Many people with cancer (notice how I don’t say cancer patients as I just can’t bear the thought of calling myself a patient) live “one day at a time” just like what they say in AA. I am starting to grasp at a deeper level the meaning of this saying. However, for me the idea of living “one week at a time” seems more palatable. I feel like ever since I started chemo, 5 weeks ago, I have been living a double life. My life has been ruled by my chemo schedule, with chemo being every other Monday. So far, I have had one “not so good” (my Mr. Hyde week) week followed by a “good” week a.k.a my Dr. Jekyll week. On my Mr. Hyde’s weeks, I trade my yoga bag for my chemo bag which includes a warm blanket, a bottle of Smart Water, snacks, magazines, my laptop, and mints. My night stand gets filled with antinausea medications, tylenol, a thermometer, lip balm, tums, Sprite, ginger melts, and light snacks. When I turn the corner, I have to (it’s a psychological thing) clear my night stand of all this chemo paraphernalia. It is such a nice feeling to take all these pills away and leave a clean night stand for a week, just like it was before diagnosis. Then I get my healthy paraphernalia out, my juicing machine, the supplements for my immune system, my meditation tapes, and I start riding my bike around the neighborhood. It feels like a little bit of freedom.
On the “not so good” weeks, I spend a lot of time in bed, especially after my infusion. I must sleep almost 24 hours straight, battling fevers and back pain while trying to stay hydrated and on top of nausea with the medications. That’s what I refer to as “my cave”, that’s the dark side of cancer. Although I have an army of supporters, this part of the battle I have to fight on my own and this can be a lonely place to find yourself in. When I am in my cave I am completely “knocked out”, checked-out from the rest of world, I can’t even look at my phone (which is a really big deal for me!), I can’t watch tv or listen to music, can’t talk to anyone, I am just there fighting to get better, fighting for my life. This is where my meditations come in handy. I visualize the tumors shrinking and disintegrating. This is also when I start having conversations with my chemo, and telling it how it needs to kill those cancer cells but how it needs to work with my healthy cells and not kill those at the same time. I tell my chemo how we need to be a team as we have the same goal to rid my body of this cancer but if it knocks me out too hard then I can’t help and we need to combine our strength to win. Then I talk to the cancer cells, telling them how unwelcome they are and how they need to listen to what chemo is telling them “die cancer cells, die”. I replay the words that one of my friends said to me when I was first diagnosed “it chose the wrong body” and this what I am repeating to this cancer, over and over and over.
I usually start feeling better by Thursday and by then I feel like I have wasted a whole week away. I used to do so much in a day and be so busy all the time. It is really weird not to have much to do during the day “except to heal”. I keep telling everyone that it is tiring to not be doing anything! The less you do the more tired you feel, this is why my motto has always been “the more you do, the more you can do”.
While I was trying to take a mindful bike ride around the neighborhood, focusing on the warm sun penetrating my skin, the wonderful jasmine smells and the feeling of my legs pushing on the pedals, I started feeling sorry for myself. I started thinking about what my life has become. Just looking at my Title 9 magazine the other day was depressing me, looking at the “happy busy moms” modeling for one of my favorite brand of clothes, I started to wonder how do they get to keep their health, their beautiful hair, and have a radiant smile on their face? how can they be so carefree? I am thinking in the back of my mind “you know you may have cancer and not know it” – I know pretty pathetic hey? I was robbed of my carefreeness, this idea that I was invincible, that I could do anything anytime, that I could plan fun weekend getaways and trips with my family without looking at my chemo calendar, that I didn’t have to worry whether or not Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas would fall on a chemo week. I was robbed of my vision of a carefree happy future with my husband, when we would start doing all the things we don’t have time to do because we are always too busy raising our boys. I was robbed of my vision of being there forever for my boys, cheering them at their graduations, being at the table of honor at their weddings, and holding their babies. The more alone time I have, the more I realize the power of our thoughts and I am understanding more how people can easily start spiraling down when they start listening to their negative depressing thoughts. I guess this is something cancer is teaching me now on an experiential level, it won’t just be a concept I learned in my books. I am now living it and I guess it will make me a more compassionate person in general, as a wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, and therapist. Walk a mile in my shoes is starting to take a whole new different meaning.
I am finding that one of my best tools these days is living week by week and focusing on my Dr. Jekyll weeks. This really helps me get through my “not so good week”. Everyday that I feel miserable, I remind myself that it is temporary, that I will soon crawl out of my cave, and with each and everyday I will feel better and stronger. I look forward to the days when I can pick my boys up from school, go to their baseball games, ride my bike, see my friends, go to yoga and get back into somewhat of our old routine… One week at a time…
This week boys, I am picking you up from school and can’t wait to give you a big squeeze as you run out of your classrooms!