Living In The Moment: The Best Lesson Cancer Has Taught Me
Regular LBBC blogger and helpline volunteer, Ronda Walker Weaver is back after reading a post by LBBC staff member Lynn Folkman about the changes a breast cancer diagnosis will bring about in a person's day to day life. Here, Ronda discusses both the negative and positive effects her journey with breast cancer has had upon her daily life...
During my 4th week of chemo (2nd treatment) I went to dinner with 2 friends. I clearly remember telling them, "I hope I hurry and learn all I need to from this cancer journey, so I don't have to learn it again. I need to be as focused on this process as possible." And both of my friends saying, "I think your cancer and treatment will be something you'll continue to learn from, long after the treatments are finished." A light bulb went on in my head, and I knew they were speaking the truth. While my cancer treatment was the sprint, my cancer healing and processing is the marathon.
After reading Lynn Folkman's blog post this past week (originally posted 3/31/14) and her comment about healing being an ongoing process, I realized I am not the only one who feels this. The only difference is that Lynn is 5 years out, and I'm 9 months. However, I certainly am not the same person as before my diagnosis.
Differences? Well, I do get tired more easily. I've learned to honor that feeling and act on it. In the past I pushed and pushed, knowing that I could push past my limits and succeed. Now I know that if I push I will fall, so I try to not run faster than I can walk. I am learning to go to bed early, to relish the times I can sleep in, and to not feel guilty about needing a nap or saying "no."
I cannot multi-task anymore. On our trip to Hawaii in March I was rushing to check voice messages, get into the store, listen to my husband, and think about what I needed to purchase, all at once. We hurried through the store, walked into the parking lot, I looked into my purse for the car keys (to the rental car we had to have back to the airport a half hour later), and I couldn't find them. I immediately knew where they were - on the seat of the car - the locked car. We were able to get help and make it to the airport on time, but I can no longer do more than one thing at a time, particularly if I want to be effective at any of the things I'm attempting to do. This is an extreme example, but I see my lack of multi-tasking skills significantly diminished.
I am prone to anxiety. Too many questions, too much pressure to perform, and too much on my plate set me off. I get a headache, feel as if the walls are closing in on me, I feel confused, and I just want to run away from the stimuli around me. I am learning to stop, take a deep breath, and either focus on one item or walk away for a few moments, while I sort through things. This past year I've taken to keeping the radio off in the car and focusing on my surroundings. This has kept my anxiety at bay as well as allowed me to refocus.
I forget. This is the biggest issue for me these days. Often I cannot remember what I did or said 4 hours or 24 hours ago. If I don't make a concerted effort to remember to remember, then I don't. This is basically my short-term memory. Often I forget what I'm going to say and then remember shortly after forgetting. If I don't quickly say what I was thinking, or do something physical (jot it down, use my fingers as a reminder) I'll forget again. I forget my purse walking from my house to the car, not noticing until I need it. I forget words - and cannot find them - not on the tip of my tongue or in the filing cabinet in my mind. I went to a workshop 2 weeks ago, came home, and 24 hours later could not remember anything about the day! Thank heaven I took notes!
Now these are the "bad" side-effects of cancer treatment. My doctor told me to consider my chemo brain and lack of energy to be similar to someone suffering from a traumatic brain injury and to treat this time and the healing process as such. So I do brain games (think Luminosity), I read a variety of material, I am sewing and crafting, I spend time writing, and most of all, I am learning to spend time "being" - to make time to do absolutely nothing. This tends to be the best time for me to heal.
There is some good that has come from my cancer, already.
I am more patient with myself and with others. My 2014 mantra is: "It just doesn't matter." Because honestly, getting worked up over people and situations just really isn't where I want to be spending my energy. So when I feel irritation or frustration coming on, I step back, flip my hands in the air, and say, "It just doesn't matter."
I'm more gentle and forgiving. The softer-side of Ronda has come forward. I want to hold, cuddle, kiss, caress, whisper words of truth to those around me. I want to say, "I love you," rather than "love you." I have found myself being more tolerant of my idiosyncrasies and even those of my students. When a student forgets an assignment, doesn't come to class, turns something in late, asks me to repeat what I just said, I give them the benefit of the doubt (most of the time). I chat with my students after class, and I have quite a bundle of students who have attached themselves to me - almost as if they're waiting for that hug or kind word.
I'm slower. Woah - did I just say that?! Yes, I have slowed down. The every-day stranger wouldn't notice, but I do, my family does. I don't pack as much into my day, I don't rush through things. I'm more deliberate in my movements, actions.
I have a friend who passed away a couple of months ago. When we spent time together this past summer we talked a lot about practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness - feeling the bristles of my toothbrush on my teeth, feeling the sand under my feet, noticing the sunrise, sunset, and in-between on the mountain out my window. I smell my grandbabies, wrestle and tickle with my grandchildren, smell the daffodils blossoming, feel the pop of the blueberry in my mouth, enjoy the silence in my car, feel the sweat on my back as I exercise, move with awareness and awe for the healthy body I have. In my awareness I recognize how truly blessed I am. Being mindful, living in the moment, is, today, the best lesson my cancer and treatment has taught me.
I have to be honest with myself and others. Learning about this me is new for all. I can't expect others to understand unless I educate them. This means I have to be aware and be comfortable with excusing myself and laughing at myself.
I second Lynn's closing statement, "So what a wild ride life has been thus far, not one I had planned, not the one I had expected, and yet, exactly where I am meant to be right now, and that's a good place to be."
May you find a moment to look inside and then move forward, with the knowledge that cancer, and subsequent healing are lessons for the long journey we have ahead of us. This time won't last forever, learn and heal.
Ronda is 54 years old. She was diagnosed with breast cancer on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. She went through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. She teaches folklore and writing at Utah Valley University and works for an online education company, LearningU. She is using her recovery time to read, listen to music, garden, walk, play with her grandchildren, children, and enjoy her dear husband – who has been her pillar of strength through her journey. She also writes her own blog called Folklady’s Adventures.