'm not sure it will be a 'fun run' if I leave my team behind, so we'll have to see what that day looks like.  Right now I want to run like cancer's right on my ass.  I'm crossing that finish line first, mofo.  After the 5k, I intend to keep going and working up to longer distances.

There's been a fundamental shift in my approach to exercise in the last few months.  Before cancer, I would set a goal for myself and stop as soon as I reached it.  Or if I didn't reach it for some reason, I'd give up entirely because "omg I can't reach that goal, so fuck it, where's my ice cream?".  Without a goal, I was nothing, even though I really enjoy exercise. Now the goal is more holistic in that I simply have to get my health back.  I'd give anything to take running up a flight of stairs for granted again.  Or running more than 30 seconds at a time - thank the unicorns for walk intervals!

So those are my new goals.  Being comfortable in my body again.  Being healthy enough for stairs and jogging. All other goals are fluid and arbitrary.  If I don't get what I want from the 5k?  I'll just run another one.  It's all just a matter of telling my brain to shut up when it wants to hit snooze again, get up, and get out there.  I'm always happier after I exercise and that's what I focus on.

Reading The Happiness Trap has certainly helped a lot with the mental process.  I've come to understand that my brain is ALWAYS going to say 'but the bed is so warm, go back to sleep' and it will likely never say 'LET'S GO RUN' at 5:30 a.m.  But I have to do it anyway, no matter what my head tells me.

I'm taking my life back.  Staying comfortable is not going to get me where I want to be.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Comfort in the Discomfort

Another thing I'm learning is to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I don't mean that in the "you should be ok with someone being creepy" kind of way, I mean that you have to be ok with uncomfortable feelings and situations in order to process and get past them.  Being afraid and acting anyway is where growth lies.  Accepting discomfort is the first step toward making real and lasting change.  If you run from or deny those feelings, they just keep chasing you until you deal with them or push them so far away that you don't deal at all.  Dealing is much faster and easier on you in the long run.  Making peace with discomfort and accepting that those feelings, situations, and events are part of life is the way forward.  Struggling with these things just gets you deeper into the quicksand.  Instead accept that you're uncomfortable in some way, acknowledge the presence of discomfort and know that it's ok.  Discomfort is normal. Like all things good and bad, this too shall pass. Staying in your comfort zone is the quick way to a boring and disappointed life.

If you wait around for the perfect circumstances to move forward in life or to deal with discomfort, you'll be waiting forever.  There's no "perfect", whether it's doing the right thing, or something you've always wanted to do, or for someone or something to change.  If you need the perfect circumstances for things to be "right", it's already not "right" out of the gate.

Accept where you are and base your decisions on that reality.  Then get off your ass and go get what you want.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Save yourself, princess.

This is not an exhaustive list of things I've learned during this experience, but just a few things I needed to get out there for now so they'd stop driving me nuts.
  1.  You have to actively create your own happiness.  No one else can do it for you, nor should you want them to.  Love yourself wholly and completely.  No one else can do that for you either.
  2. Life is too short for bullshit and pettiness.  I no longer tolerate petty people in my life, though I didn't have much room for them to begin with.
  3. It's entirely too easy to take our bodies for granted until they don't work for you anymore.  Eat good food.  Get some exercise.  Your body will make you pay one way or the other if you don't.
  4. That said, there isn't much you can actually do to prevent cancer, aside from not smoking.
  5. Take responsibility for your own thoughts and behaviors.  It's easy to blame yourself for what other people do and the ways they do or don't treat you, but those things are a reflection of them, not you.
  6. You can't control what other people think, feel, say or do.  But you can decide who you want to be in any given situation and act accordingly.
  7. You only have to answer to yourself at the end of the day.  No one else's judgment, perception, assumptions or demands matter unless you decide they do.
  8. Don't do anything you don't really want to do out of fear, obligation, or guilt.
  9. Whatever you believe about yourself you'll make true, so you may as well believe some awesome shit. You don't have to feel confident first in order to act in confidence.
  10. And the most important thing:  No one can save you once cancer happens to you (or from anything else, really). No one can do it for you. No one can take it away. No one is coming to rescue you.  Save yourself, princess.

Friday, May 11, 2012

New Normal

It’s amazing how much things change: your body, your opinion of yourself (for better and worse), your relationships with other people (again, for better and worse), your goals and purpose in life, your wants and needs, hell even your brain chemistry.  I often wake up and wonder “how the hell did I get here from there?”.

I was thinking last night about the day I got my diagnosis and how horrible and awful that whole day was, yet that was my last day as 'normal'.  I remember crying on the phone with the pathologist.  I remember crying when I told my boss and how he hugged and told me it was all going to be ok.  I remember making Nate come pick me up and how I couldn’t even get the words out to tell him why.  He knew anyway.  I remember calling my mom to tell her and thinking that I couldn’t possibly text “I have cancer” to her because that would just be a horrible way to tell anyone about it.  I remember how unreal it all felt and how much I cried and couldn’t believe this was happening. I remember thinking that I knew the severity of my diagnosis, when the reality was that it would take several months and many doctor trips before I really knew.

I often wonder when things will get back to “normal”.  When will I be normal again?  When will I think about myself as normal? When will I settle in to the reality that I face now?

The truth is that THIS is the new normal. That yes, the cancer could come back. That yes, I’ll have to take a chemo drug every day for the next five years.  That yes, I have scars and I dislike a part of myself that I used to really love.  That yes, the last 7 months have taken 10 years off my life. That yes, my odds of survival for another 20 years is only 50/50.  But isn’t anyone’s odds only 50/50 every day?  Anything could happen and we can’t know the future.  We have to get comfortable with the present and be ok with the unknown, because nothing is certain. You could get cancer tomorrow. You could step off a curb and be hit by a car. Or, you could have the most amazing day of your life.

This is how you can be terrified and care-free all at once.  I’m scared of the things that could happen, but I’m not going to let it stop me from living an awesome life as often as possible.  I won’t let it stop me from enjoying the sunshine on a beautiful day or picking a gardenia for a sweet friend. That’s who I am.  Cancer can’t take that away from me.  It’s taken so much and changed me in so many ways, but it can’t have who I am.  So I’m getting comfortable with accepting what is now the new normal.  New boundaries are erected and a new list of things I will not accept are in place.  But there’s also a new openness to things I would have never thought possible before.  

I’m grateful for every bit of it.