Sunday, July 30, 2006

the wisdom to know the difference

I'm not much for prayer but the first few lines of the mantra for twelve steppers ( are speaking to me today. I'm working on "the serenity to accept the things I cannot change" and "the courage to change the things I can."

I've been finding it hard to give myself the space to get better. I am tired of feeling like a cancer patient and I want to feel like my old self again. I had a very important conversation with a very wise friend today about cutting myself some slack. She told me that it's not a failure on my part to admit that there are some things that I am just not ready to do. I really needed to hear that.

The pressure to have fully recovered is not coming from my spouse or my family. It's something I'm doing to myself. I am impatient and I want to put treatment behind me. I also want to remind myself and others that I am smart and competent and that there is much more to who I am than cancer.

I read an interview with an oncologist yesterday who said that, in her experience, the time it takes to recover is the same length of time from the first sign of cancer (i.e. finding the lump) to the last day of treatment (not including Tamoxifen or Herceptin). If this applies to me, and radiation ends on September 6, I should feel like myself again in May 2007.

Meanwhile, I am accepting the things I cannot change. Progress is incremental. Chemotherapy has left my muscles and ligaments stiff and sore. An old case of achilles tendinitis has flared up again so I have had to forego the running clinic. I have lymphedema (swelling in my arm, chest and back due to a build up of lymph fluid), which is exacerbated by heat, salt and repetitive motions (including knitting or spending too much time at my computer keyboard).

Every day look for the courage to change the things I can. I can't run but I can swim. Not well, or for very long, but even a few minutes of swimming or exercising in the water really help with the swelling in my arm. I had thought that swimming during radiation was a no-no but my research has indicated that it's fine to swim as long as I stay moisturized and stop if radiation burns cause the skin to break.

I was tempted to try an aquafit class at my local YMCA but put off at the idea of being bald and one-breasted in an exercise class. I enlisted my mother-in-law and went anyway. It turns out that everyone was too busy exercising to pay attention to me and I was too busy concentrating on the exercises to feel self-conscious. It was a good workout. Tonight my arms are that good kind of sore.

At the end of the class, a woman came up to me in the showers and said, "We're part of the same club." She finished treatment eleven years ago.

It turns out that someone did notice me. I'm glad.

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