It’s obvious that when I obsess about how to say something, I end up never saying it. So I’m just going to ramble right now. Just to get it out. A bunch of scary stuff happened to me in 2018, stuff that came close to killing me, and I feel like telling you about it because the scary stuff, if it doesn’t kill you, teaches you A LOT.
My father died in January. It was relatively sudden, which was kind of the way he always wanted it to be, but it wasn’t entirely peaceful. For awhile, I had flashbacks of the three days we spent in the hospital, watching him die. His brain was gone. At least we hope it was, because we didn’t want him to suffer. He was unresponsive, but his body was strong. It gave us a chance to say goodbye, but it was rough.
I work in accounting and I’m the finance person for my family, so it fell mostly to me to arrange my father’s affairs. Fortunately, my father was a consummate organizer, which made things easier, but having to manage anything while you’re grieving might be the best example of insult to injury ever. General financial concerns, medical insurance bills, changes to records involving all kinds of bureaucracy … I’m sure anyone who’s ever had to deal with the details following the death of a loved one knows whereof I speak. It might have been the most stressful thing I ever had to do.
Until, of course, I discovered I had breast cancer at the end of May. But more about that in a minute.
My husband and I decided to move in with my mother to help take care of her daily concerns in the aftermath of her losing her best friend and soulmate. I’d like to mention here that the death of a loved one and moving are often cited as the two most stressful life events. (In a first world context, of course.) So stress on top of more stress.
I could feel all of it leaking down from my brain to my heart, collecting there in a painful little ball. I tried to release it through crying, writing, meditating, breathing, exercising, talking … all the healthy stuff you do when you’re trying to deal … but I can now see there were other problems. Underlying problems with my life and personality that prevented me from effectively processing all that pressure. And all that sadness. And all that change.
Obviously, these huge events were also affecting my husband and my mother.
While all this was happening to me, my mom lost the absolute best thing in her life and had to adjust to my husband and I moving in with our cat. Later she would have to cope with her daughter having breast cancer without my dad’s physical presence and support. All of which she has done unbelievably well because she has steel in her spine and she loves us very much.
While all this was happening to me, my husband had to relive his own father’s death which had happened just the year before. He had a sciatica attack that immobilized him for three days and sent him to physical therapy for a month. Right after that he had to pack and move everything that wasn’t being handled by the moving company because my breast cancer surgery kept me from lifting anything heavier than 10 pounds. The fact that he managed to do all this while still providing me with strong, loving, good-humored support amazes me every day.
So we scheduled the move for July and just as I felt things were starting to slow down to a manageable pace, I found a lump in my breast. It was the Friday before Memorial Day weekend and I had been counting on the holiday to take a break from everything and just relax. Nope. I spent the next three days scared out of my mind.
After all the scanning and doctor consultations and biopsies it was determined that I did indeed have breast cancer, but things looked good. I had surgery the first week of July, The surgeon said she got it all and that my lymph node looked healthy, but of course I’d have to wait for the lab analysis to come back before we’d know anything for sure. So about two weeks later I was told my lymph node was clean so the cancer had not spread, but the cancer itself was a more aggressive form than the initial biopsy had shown. That meant chemotherapy on top of the radiation and hormone suppression therapy they’d been planning for me.
Chemo. Let me just say I used to think quitting smoking was the hardest thing I’d ever done. But now it’s chemo. I’m right in the middle of my treatments as I write this and won’t be done until mid-December. On the bright side, it’s pre-emptive, meant to track down any cancer cell that might have escaped the surgery, unlikely though that may be. So I am grateful that my body is not suffering any effects from cancer itself on top of the effects from the chemo. That would really be a bitch! However, I don’t want to deny how difficult chemo is. It’s really hard, particularly when you still have to work and pay bills and take care of all the regular business of living.
Which brings me to my previously mentioned underlying problems with my life and personality. Mid-way through my second chemo cycle I developed a bleeding ulcer which resulted in a week-long hospital stay, four units of someone else’s blood, and anemia which kept me weak and breathless for ten days after I was released.
My theory is that all the stress that was going into my breast tumor started leaking into my stomach after the tumor was removed. And here’s why.
I pay lip service to taking care of myself, but I don’t really do it. I pretend that I’m taking enough breaks and giving myself time to relax, but I’m not really doing either. I compulsively take responsibility for too much because I believe no one else can. I believe I have to step up, because that’s what responsible people do. And that belief is slowly killing me.
But that’s only the half of it. This desire to be responsible has caused me to deny myself the most important tool I have for living life. I am a creative person. And I am continually pushing creativity aside in order to “take care of business”. I imprison myself with tasks and lists. I think I can control the chaos with carefully constructed schedules. I don’t have time to play, or compose, or experiment. That’s just more chaos, right?
Wrong! I can’t control anything, and the more I try, the more stressed and compulsive I become.
Case in point. After the move, my commute to work increased from 10 minutes to just over an hour each way. After the ulcer I started really thinking about how and why I’m stressing so much and one of the things I realized is that I was looking at the clock about every ten minutes during my commute, calculating whether I would get to work on time, and becoming more and more anxious if I was delayed by traffic. How ridiculous! Like there was anything I could do to change how long it would take me!
And I’m doing this while recovering from surgery, living in a new place, struggling through chemo, and still coping with the death of my father. I’m worried about whether traffic will make me late. People, there are no words. Except to say that I don’t look at the clock anymore.
I have more, but I’m going to listen to my body for a change and rest!
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