It is funny how sometimes when you are forced (or force yourself) to do something difficult, it becomes easier.
I have to study for an upcoming professional exam. I don’t mind studying, I actually have always enjoyed it. But, since cancer my body is not the same. Things that were once quite easy can sometimes be very difficult. One of those things is sitting in the same position for a long time . . . something you kind of need to be able to do to study (at least I need to do it that way). Well, I started studying in short time frames and built up to longer time frames and now, while I can’t say I am back to my normal study stamina, I am definitely in a far better position than I was even just a few weeks ago.
So, I have been forcing myself to sit and study for as long as I can without taking a break. Then, when I absolutely have to, I take a break and return to it. My body hurts, my legs and arms go numb and it is uncomfortable and irritating. But, it is what it is. AND, I am quite happy to report that what I can do today is vastly more than what I could accomplish even just a few weeks ago. It really has in its own way (my studying) been a type of physical therapy.
I can only imagine how much better I will be after a few more weeks and then a few more weeks and so on.
The most challenging thing for me post cancer has been the feeling of losing my old self. I don’t mean losing my breasts and having my old breasts replaced with scarred up “reconstructed” breasts. Nope. I chose a bilateral mastectomy. I had cancer in one breast and chose to have both breasts removed. That choice made me feel empowered, not depressed, strong, not weak . . . and in some small way in control.
My point is that I am not so bothered by the scars on my body. It is the physical limitations (pain, exhaustion, lack of energy) that bother me the most. And it is those things that make me feel less like myself. (And, a little pissed).
Nowadays, post cancer, I often find myself having to choose which things to do in a given day, a given week, etc. simply because I don’t have enough energy or pain free time to do what I normally would do. And, I have found that very frustrating.
For example, recently I spent the day with friends on Catalina Island. It was a wonderful day. The weather was perfect and the company even better. But, knowing that I had this day trip planned meant to me that I had to figure out how much I could or could not do the preceding day and week because if I did too much, I would then be too tired for Catalina. It is like having a bank account without enough funds to meet your expenditures. I am in the red physically.
So it goes . . . my post cancer existence. And just so I am clear – I don’t mean not partying until 2:00 am the night before (that isn’t really my thing anyway). I mean not “over-extending myself” the day before – which can simply mean – letting the laundry go another day, and simply taking it really easy. On this occasion, it meant turning down a last minute dinner invitation. I couldn’t just say, “hey, I would love to come, but, I have a big day tomorrow and doing both will be too much for me” . . . or . . . could I? Instead I said, “I would love to, but, I already have plans” (yeah, plans to lie in bed for the rest of the night . . . argh).
It is a balancing act and I am getting better at it . . . better at knowing my limits and better at pushing my limits too.
This studying has been a wonderful thing because it has definitely improved my physical stamina for concentrated work (something that makes me very, very happy).
Prior to cancer I was working on a new book. I had to drop work on it during chemo because my brain was, well, fried. And looking back now on some of the blog posts I wrote during those days, I am certain that it was a wise choice to postpone finishing the book (chemobrain is real, at least it was for me).
But, after the past several weeks of studying, I know that now I could sit down and write for hours in a day. And that, my friends, is a huge, huge deal because it means that I am that much closer to getting my life back.
I know I will still have to make choices between which things I can do in a given day or week. But, the feeling I have had of being sidetracked by this disease is beginning to fade. I am dismissing it every day that I force myself to sit through the discomfort and study. It is a good feeling. Oh, and a day trip to Catalina Island with great friends is a pretty good way to leave some of the leftover pains from cancer behind me too.