Seven Years Later…
It’s nearly seven years to the day that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m still here, still NED, as far as I know, so in that regard, seven is a lucky number. However, I’d rather hoped that by now, I would feel a lot more like my old self again. I think I’ve accepted the fact that I will never feel exactly like my old self again. I just thought I’d feel better than this.
I do feel better. I think. That’s the problem, though. I’m not sure I can tell anymore. My ability to think has changed so much, I’m not sure I can trust my self-analysis. I’ve gotten so used to adjusting (lowering) my expectations for my mental and physical stamina, pretty much on an hourly basis, that I can’t tell for sure if my stamina is really any better than it was, say, two years ago, or if my expectations have declined so much that I don’t remember what normal stamina feels like anymore.
In some ways, I wonder if I’ve gotten worse. I decided to write this post because it bothers me that I haven’t been able to write as many posts as I’d like. It’s not for lack of subject matter. I have about a dozen topics on my prospective-post list, many of them partially researched. But getting myself geared up to sit down and write them? That seems to be harder than it used to be.
The big question is why. I think I know the answer. In an article by Dr. Frances Goodhart, clinical psychologist and author of The Cancer Survivor’s Companion, she suggests that the way to deal with decreased mental and physical stamina is to employ “the “3 Ps” – prioritise, plan and pace yourself.” Believe me, I could write my own book on this subject, if I weren’t still such a train wreck. I’ve been prioritising, planning and pacing myself on an almost constant basis for the past seven years. But my priorities have had to change in the last few years. A lot.
There are four factors that have made my life with cancer’s aftermath more challenging all along, but much moreso recently. In the first place, I’m single. Therefore, I have only one income on which to live — mine. Which leads to the second factor, my demanding, draining, satisfying yet often frustrating job as a homecare physical therapist. I do not have a partner, spouse, butler, personal assistant, trust fund, living parents or anyone else who is contributing to paying the bills or maintaining my existence on a regular basis. And but for a brief, insane few months right after I returned to work when acute treatment was done, I haven’t been able to work full time for over six years now. So, that’s factor number three — living on one fifth less income than I used to. The last factor is that I own a house. It’s a small house, with a small yard, but it still requires upkeep. We won’t even mention the car.
For a long time, I didn’t really have the wherewithal to deal with factor number four in any consistent way. Just crawling to work each day, helping solve other people’s health problems, and then crawling home was about all I could manage. For most of the past six years, I had to take neurostimulants to get through each work day, otherwise I was exhausted by mid-morning. When I got home, I could just about feed the pets and myself, make sure I had something clean to wear to work the next day, and crawl into bed. I’d sleep for ten to twelve hours, then do it all over again the next day. If I hadn’t set up automatic bill payment online, most of my bills would probably not have gotten paid on time. If I weren’t a physical therapist, and therefore spent my work days exercising and walking with my patients, and schlepping through parking lots with my heavy work bag, and climbing stairs in apartment buildings, I probably wouldn’t have gotten much exercise either. On my days off, sometimes I was able to channel my frustration, my need for answers, my outrage at pinksploitation, and my sense of the absurd viscissitudes of breast cancer into blog posts. I felt a lot of frustration and outrage. I wrote a lot of snarky blog posts. Meanwhile, my sweet, innocent, neglected little house looked more and more like a trash pit.
And then I got frustrated with the mess. And my job got harder, because working in healthcare has gotten harder. Ergo, I had to shift my priorities. Ergo, more of my limited energy got spent on shoveling out the trash pit, and on trying to sharpen my ailing mental abilities for my job and my patients. And consequently, I had a lot less energy left over to channel my ongoing outrage about breast cancer and turn it into blog posts. Snark needs pep, and my pep was pooped.
Some of my blog pals have been writing posts this past week describing ’15 Random Things About Myself.’ I’ve enjoyed reading them. Trouble is, it takes most of my effort these days to remember fifteen non-random things about myself. I remember my name and address. I still have to think about my phone number sometimes, because it’s not one of those nifty numeric patterns that makes it easy to recall. I remember how to drive, and with a little planning, how to get to my patients’ homes. Mostly, I remember how to do my job. I’m still learning how to deal with being a homeowner. Last winter’s ungodly record-breaking snowfall here taught me things I never knew about homeownership, the consequences of which I am still tackling. I am constantly worried about money and the personal inadequacy thereof. I also make a concerted effort to remember my friends and all the bat excrement they are dealing with. That’s about all I can handle.
Since the beginning of this year, pursuant to shoveling out the trash pit that is my house, I estimated that I must have shredded or otherwise disposed of about 400 or so cubic feet of old paper records and junk mail. A lot of this was shoved into bags or boxes that occupied every room in my house except the bathroom. It was thus arranged because I haven’t been able to cope with it until this year. Most of it was in the room I use as my art studio. However, I had to get it out of the way because I have to have my home insulation upgraded. And in order for the crew to do this, they have to be able to walk from room to room. With ladders and tools and rolls of insulation. And they have to be able to get into the attic. And I have two attics, one over the main house, and one over the converted garage that is my art studio. Oh, and they also have to get at the foundation sills in the basement. So, this entire project was no mean feat. And that was only one part of it, because it also meant that I had to clean out my drawers and closets to get rid of the clothes that I don’t wear anymore, that were hanging on door hooks or folded up or bagged in various parts of the house, because they didn’t fit into my limited closet space. I’ve made a lot of progress. I’m also not done, but I’m about done enough to arrange for the crew to start. I cannot even begin to describe how much mental and physical exertion this has entailed. I find I can last for about 45 minutes before I have to stop and lie down again. Sometimes, I can manage about three or four of these sessions in a day. Sometimes, I can’t manage any at all.
My hope is that, by the beginning of this winter, I will have a much tidier and better-insulated house, with a lot less stuff in it. Then, maybe I can spend less time dealing with it and more time writing and drawing and channelling snark into this blog. I’ll let you know how it goes. Life is complicated. I need a nap.