My Body After Cancer

My messages about my body and who I am have changed yet again.

I realized about four or five years after my diagnosis that I had become hyperaware of my body. I always knew within a few ounces how much I weighed after a lifetime of dieting (probably the reason I can’t maintain any weight loss). I am convinced I gained weight after cancer so I would never answer “yes” when my oncologist asked, “Have you noticed any unusual weight loss?”

But this was different. Every feeling was analyzed.

Have I ever had this (read one) pain, ache, itch, sensation, before.

Is it in a place that could be cancer?

It was during the fourth year that I did most of my resolution of this disease. My panic attacks had diminished somewhat after the first two years, down to about one every six months.

They would start with the above analysis, and then as I focused more and more on the body part where the pain was, the pain would increase. It usually took a visit to the doctor to relieve the pain. Not with muscle relaxers or medicine but with reassurance after my tumor marker came back that it wasn’t cancer.

I continue to be amazed at how my body would react to good news. The release was almost audible as my muscles relaxed and bingo — no more pain. Amazing.

The awareness came that we don’t get to age like most people when we have had cancer. Every ache and pain related to aging is potentially deadly, in part based on watching friends with a pain in their hip or shortness of breath that was an early sign that the cancer was back.

So we did have a reason to fear a strange ache or pain. It wasn’t all in my head.

Now as I pass my 30th anniversary of breast cancer, my message from my body is different. One the one hand, I am grateful to have made it long enough to be getting “old.” On the other hand, I feel increased guilt at my weight and any and all dietary and life style lapses: eating chips, not getting enough exercise. I feel particularly guilty when I read another new study that talks about the importance of exercise. I try. I really do, but I have neuropathy, which means many of the traditional exercises are out for me.

There is a new easing of the old panic about cancer as I struggle with my feet and the ongoing issues of neuropathy— almost a relief. Now I worry about heart disease. I think my, and our, reality is that cancer destroyed our vision of ourselves as healthy people, whether it is cancer or heart disease or diabetes or some other chronic illness, we always worry.