These are just some of the things that have changed in my life since my mastectomy. Maybe they are things that I have chosen to change.
In July 2011 Barbara Carlos was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. A resident of Hawaii, she works in administrative support at a college and has retirement as her career goal. Music keeps her sane, as side effects of chemo and radiation linger. Overweight since childhood, she keeps trying to lose the estrogen-laden fat that her cancer loves.
Next week is the sixth anniversary of my mastectomy. It’s not something to celebrate, but it is something to recognize as an event that precipitated a series of cascading events in my life that bring me to now and will continue into my tomorrows.
In my circle of friends and acquaintances, there are several women who had lumpectomies. Sometimes I wonder whether I would have gone for a lumpectomy if there had been a choice. The thought pretty much leaves my mind just about as soon as it enters. Given the size (large), location (multiple places) and attitude (aggressive) of my cancer, lumpectomy wasn’t an option for me. I had done my homework as well as I could before meeting with the surgeon. She didn’t mention the word “lumpectomy” as she reviewed the test results with me and my education in the previous week helped me understand the situation.
Surgery isn’t easy, neither is chemo or radiation. There has been a lot of water under the bridge during the last six years. I haven’t jumped from the bridge and I have learned a few things as I have watched the water swirl by.
I had always suspected that I had an inner strength that I could call upon if I ever needed it, and then I found out, again and again, that I was right about that. And it seems that it doesn’t deplete, no matter how often I tap into it.
Not everything has to be done right away.
There is a limit as to what and how much I can do or I am willing to do in a day. And that’s OK. What doesn’t get done today will be waiting for me tomorrow. Alright, the leftovers from dinner have to be put away tonight, but most things can wait. I was a while into my chemo before I realized that I was not superwoman and couldn’t do it all. It’s a realization, and a reality, that has stayed with me. It was hard to let go. I had to learn how to pace myself so that my limited energy would last through the day. Although my energy stockpile continues to increase on a regular basis, pacing myself is a skill I still chose to use.
Not everything that I thought was important really is important.
I moved the week before starting chemo. My brother–in-law, the attorney, did offer to break the lease for me, but I have a hard head and had already decided I was moving. One of my nephews has a truck so he and his brother were drafted to help me move. Having grown up with me, my nephew knew I was particular about my furniture. Even though the furniture was carefully placed in the truck with blankets for padding, he cautioned me that things could get scratched in the two-mile drive. I remember I reflected on that prospect for a moment and I realized the furniture didn’t matter in the giant scheme of things. I told him that I had more important things to be concerned with than scratches on furniture. Since that day, similar enlightenments have continued to follow.
Some of the things I thought weren’t important really are.
Music may soothe the savage beast, but I had put it on hold in the years before my diagnosis. I had other things that I thought meant more to me and limited time and energy to spread around. I have been singing since I was a child, but had cut back to just one annual festival in the years before my diagnosis. A month after treatment ended, I was back in my musical world again. I sing in a chorus regularly. I do two festivals a year. Last year, I went on a concert tour in Ireland and two years before, music brought me to Australia to sing. I am just a singing fool, but music is important to me and singing makes me happy. If I am going to go down, I am going to down singing.
OK relationships are not good enough.
My long-standing boyfriend (that word just doesn’t seem appropriate for someone my age) dumped me. It wasn’t a perfect relationship. In fact, it was far from it, but it was working for both of us. Cancer shone a very bright light on its many imperfections, and it gave me time to think. I guess he also had time to think. Four months later, he was back, acting like nothing was different and wanting to pick up where we left off. I was finishing up chemo and then there would be radiation. I didn’t want to make that decision then but we continued to talk over the next few months. And I kept thinking. I decided that I deserved to be cherished and if he wasn’t going to cherish me there was no point. A relationship that is just “OK” is not good enough for me.
Vegetables are my friends.
I’ve never been a big fan of veggies, unless you count French fries. When I was hospitalized with neutropenia, they kept bringing me trays of food with lots of veggies and fruit. The first few days I wasn’t much in the mood for eating, so I would ponder the food selections. All of a sudden it clicked. Maybe there was something to five servings of fruit and veggies every day! It took me a couple of months to be consistent with the amount, but now it’s a rare day that I don’t do six servings.
Although naps are nice, it’s better to get eight hours of sleep at night.
About a year after radiation concluded, I was finally able to sleep through the night. Over time, it gradually happened more and more frequently. Now it’s the norm. I still have days that I am tired, but I am no longer absolutely exhausted on a regular basis. Occasionally, I will lie down to rest on a lazy Sunday afternoon but I don’t even doze off. It’s nice to not be so tired.
I consider myself a work in progress. Hopefully I’ll keep progressing.