Breast Kept Secrets: Take it Day By Day

Breast Kept Secret #6: Your Body Will Become Foreign

In the long list of labels and titles that make up my identity, runner ranks right near the top. Even when I’ve been benched for the better part of the last two years with injuries and hip surgeries, that label has been a constant. At the very least ‘able-bodied person’ has been a title I’ve carried around for…my entire life.

But now, 3 treatments in, my body is foreign to me. Externally and internally. Sure, there are the obvious things like my hair falling out and the constant black circles under my eyes. But there is a long list of things that I didn’t imagine I would experience until my older years.

My muscle tone is shot. I forget things if I don’t write them down. I have trouble finding the right words when I talk. I have dry skin that cracks open and bleeds. I have nose bleeds every morning. My nails are turning yellow and brittle. My stomach tolerates about 5 different foods. My gums bleed. I have aches and pains in a new place every day. Though I am malnourished and have lost weight, I’m constantly bloated from the chemo.

And then there are the actions I can no longer take; slowly stripping away that label of an able-bodied human being. I can no longer run. My runner’s build and lean, muscular limbs have withered away to nothing. I limit my trips to the grocery store because walking from the parking lot makes me winded. My walks are short and on flat, paved roads where I can easily make it back to my car. For a while, my daily exercise was walking down the driveway to check my mail. Taking a breather, then walking back up the driveway.

My body is foreign to me because I’m no longer able to do things that I never questioned I wouldn’t be able to do. Carry bags of groceries? Take the trash cans in? Walk the aisles of Target? Run a slow 5k? All are out of reach right now. But the silver lining: these are temporary. I’ll regain strength. I’ll build up my mileage. I’ll be able to take a shower standing again.

Breast Kept Secret #7: You’ll Stop Planning for the Future

I stopped making plans for the future. I didn’t do this consciously, or for some morbid idea that I won’t make it through cancer. No, this secret is two-fold.

First, it’s just practicality. I know what my life looks like up until June 25th, my last chemo round. I know that for the next month and a half, I have three more chemo sessions. After each session, I will lay in bed for 9 days. I then have about 7 days of feeling OK before I go in again. For the rest of 2019, my schedule is loosely knit together with surgery, recovery, radiation. This leaves little time for travel, booking plane tickets, planning work and client visits, etc. My schedule revolves around cancer, and it will for quite some time. I cannot move cancer around for life to happen. Instead, I move my life around for cancer to happen.

Secondly, cancer is a marathon, not a sprint. This is a long process, I probably don’t have to remind you of that. At first, I would keep a list of things I wanted to do after cancer. It ranged from going on a solo trip to reloading my client list. As that list grew longer, I grew more and more inpatient and distressed. I couldn’t, and still can’t, see an end in sight to cancer. It rules my life for the next year to year and a half. The more I thought about what I wanted to do after cancer, the scarier this current time became. I felt trapped in this never-ending cruel twist of fate. The days already drag on, why was I doing something that made this even worse?

So, I stopped planning for the future. I stopped thinking about post-cancer. In fact, I stopped planning my days, because I don’t know how I will feel. I have my list of tasks I must accomplish for clients and I have regular standing meetings. But more often than not I find myself cancelling meetings and outings with friends because I simply don’t have it in me. I’m still learning to not feel guilty about this and to enjoy my unstructured days.

Navigating breast cancer at 28 through humor + napping