Be prepared. After cancer, other medical issues can trigger outsized emotional responses.
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
I fell. Who knew mobility was so huge? I didn’t. Who knew that coping with the loss of mobility after being a two-time cancer survivor would be like shaking around the contents of an already cracked egg. Resilience after cancer was more fragile than I thought. I learned this after breaking two bones in my right foot.
I questioned the surgeon about my recovery. Her response was that I would have “new normal” in about a year! The terminology rattled the cancer skeletons in my closet and I hated the length of time involved. Plus, as breast cancer survivors know, there is this quiet scary voice in my head whispering “bone metastases,” even though I know better.
The use of the knee boot, knee scooter and crutches, and the help I need to get in and out of a car and do stairs also reminds me what I did for my mom who passed away this year from advanced breast cancer. Now I am the patient again. I don’t like that role. It reminds me of my breast cancer hair loss. I just want to “be normal” and to blend in again.
Initially, it seemed simple—catch up on television series and movies and reading and writing, right? After getting through my second shower, this time armed with a water-proof boot, I found myself again exhausted, sweaty and shaken. Low blood sugar? Maybe. Feeling fragile? Definitely. Overreacting? Probably.
I know it doesn’t make sense to beat myself up about the basic household tasks that I can’t do right now, but somehow my mind still wants to go there. I keep looking at my to-do lists like a general looking at a battle plan, as I try to figure out what items I can move forward. I miss my co-workers. I am grateful for the texts and email responses I get when I reach out. I am grateful for my talk therapist.
What I really miss is feeling productive. I would really like to scrub my toilet, but I am not sure the pain and not following the doctor’s orders to keep my foot elevated, would be worth it. I go back to my writing and reflecting. I want to be the caregiver, not the patient. I want to help, not to be helped.
The older and more out of shape I am, it seems the faster I decondition. How old is too old to be relevant? The first time I Googled that question I got more hits and discussion about the Bible not being relevant than aging people not being relevant. Maybe more to the point, when am I irrelevant? At 50? 60? 70? 80? Or, if age is really just a number, when am I too old to pull my act together and to be physically fit again?
I briefly pulled my act together once. I was 47. Just before, but especially during my breast cancer diagnosis, I did have my physical health together. I was in shape and physically healthy. Then, because fear is not a good long-term motivator, just ask my therapist, I lost my pulled togetherness, and the weight and poor physical conditioning crept back in. I fell and broke two bones in my right foot at age 54. Still just a number? Yeah, right.
The question to my foot surgeon last week was, “Would I ever walk normally again?” The dread words came from the mouth of my surgeon. She said I could anticipate “new normal” after about a year. She wasn’t talking about cancer. She was talking about recovery from my broken foot bones. A year? Seriously? She wouldn’t even commit that I would run again. Woah— what?
Why am I over-sharing? I want fellow cancer survivors to be aware that other medical issues that life can bring may rattle your cage more than you might expect. Be warned. Be prepared. As it is with cancer, those issues are part of life and something you can get through. Keep the faith! I know I will. Thanks for listening.