I read those words in a book by Anne Lamotte (Traveling Mercies?). At some point in her life she felt utterly hopeless and at a loss for what to do next. She called a friend and asked for advice. He told her "right foot, left foot, breathe...right foot left foot, breathe".
For the most part, especially in the days immediately following diagnosis, I was pumped and positive and in fight mode. Once in awhile over the past 5 years though, I've hit a few (several) rough patches. Sometimes the cancer mountain just gets to be a really tough climb. Sometimes you get to a place for a little while when talking to a friend doesn't help, having a drink doesn't help, praying doesn't help and you can't maintain a positive attitude anymore. You don't want want to hear about someone else who is sicker than you are and how lucky you are to still be alive. You know that. You think you'll explode if you hear one more person tell you that you HAVE to keep a positive attitude, though you still wonder in the back of your mind if not being always "up" and positive is going to make cancer cells grow....if somehow your momentary negative vibes are suicidal (read The Tyranny of Positive Thinking by Jimmie C. Holland, M.D., of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center).
You don't want to hear another word about mind-body medicine, you've read the books, heard the tapes and your mind is too worn out to heal your body. You are tired and discouraged and angry. You are angry at the control cancer has over your time, your body, your relationships, your emotions, your mind...your life. You want a vacation from cancer, but you take cancer with you everywhere you go, there is no escape. You want your "normal" life back but you can't have it, normal is forever gone. None of your usual remedies work, you have nothing left in your toolbox, and even God is silent. You don't want to tell anyone you love how you are feeling, they've already been through a lot supporting you. You hit rock bottom and it gets really dark.
No one who hasn't been where you are will understand what you are feeling. For myself most of those tough episodes occurred after the surgeries were over and after I was done with chemo...and that's when people assume you should be celebrating because you've finished the "rough" part. When I'd just had surgery and was actively receiving chemotherapy, I was armed for battle and fighting against my enormous odds. I had tools. I was pumped and positive, I was in fight mode and armed with big weapons. The hard part began when I had to lay down my weapons and just watch and wait.
For many cancer survivors, I've learned, it is difficult to finish chemotherapy. We enter a sort of limbo...a place between CT scans and tumor markers. We begin the new phase of watching and waiting, the anxious anticipation of verdicts concealed in radiology reports. Unable to go back to life before cancer but afraid to move forward into an uncertain future sometimes. It helped me to read "Dancing in Limbo: Making Sense of Life After Cancer" by Glenna Halvorson-Boyd and Lisa Hunter. I learned others felt the way I did.
For me, it also really helped to talk to others who were or had been struggling with cancer at some point in their lives...I was amazed that they immediately understood what those outside of the cancer community couldn't. They'd "been there and done that" too. It's not a sign of weakness to join a support group if it helps you, support groups are a good place to locate resources and to meet people who might inspire you. You might also inspire someone else, it's not just for your own benefit. Networking with others fighting cancer can also give you insights and perspectives that enable you to overcome insurance issues, locate cancer facilities and oncologists or cope with chemo side effects. Knowing you are not alone in your feelings can help immensely. In hindsight, I wish I would have joined a support group. There is strength in numbers. And there is a sort of magic...helping someone else in their cancer journey has the effect of strengthening you and helping you with your own. And sometimes you just run out of fight for a little while and need time to regroup. It's okay, you are human!
But be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to crumble for a bit sometimes. Give yourself the opportunity to be weak once in awhile. It's okay to be angry sometimes. It's a good idea to seek help, to talk to a counselor, to take antidepressants if they help you. In the battle for your physical healing, don't forget to seek care for your emotional healing also.
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Last Updated 02/09/2010 11:26:03 AM