A story of remission
It’s been a while since I blogged, so this will be a long one.
I made it through my first year of CAT scans and blood work without any major signs of the cancer returning. Unfortunately, CAT scans and blood work don’t necessarily show cancer, they only act as markers to watch for major signs. So while it’s definitely a WIN, it’s not as comforting as getting the all-clear after a colonoscopy. My next (yearly) colonoscopy is scheduled for September, and I anticipate that I will still have pre-cancerous polyps that need to be removed. At this point, I’m very happy that the cancer hasn’t come back aggressively enough to show up on a CAT scan, but I’m still anxious to get my colonoscopy over with and hear them say they’ve removed all the polyps before they’ve had a chance to grow in to anything worth worrying about. Last year, my colonoscopy followed a year of surgery and chemo. This year will be a full year of no treatment, so I’m interested to see if they grow any faster or slower when there isn’t chemotherapy attacking my body. I’m hoping for the best, and even if my body is still producing these polyps, just knowing I can make it a year without having to worry about how fast they grow will make my mind that much more relaxed.
Therapy has been helpful. We’ve talked about the mind and the body, and how they aren’t always in sync. During cancer treatment, I found I was more upbeat about the whole experience. Even though my body was struggling and in pain, my mind was often optimistic that the end result would be good. And then, when the end of treatment came, and I got the best news I could hope for, my body took a lot longer to catch up. I’ve been happy that my treatment came to an end, and I’ve been pleased with the results, but somehow many months later I found myself having mini panic attacks and struggles with anxiety. Struggles that I would have expected to face DURING treatment, not well after it ended. My therapist described this as my body still living in fight-or-flight mode. Even though my mind logically knows things are going well, my body hasn’t caught up with the facts. It still remembers the pain and the fight like it was yesterday, and it still expects a fight. Sometimes it even feels like it’s craving the fight. Even the smallest fears seem to easily escalate into a heart-thumping, full-blown episode of panic.
Now, more than ever, it’s been important to give my body a chance to heal by introducing a very minimal level of stress. I know that stress is inevitable in life. No matter how much my mind tells me to jump back into life, I have to take things slowly and let my body know that I care enough to give it time to heal. My therapist recently talked to me about clean pain versus dirty pain. Clean pain is physical. It’s stubbing your toe or getting caught in a rainstorm without a coat. Dirty pain is the emotional pain of stress and worrying. My body has had it’s limit of clean pain via chemotherapy, and dirty pain in the form of worrying about my health. It seems it wouldn’t be wise to introduce more dirty pain to the mix until I’ve given myself time to heal. So I’ve limited my working hours, and even though having a limited income is it’s own kind of stress, it doesn’t match the stress that comes from a 40-hour work week. I know this is unique to my personality type, because I know plenty of people who prefer to get out into the world and work. It makes them feel better. I wish I could articulate why I’ve never felt that way, but all I know is that it’s not linked to any desire to be lazy. I am so very NOT lazy that I have to actively push myself to take time to relax. Maybe that’s part of the problem, I have so many things I need to learn and do to reach my goals that a full-time day job makes life that much more stressful. I don’t balance the two. I don’t get off work and go home to relax or spend time with loved ones. I go home and do another 8 hours of work on my projects.
After much reflection, I’ve decided that it would be best to stop feeling like I need to go all-or-nothing on one career path. I have a limited window of opportunity to take this down-time and put it to more than one use. Even though it’s cancer that brought me to this point, I still feel so blessed to have the opportunity to find unusual and inconsistent work. I recently started as a part-time nanny two days a week and I LOVE IT, but I don’t have to work full-time in child care. I’ve had the opportunity to do family portraits as well as high-end artistic work with models and I very much enjoy both, but I don’t have to work full-time editing photos and turning my brain to goo staring at a computer. I’ve been building up an inventory to post another round of crocheted goods for sale on my Etsy shop online, but I don’t have to crochet 40 hours a week and give myself carpal tunnel. I’m honored to be the featured artist for July and August at Townshend Tea on Alberta in Portland, but I don’t have to spend all my time on the phone trying to sell myself to be featured all over town. And finally, the newest work that I’m most excited about, I’ve been collaborating with creative friends to put together a magazine.
Letting go of outside expectations and who I think people need me to be has freed me up to be the best me I can be. I’m making even more room for the idea that the most successful me isn’t going to be approved of by everyone. The same blog post that received a grumpy comment also gained me ten new cancer-surviving followers in a day. If I’m quiet and reserved and polite, I won’t offend anyone, but I also won’t connect with so many more people who appreciate my honesty. I feel more present. I feel more satisfied day to day. I feel more like I’m taking advantage of this second-chance at life that I have been given. I’m so grateful to my family and my husband for helping facilitate this time of healing. I hope my energy returns someday.