It’s almost a year since I completed my chemotherapy and it feels like such a landmark. In some ways, it seems like 2010 never happened, and in other ways it seems to have made an indelible mark on my life.
It’s been a year full of transitions and re-establishing my life. It took a while for all of us (the kids and my husband & I) to get back our footing. I hadn’t actually realized how much I’d been out of it and not-present last year, but in April of this year, as I started to get my strength back, I began to realize how weak I had become during 2010. I started to realize how much I can usually accomplish in a day, how strong I used to feel pre-BC as my strength began to come back to me.
There have been a lot of good things happening to get me back to my old self and I haven’t updated this in a while, so here goes with what’s been going on in my life. I was reminded by a friend that some of what I’m going through is relevant to other BC survivors, so if you’re reading this after a diagnosis, I hope this helps you realize that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.
1. I started physical therapy in June and it had an immediate positive impact.
The 3 separate surgeries I had made both of my arms tight and weak and I had lost a lot of upper body mobility. I had been asking my doctors about arranging for physical therapy since my last surgery in February. I was pretty persistent in asking them each to prescribe it, and thought that either my plastic surgeon or breast surgeon would have arranged for it, but neither of them thought it was necessary, so I finally just hounded my oncologist and he wrote me a prescription in April.
Within 2 sessions, I could move my right arm without any pain, and am gradually starting to build the strength in both my right and left arms. My wonderful new Physical Therapist gave me a series of simple exercises to do both during the session, and at home and it’s been a huge relief to see the positive results. I was kind of scared that I was going to be stuck with limited mobility for life, and it was really gratifying to see such positive results so quickly. So if no one prescribes it for you – ASK. You’re entitled to it, and based on my experience it will help tremendously in getting you back to “normal.”
2. My hair is back.
Not just the hair on top of my head, but my eyelashes and eyebrows, too. The relief that this physical manifestation of health brings to me can not truly be understood by anyone who hasn’t gone through it. It’s not just vanity, it’s that I can walk around as my true self, without looking sick. I don’t need any hats, wigs or caps to hide the lack of hair. I don’t have to worry about getting a sun burn on my bald head. I don’t have to try and figure out how to create fake eyebrows and eyelashes with eye pencils and shadows. I can just present myself to the world as I am, without artifice. Such a wonderful thing.
3. I’m getting used to my reconstructed implants.
They’re still a little uncomfortable, but I’m less worried about them, and more confident that they’ll just stay as they are and not pop out or move around or do something crazy. My Physical Therapist helped with that, also. She told me I need to create new muscle memory to de-anesthetize my chest and get more used to them. So I’m exercising more, using my upper body more and just getting used to the new, slightly uncomfortable implants. One plus – they look natural in a bathing suit.
4. My kids and I have slowly but surely re-established our parent/child relationship(s).
Last summer and through most of the fall & winter I was very weak, tired all the time and slept a lot. We didn’t go on a family vacation and I could barely muster enough strength to get out of bed, let alone play any kind of active role in their lives. This year we’ve already gone on two vacations, I’ve been very busy all summer hosting sleepovers, pool parties, driving the two of them hither and yon and just basically re-establishing my role as mom and caretaker. It’s been a huge relief to feel like I’m playing an active role in their lives again and it took a bit of time to get it right, but we’re back on track.
5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve had a quiet, but important shift in priorities.
Life has become a whole lot simpler for me, in the last 6 months. Small things matter more and I don’t worry as much. I find a lot of peace and joy in very little things, like having my morning cup of tea while looking out the window at the beautiful birds and occasional chipmunks, in our backyard. I’m happy to sit in the family room reading, while my husband and son watch endless games of baseball/football/basketball/golf on TV, happy just to be sitting in the same room with them while I enjoy my latest book.
I’m oddly happy to be able to vacuum and do laundry – two things that I couldn’t do for almost all of last year because of all the surgeries and the chemo (and by the way, I HATE cleaning, so this isn’t a 50’s housewife kind of thing). I’m happy to be able to drive my kids all over the place, remembering that last year I didn’t have the energy, and knowing that soon they’ll both be old enough to drive themselves so I’d better relish the time I have now, as it will soon be over. I finally learned to cut my losses sooner. If someone or something isn’t adding value to my life, I let it go, in a gently appropriate way. I rarely get angry. I have a lot more patience. I have a lot more compassion. And I’m relaxing a lot more.
Next Wednesday is another landmark – my 3rd quarterly oncology checkup at the cancer center. It’ll be interesting to go back and see all of the nurses. I dread the bloodwork, but will be grateful that this time I can leave soon afterwards, instead of sitting there for the 3-4 hours it used to take to get my chemo drip. I am so glad all of that is behind me.