“Moving on” from my cancer diagnosis and getting back to the business of living has proven much more difficult than I anticipated. Silly me. I should have guessed as much, but I was naive. I didn’t see the mountain up ahead, my biggest challenge: Learning how to function inside a body with so many limits.
See, by old Denise standards, I feel bad. Stay in bed bad. Still the same bad that was bad enough to send me to the emergency room in December, and trust me, I’m the last person who voluntarily goes to emergency rooms. I’m exhausted. Standing for too long makes me dizzy. Walking for too long, sometimes as little as twenty feet, means I need to sit down for a minute. Not always, but often enough that I’m afraid to do once-routine tasks like grocery shopping. I wonder if I’m in distress when I’m out, if anyone will help me. My disability is invisible, after all. I look like most other 42-year-old women.
Then there’s the nausea. I always have this low-level sensation like I might barf maybe, just maybe? Not quite, but any second now. It’s always there, in the background. Then there is the daily struggle with food. Two months ago, I was eating salads and eschewing the buffet of modern American cuisine in the interest of good health, all the while craving and craving and craving. I could have and would have eaten anything. Now, I’m joylessly force-feeding myself whatever will stay down. Food doesn’t taste or sound good, and every day is a struggle to eat, to force in enough calories to stay alive. (Then keep them down.) The cancer has also given me anemia, which means I’m constantly cold, shivering, even under my electric blanket.
And yet, to survive, the doctors say I’m supposed to exercise. I need to eat food to stop the rapid weight loss before that in itself kills me. I need to move. These pills all feel too huge to swallow, and yet I have to somehow.
Someone, please tell me how.
I am lost in the dark, trapped in a body that has betrayed me, lacking the skills to live with pain and exhaustion and illness that won’t ever go away. I was healthy before this, and I didn’t know how free that made me. But my good health didn’t leave me with the skills to cope with this. Rest and popping vitamin C for a week isn’t going to fix it this time. I must accept that feeling bad has become the new feeling good. As far as cancer goes, these are the good days. I know this, but it’s hard to accept this.
It’s tempting to just lie in bed and pull the covers back up over my head and go back to sleep, but that is the straighter road to death. I have homework to do. I have to figure out how to get up every day and face it. I have to learn how to have a worthwhile life, even though I feel physically ill. I have to learn how to manage the symptoms enough to have a life worth waking up for.
I admit I do not know how to do this. But I am trying. Because I’m selfish. I want to create. I want to write books and to be with my children and friends, and not just as the sickly lady darkening the sofa again. I want to once again be the fun person who goes places and the mom who can make plans with her children and actually take them places.
Maybe I want too much. Sure I do, because time is short.