Sitting up, wide-awake and late one night, I did some deep thinking. I made an effort to be consciously honest with myself. What are my priorities? What do I still want to accomplish? What is my biggest fear?
Recently, I was told that I might be at the end of the line for my available targeted therapies. My doctor bluntly stated that I had “blown through them too quickly” leaving my next options to be strictly chemotherapy. My last and most recent appointment showed that my tumor markers had doubled within the month and my pain had noticeably increased. Like hardly able to walk, increased. Because of these two things, I was referred to a radiation oncologist for some “spot welding” as my doctor calls it.
Somehow, I had lucked out in my nine-year history with breast cancer and had never experienced radiation before. All I knew were the horror stories relayed by my friends of horrible skin burns, fatigue, pain and further discomfort. As with anything unknown, I was terrified. The whole thing makes no sense to me. You are flooding part of your body with radiation hoping it kills cancer cells. Doesn’t radiation cause cancer? Not to mention that they take X-rays every day prior to starting the radiation. I felt like Chernobyl walking.
Regardless, I found myself lying on what looked like a CT scan table, naked from the waist down. Oh, hi strangers, no this isn’t awkward at all. X-rays were taken, marks were drawn with sharpies, and eventually tiny tattoo dots were placed mapping the area to be struck with radiation. I was terrified to move in case they missed their target and hit my intestine or colon, the doctor having told me that they wanted to make sure not to hit those areas as that would be bad. Just that…it would be bad.
I was told I would have ten rounds, or every day for two weeks. Later, I found out that this was really nothing considering I met a woman there who was on her seventeenth week. I began to feel dumb for making such a fuss about it. However, here is where it gets cool…after the fourth day, I began to feel…better. The pain had noticeably decreased. I was overwhelmed with fatigue, but the pain had definitely lessened.
During all of this, I found myself in a very dark place. I was just sad. I have never been one to wallow in my moods, but I feel I did a fair share of wallowing over those two weeks. Maybe even the last month. So instead of letting fear set my navigational compass, I asked myself the three questions above and really listened to my answers and myself.
What are my priorities?
Obviously, my number one priority always has been and always be my son. Being the best mother I can be and leaving a lasting impression on him is my everyday goal. That being said, I also need to be better about self-care. I push myself too hard. I am so used to having to do everything myself and I resent not being able to do the things I once did, so I push to the point of breaking. I should not, nor do I want to do that to myself any more. What I once felt was lazy, is now a much needed self-care day of rest and restoration.
Continuing to work and doing well at my job remains a priority to me. Do I lose sleep over an unfinished report or that one thing I forgot to do that day? No. Not at all. My career gives me an outlet and opportunity to keep some normalcy in my life. It also affords me to live comfortably and give my son great experiences. I am proud of my work, but my life happens when I am home. I do not live to work.
My friendships are another of my great priorities. For the friends who want to be here, that is. All of us in the breast cancer community have lost friends and family members who, for whatever reason, cannot handle being present for our cancer experiences. It hurts at first until you remember to show them the door. I will not ever waste a moment of time chasing people so they are still in my life in some capacity. I would rather save my energy to have great moments with my friends and family that are still here.
What do I still want to accomplish?
I have realized that I no longer have grand quests to conquer. My accomplishments are much more narrow and close to home. For instance, I really want to re-paint my bathroom; What I was thinking with that green is beyond me now. I want to read more books. I want to travel and show my son places he will always remember having been with me. I want to grow my hair out (I think…maybe not). I want to start painting again and find that creative spirit that has been lying dormant inside me for too long.
Large-scale goals are great, but I have found that it puts too much pressure on me. I do not like having the stress of something lingering that I need to do. I want to do those little things that fill me up and give me satisfaction. I am not giving up by any means, but I am trying to let go of the control I so badly want to have on my life. I am learning to meditate and with it, to let go of things that do not fill me positively.
What is my biggest fear?
Recently, I posted a graphic on my social media pages with the admittance “my biggest fear is being forgotten”. For me, this is the core of my fears in this life. I cannot control my death, either the when or the how, and I have come to accept that. I fear death, of course, and that great unknown that all of us will eventually face. However, my biggest fear comes from the thought that someday (hopefully a long time from now) my son may forget my voice, my laugh, my smell, or how it felt when I held him. He may have that moment where he realizes he forgets something about me, and it crushes me to think of his pain.
A lot of us, myself included, feel forgotten already by our families, friends, and spouses. Feeling forgotten in life makes it so difficult to have sympathy for those you know will be sad at your passing, yet they do not attempt to be in your life now. This may be where this fear comes from or it may just be a mother’s lament. Yet, I have realized that this fear has been my motivation for the last four years. It is there in everything I do, every picture I take, and every word I write. It is my way of trying to leave something of me behind.
Feeling as if I am in a good place, I am going forward reminding myself of the things that matter most to me. I am going to travel as much as I can. I am going to paint that ugly bathroom. I will show up at work and give it my all, and then I will go home and be the best mom I can be. I will not fear what comes next in my treatment, whether I get some more mileage out of this medication after completing radiation or if I have to move on to chemotherapy. And I am going to keep taking pictures, videos, and anything else I want to document not just my life, but my and my son’s life together. Self-care starts with admitting to yourself what you really need…this is the first step in mine.
*Colin, if you are reading this, I love you more than all of the stars in the sky. My sweet boy.