"Is there life after 18 months of chemotherapy?"
I finished my last treatment in
January (2004). By then, I was sleeping 80% of the time. I had been
that tired since the previous August (2003) when the drugs had
finally accumulated in my system and sapped my strength. I was so
depleted by this point that I had to change my attitude about my
exhaustion, from frustration to acceptance. I simply began to
luxuriate in perfecting my technique for the "purrrfect"
nap. My four cats where very pleased to teach me all they knew! This
satisfied my need to strive for accomplishment while I temporarily
abandoned any longer term goals.
I released myself from the pressure
of trying to function "normally" and I just did as much as
I could around my frequent naps, both scheduled and spontaneous.
When I was too tired to drive, I didn't… I literally couldn't.
When I was too tired to answer the phone, grocery shop, clean off my
desk or whatever…I didn't. I allowed myself the luxury of
procrastination. I swallowed my pride and independent spirit and
began asking for rides and assistance of many kinds. I also adjusted
to "not getting EVERYTHING done". Everyday I looked at my
list and set out to accomplish only what was ESSENTIAL for that day.
Since my treatments ended I have
been gradually coming back to life and re-gaining my strength. I am
in my own interior design business and I had greatly decreased my
client load from what it had been prior to my first surgery in June
2002. This created some financial stress and even greater concern
that I might not have a client base or career to return to. I had
literally dropped off the planet to many of my vendors, who knew me,
but not well enough to be in the "life threatening disease
information loop". I wasn't at all sure how to begin again.
I cautiously started a volunteer
project as an experiment to gain trust in my health, my brain and
myself again. From the start everyone involved assumed that my
fashionable headwear, hiding my baldhead, was an eccentric example
of my creative personality. I let them believe that.
As I began the project I had to
pace myself, in order to be confident that my brain was keeping
track of everything. I had to organize myself for every day first
thing in the morning rather than the night before, as had always
been my practice. I could not trust my memory for 8 hours ahead. I
needed to keep my schedule to 3-hour time blocks so I could nap in
between. I even carried an alarm clock in the car so I could rest
between appointments or when overcome with exhaustion.
By month three I began to walk for
exercise regularly. It was hard and a little painful to start, but
now in month five I try to exercise in some way 5 days a week.
Sometimes I have to push myself, but I can see that when I do, I am
much clearer minded and have much more stamina for the day. With
exercise, many days I can do a full 8-plus hours with only a catnap
It has finally become time to begin
to lose some of the 50 pounds I have gained during the process due
to the drugs and the lethargy. It didn't help that while going
through chemo the only flavor that didn't taste "off" to
me was…. CHOCOLATE. I am living proof that you can survive on a
diet of chocolate three meals a day, with milk of course. Having
consulted a nutritionist, I am now following a diet of healthful
At month five, post chemo, I have a
pretty cute head of hair. Yes, thicker and curlier as everyone told
me it would be. It is just like the "pixie" cut I sported
when I was 8-years old. I have some "salt and pepper"
mixed in with a color that is new to me, not the brown/blonde I had
always been. I intend to keep my hair short as I have gotten used to
not having to do anything but "wash my head and go" for
almost two years.
Now, I am also beginning to work on
the emotional issues. I have been so involved over the past 2 years
in surviving the process that I have not taken the time to feel. Or
grieve for my lost female organs, my appendix (what did it ever do
for me anyway?) and all that lost time from my life and my
livelihood. I mistakenly expected to spring back to life, like
turning the light switch back on. It has become clear that it will
take some time. My oncologist says it could take up to a year to
have all my energy back. I don't actually remember what that feels
As I transcend from "just
getting through it" and enter the rest of my life what can I
expect? Can I trust my body? How far ahead can I plan? These are the
questions that consume me.
There are a lot of weeds in my
garden… but there are flowers there too…