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Life does not unfold in a straight line: it meanders, stops us in our tracks, surprises us, delights us, and frustrates us. Anyone who thinks he or she can control his or her life is wildly misguided. (That’s one reason why you see so many angry Leftists.) When we come to terms with the unexpected appearing in our lives is when we can appreciate the entire process as a whole.
This discovery is not new for me. I seem doomed to learn this lesson, over and over again. That’s okay; I assume that each time I learn more about riding the rapids, the better I will ride my way through them the next time. But I’m also aware that I will never fully conquer them; life (or G-d) has a mind of its own.
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So for the uninitiated, I had a single mastectomy several months ago, followed by chemotherapy. I foolishly assumed that once the chemo was finished, I would be feeling much better. Silly me. Then again, recovery from chemo has been a fascinating experience, and I have not only learned a great deal about cancer and chemotherapy, but a lot about my body and myself.
What have I learned? I have to nurture a whole new level of patience for my recovery. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Meaning I still have those toxins in my body, and I don’t think anyone knows how long it will take to be free of them. Okay, I can work with that. I have one friend who says it will take a year. I say that’s too long. You’re laughing I’ll bet, but the mind is powerful, and although I’m willing to beat my impatience into submission—I mean, develop more patience, I’m just not willing to wait that long. You’ll see.
I have tried to prioritize what’s important, what’s inconvenient, and what’s not worth my notice. For example, I am growing back hair . . . slowly. If I put my face up against my make-up mirror, I can actually see those little buggers growing, even without my glasses! It looks like it’s coming in silver—yippee! but as it grows out, it could still change. My husband runs his hands through my hair—kind of—and jokes about getting caught in the tangles. I don’t know why it makes me laugh, but it does.
And then there are my eyelashes and eyebrows—which I no longer have. Actually, I have become a master artist at drawing eyebrows on my head, but since I only have two eyelash hairs on one eye and a few more on the other, I’ve decided it’s hardly worth the effort to put mascara on, since it will look weird. I just use eyeliner.
Then there are the annoying supplements I have to take twice per day: three teaspoons of glucosamine chondroitin, which is only tolerable mixed in anything flavored. My choice of the week is raspberry/mango. Not too bad, but it will be much better when I don’t have to take it anymore. And then there are a bunch of pills I’m still taking with the drink—I’ve lost track of what they are, but I can’t wait until I’m finished taking them. Jerry and I have a ritual after lunch on Saturdays, when he fills the pill cups for the week with all the pills for me to take twice per day, and I fill the same kinds of cups with three teaspoons each for breakfast and dinner. I make quite a mess measuring it out; I think a subversive part of me wants to spill lots of it on the counter so that I’ll have less to take. That subversive part is not helping, since I still have this week and the next week to complete this ritual.
I can eat just about anything! Now that could be dangerous. I’ve lost my desire for chocolate chip cookies, but just about anything else is fair game. I’ve only lost a couple of pounds, so I can’t justify “putting weight on”; so I guess I’ll just have to be disciplined. Boooor-ing.
The physical challenges have been the most demanding. The least difficult is the peripheral neuropathy, which doesn’t seem to be improving but hasn’t gotten worse. That’s a numbness in the fingers and my toes (although it seems to be in the soles of my feet, too). When I’m barefoot—oops, don’t tell anyone I’m walking barefoot—it feels like I have sand on the bottom of my feet. Just imagine coming home from the beach and the sand is still stuck on your soles, and brushing them off doesn’t help. I try not to notice it. My feet and legs are also swelling, too; I’ve decided I should check that out with the oncology Nurse Practitioner, but I do not want to add another pill to my list. I’ll see what she says.
But the body pain was the hardest. I started exercising with a trainer a couple of weeks after I finished chemo, and that was grueling. Even though we started out moderately, my body simply ached. My quads and hamstrings would not relax. Finally, I figured out a regimen of one Advil per day, a cream with emu oil three times per day (no laughing, now), epsom salts bath once per week, and stretching throughout the day, since I sit at the computer a good part of the day. On Friday I took my last Advil and emu cream. And although I still have some stiffness, I’m doing much better. I don’t know if the pain was due to lack of using my muscles or something left over from the chemo, but I am so much better! I walk three mornings for 30 minutes, work out at the gym three days for an hour (one of those days with the trainer), and I feel like a new woman!
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The most important lesson I have learned from this whole process is not only that most things are beyond my control, but that life is continually changing; that I rarely know what will appear around any corner, but hope that I will have the presence of mind (after initial concerns) to face it with openness and possibility; that I will have moments of disappointment, frustration and fear, but that I have the stored resilience to work through whatever arises. Especially with the counsel of a loving husband.
So I’ve turned one corner. I’m curious to know what’s around the next one.