The Cancer-Life Balance: Or To Wear Cute Shoes Or Not Wear Cute Shoes


The balance between living and living with cancer sometimes comes down to taking short medical breaks just to go on with your day.

It has been established that I love shoes, especially cute shoes. So it was cute shoes that were my down fall today.

This morning, I put on my fashionable shoes, and walked sassily towards work. And when I say sassily, I mean I was working it, headphones on, fun socks showing, open sweater blowing in the wind behind me, as I sped down the rain-slicked sidewalk. But then I met the handicap ramp at the curb. Apparently, the tread on the handicap ramp was too much for my cutely dressed feet. Down I went, hands out, knees hitting pavement, ego falling flat. Yes, folks, the days of cute shoes for me just might be over. And that makes me angry. Real angry.

It makes me angry because I am so tired of this whole cancer thing. I am tired of giving things up. I am tired of cancer. I am tired of treatments. I am tired of doctors. I am tired of the cancerous interruptions to my life. I am tired of living with the fear of possible pain and too-soon death.

So I struggle to live my life in spite of the cancer and manage what I call the cancer-life balance. Do I give up the cute shoes or do I just make sure there's a wall or other possible support nearby every time I wear those shoes?

Do I go to the gym and power through the fatigue or do I take the nap my chemo-tired body is begging for?

Do I meet the air conditioner repair man or do I go in for that blood test my doctor seems to think is so dang important she wants me to come in during the only time the A/C guy can schedule me?

It's a balance, at some points literally. I have no choice but to respect the cancer, but at the same time I want to live my gee golly willikers life.

So, when I make those cancer-life balance decisions, I base them on whether the choice will kill me or not.

And my bar for making those decisions is pretty darn high.

The other night, someone noted my MedicAlert bracelet and asked why I wore it. Not wanting to go into the whole metastatic breast cancer story, I replied simply, "I'm on a blood thinner."

"Why are you on a blood thinner?" he probed.

"I have a blood clot," I replied. The surprise and concern on his face was instant, and he expressed the gravity of the situation.

"That's serious," he said. What he didn't know was that to me a blood clot was merely a blip in my medical nightmare. The night my oncologist told me of the clot found during a regular scan, my first thought was that maybe the clot would kill me instead of the cancer. I was not concerned about the clot. I was far more afraid of the cancer. After that call, I strolled to the subway, and admitted myself to the ER for an ultrasound. The blood clot never scared me. It still doesn't scare me.

So there is my bar for will it kill me or not. I have stage 4 cancer, dammit. Ain't much else worse than that. And with that criteria in mind I ask the questions of cancer-life balance.

The blood test measuring my likely chemo-induced lowered platelets and elevated liver readings? Will waiting two days so that I can keep that appointment with the repair man kill me? Very unlikely. I might be a bit nauseous, a bit tired, but it won't kill me. But not getting the air conditioning fixed, and having to sleep through hotter than hell weather might. The blood test waits.

The cute shoes? Will they kill me if I wear them? Maybe, if I trip and fall on to the subway tracks, and an oncoming train hits me. Huh. Being hit by a train might be worse than cancer. And broken bones are never fun. Time for a compromise. Keep cute shoes at work and wear the practical shoes for the walk to work.

Go to the gym? This one has some regular-life resistance mixed in. Even on a good day, I am very willing to skip exercise for a nap. But in the name of maintaining my mobility and flexibility in the midst of all the chemicals aimed at my body, I do need to exercise. The compromise? If I am not too fatigued, I will go to the gym. And once in awhile, I skip the gym, and instead eat a donut, just like a regular person.

Stop my blood thinner for a few days so I can get a tattoo that will cover my mastectomy scar? How likely is it that part of the clot will break off and cause a stroke during that two-day period? Not likely. And, frankly, if it does, we've already gone over the idea that a blood clot may lead to a less painful death than the cancer. Plus, the 1-inch wide scar on my breast is a significant notch in my belt of depression. Decision? Stop the blood thinner temporarily and get the tattoo (it is gorgeous, by the way, and looking in the mirror is no longer quite as sad).

Is this fun? No. It is not fun at all. But it's not like I have a choice. So here I am, making the cancer-life balance choices, because, damnit, I want to keep living my life. Cancer, blood clot, doctors be damned. So if you need me, I'll be living with my latest cancer-life balance choice. I'll be in my office, foot elevated, ankle wrapped in ice, and I'll be wearing my very cute shoes.

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