I reached out to a small group of friends online a few days ago and wrote:
In the things that continue to surprise me file, there’s this: the exhaustion. It’s overwhelming at times. Today I did about an hour at the gym — nothing too strenuous — then headed out to run some errands. Admittedly, one of those errands was a stop to try to find some actual pants that I can tolerate wearing — preferably something that doesn’t have an elastic waist. (I would kill to feel comfortable in a pair of jeans.) I got home around 1:00 and my entire body aches. Moving in any direction is a huge effort. But I have to move, I have to keep going, right? Hopefully one day soon, I’ll get my stamina back. I guess it really wasn’t that long ago that I was shuffling around the house in my pjs and slippers. I’m just blown away by how little it takes to knock me out.
I think because I mostly look recovered — unless I’m standing naked in front of the mirror — it’s easy to push aside the lingering physical and emotional pieces. I feel pressure (most of it imagined, I’m sure) to just move on, to do the things I used to do, to be “okay” for those who love me and care about me. I don’t want to be the girl who complains, the one who always has some ache or pain to share.
When people ask how I’m doing, I’m tempted to duck the question, talk about anything but the real truth: The physical and psychological toll of cancer is steep.
One of my wise and enlightened friends wrote this:
Remind your brain that the only priority at this time is radical self care. Then go take a nap. I’m serious. I feel like we ALL need to learn to rethink what our brains tell us. You did beat cancer! But it’s a fucking emotional marathon and that means you need to take care of yourself. That’s it. Find a phrase to pop in whenever the negative self-talk starts and rework your narrative. And talk to yourself like you are an amazing, beloved friend.
I know I have a long way to go. Despite the fact that I have brand new breasts (yay!!!), I still struggle with my body image. I wrote about wanting new clothes, but the biggest stumbling block is me. I don’t like the way I look, the way my body moves (if it helps to clarify things, I didn’t like my pre-surgery body very much, either). My arms are jiggly and weak. My core is no longer strong. My legs feel wobbly. I am not schooled in the practice of being kind to myself.
And then there’s the guilt, that negative voice in my head. I am ashamed to admit that any of this bothers me because the fact is: I’m alive. I won the cancer lottery. No chemo, no radiation. What right do I have to express any of this, to talk about a negative self-image, lingering fatigue, emotional stress — I. Am. Alive.
Cancer really messes up your head. To swing so rapidly and so violently from Am I going to die? to That’s it? It’s over? How do you cope with that?
My guess is you just do. You suck it up and you get on with your life. You do whatever it takes to silence that negative voice. You look for ways to find comfort in small everyday blessings. You surround yourself with family and friends, you focus on them — not you. And you write it out. Because putting the words here takes away their power over you.
And when people ask how you are doing, you resist the temptation to mumble and change the subject. You say what you don’t always feel. You will yourself to be the person you imagine you can be. Because saying you’re okay over and over again, might just make it true.