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Learning My Limits the Hard Way

One problem for all of us cancer patients is just when we think we have learned our limits, they change.
PUBLISHED September 29, 2018
Jane has earned three advanced degrees and had several fulfilling careers as a librarian, rehabilitation counselor and college teacher. Presently she does freelance writing. Her articles include the subjects of hearing loss and deafness, service dogs and struggling with cancer. She has been a cancer survivor since 2010.

She has myelodysplastic syndrome, which is rare, and would love to communicate with others who have MDS.
I am on a wonderful vacation cruising through Canada and ready to have the time of my life. My oncologist took me off chemo, so I would not experience the nasty side effects. I had been eagerly anticipating this vacation for months.

Step by painful step, I am walking through picturesque Quebec City. All around me are historical old buildings, dozens of art galleries, unusual old cathedrals and several museums. It is truly one of the quaintest and most beautiful cities I have ever visited.

The problem is I can’t enjoy it one little bit. The rain is pouring down in the hazy mist, the walking is treacherous and every single muscle in my legs is tightening up in spasms, screaming in protest.

My friend who took the cruise with me kept coming back to check on me. We were on a walking tour with an extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide. I kept bringing up the rear. After a while, other concerned people in the group began to ask me if I was all right. The voice of the tour guide faded to a dull roar in my ears. I had just had tea and pastries in the famous Chateau Frontenac hotel and we were heading back to the ship after two hours of walking.

All I prayed for was to get back to the comfortable ship, take a warm shower and lie down. But – I had to get there first. My calves were burning like hot coals. I was unable to take the large steps I needed; just tiny itty bitty ones like a baby. There was nowhere to sit, and of course no taxis in this part of town. The relentless rain was pouring down my neck, and my raincoat was virtually useless.

What was going on? The people in the group asked me if it was my knees. One person who had been behind me told me my heel was not sturdy and I should get a prosthetic device from a physical therapist when I got home. Gamely, I thanked these wonderful people and concentrated on taking the next step. When the ship finally loomed in my sights, I pushed harder. I was the last one to climb the ramp wearily as the crew was waiting to pull up the gangplank.

After eight years of being on chemo, I thought I knew my limits. I had already given up going to Ohio State football games every year because of all the walking, climbing many steps and the long drive back and forth to Columbus. For some people, this doesn’t sound like a sacrifice, but sports enthusiasts and Buckeye fans understand what it is like never to see the band Script Ohio or the team in person again.

My friend said to me sympathetically after we settled in the room, “Well, you are learning your limits.”

Damn it – why did I have to learn the hard way! I checked the rest of my excursions in Prince Edward Island, Sydney, Halifax and Bar Harbor. I limited myself to places I could sit and rest. There was no climbing up rocks to the most photographed lighthouse in the world at Peggy’s Cove for me! I was careful the rest of the time, the weather was beautiful with no more rain, and I had a memorable trip!

I returned home to tell my oncologist this story. I told her how the pain and spasms scared me. She explained that this was due to the cancer and the resulting anemia. For once, I could not blame the blasted chemo! She said if I continued to have this happen, I could go on Procrit shots and she would monitor me.

One problem for all of us cancer patients is just when we think we have learned our limits, they change. For some patients, this is only temporary, and many people can resume most of their activities once they are off chemo. But with a blood cancer, the learning curve is changing, curving, winding, dangling hope and then retreating. Only a year ago I was able to go to the football game. Two years ago, on another cruise, I walked all over Barcelona. But my body is changing and I need to adapt to that every single day. Also factors like the weather need to be considered.

When I talk to other cancer survivors, they tell me that learning their limits is one of the hardest things to do. I have the spasms to remind me. But, I need to look at the positive side. I enjoyed the rest of this wonderful cruise (pictures anyone)? I can still do short walks and most of all I am alive. And that is what counts!
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