Tea & Sympathy
Everything that hurts, echos. The greater the pain, the greater the echo. Chemo interrupts the bodies ability to heal, making the healing process an extra long one. I read the blogs and forum posts of my fellow cancer survivors and it’s common for people to look at someone post-cancer and think, “Okay, they should be better by now.” Because many people can’t understand the invisible pain. They can’t understand the intense echo of suffering that follows the physical and emotional stress of cancer. It takes a lot of patience and caring to heal. There is not one path of healing that works for everyone. We cannot judge how long we think it should take for someone else to heal from trauma.
It takes irritatingly long and I’m living it. The one thing that’s more stressful than watching someone take forever to feel better is actually being that person who needs healing. I said during chemo that I believed during treatment it was harder on those close to me (emotionally) than it was for me. I still believe that. I’d much rather go through radiation two more times than watch my husband face it just once. However, after cancer, it is so much harder on the cancer survivor. The echo means I have a limited amount of time where I feel great in between long stretches of discomfort, pain and brain fog. But I have hair and I don’t look pail and sickly, so to everyone else I often seem fine when I’m not. As time goes on, the moments where I feel good are longer and the brain fog and pain is shorter, but it takes a lot of time and it’s impossible to predict what days I’m going to feel full of energy versus wanting to sleep all day and unleash my short temper on everyone who complains about the weather or other petty nothings. I’m grateful to be surrounded by people who are understanding, and have selflessly put my healing ahead of they’re expectations or desires. As much as I appreciate that, no one can heal my mind and mood as well as I can. Happiness, or even just emotional stability, isn’t about what or who happens to you (although those things do add to it), it’s about how you treat yourself and the people around you.
The post-cancer plan has been to do everything in my power to treat myself well and take care of myself by improving my daily habits and thought patterns. It’s not easy to identify what all can or needs to be improved, but I use “old me” as a compass. When I’m 80 I want to say I contributed more than I took, I want to say I was compassionate, and I want to say I enjoyed life. I’ve been trying to change habits lately. I want to eat less and I want my diet to be more raw. I want to exercise more. I want to drink more water. I want to take things lightly and laugh and play. It’s not a huge change I’m trying to make, but simple and gradual improvements here and there. All of this is meant to serve the bigger picture and how happy I am with that picture. In my search for healthy improvement, I found two things that really resonated with me while healing: Tea and sympathy.
Sympathy represents how I treat myself on an emotion level. It means that periodically I stop and pay attention to how I feel and then I say or think the phrase, “It’s okay, you’re comforted now.” That phrase makes me laugh and smile and feel comfortable. I laugh because you can’t tell anyone how they feel, including yourself, and it sounds a tiny bit patronizing. I smile because I understand the innocent optimism and caring feeling that I feel when I tell myself that. I really do want myself to feel comforted. It’s silly to say it to myself like I’m a toddler talking to another toddler, but it works. Sympathy also means when I got home from my doctor’s appointment today, I observed that I was keeping myself busy and trying to reach out to talk to others to distract myself from the flood of emotions I was feeling. When I observed myself in this state, I stopped and I looked at my reflection in the microwave and I said what I would say to someone I care about. I said, “That was a lot to process today. Don’t feel like you need to hold all of it in. Cry. Take the rest of the day off to play or write. Do something that comforts you.” Instantly I cried and it felt good.
Tea represents how I treat my body with healthy rituals (like exercise and raw foods). It means I take the time to do good things for myself every day. Specifically tea has been the most enjoyable change, as well as a use for all of my empty apothecary bottles I’ve been collecting over the years (I LOVE THEM). I started last year with pre-bagged herbal tea on a more regular basis until I worked up to turning it into a daily ritual. I’m allergic to black and green tea, so herbal is all I can do. Then I discovered the tea I was drinking (along with several other teas) possibly had cancerous amounts of pesticides. Of course it does! Everything that isn’t fresh, local, and raw eventually gets outed as cancerous or at least bad for you. If it comes in a box and has a long shelf life, it’s probably bad. It sure feels that way whether it’s true or not. I made the switch to loose leaf tea in reusable teabags. It’s like going from old canned folgers to fresh ground gourmet coffee. The taste and aroma is noticeably better, my typically poor digestion has improved, and my face is a little less red and blotchy (one of the more lasting side-effects I had from chemo). It’s also cheaper than the bagged stuff. It takes a bit longer to prepare, but that’s great! It’s a good use of my time. It’s meditative, it appeals to my hunter-gatherer instincts, and there’s a lot of room for creativity when it comes to mixing spices. Tea, walking, sleep, and good foods have all aided in improving both my body and my mood.
As far as my fears and anxiety surrounding cancer, time has been the only thing to heal those toxic emotions. Sympathy has healed my stress and discomforts. Tea has healed my body and improve my health. Today was my 1.5 year check-up in remission. I have 3.5 years to go until I graduate remission. The nurse took my blood pressure today and said, “You must be super relaxed right now.” I am. I was. I hadn’t had my test results, I didn’t know what was to come, but I was able to breath deeply and tell myself, “You’re comfortable.” and that was enough in that moment. It was only a simple blood test, no scans or anything invasive or super informative, but an all-clear is an all-clear! I have a lot to celebrate and be grateful for. Mainly, I’m grateful for being alive and for the ever-growing ability to remember how great that is every day.