Friday, December 09, 2011

waiting

At some point I will stop marking time in terms of weeks post-chemo and days until Patagonia but today I am 9 weeks and two days past my last chemotherapy treatment and 14 days away from my long-anticipated trip to Patagonia which is a comforting shift in balance as I slide toward an adventure and away from illness. October and November were rough months for me. It was almost as if I went through all of chemotherapy without understanding what everyone was so worried about. . . . and it all caught up with me. It didn't seem quite right to have the shock and fear and sadness of having cancer settle onto my shoulders just as I was putting the worst of my journey behind me. But there is something unsettling about leaving behind the defensive position of attacking the cancer as my body exhibits delayed reactions and attempts to return to some form of normalcy that don't feel quite normal. This in between period is what messes with my head and leaves me with raw emotions.

I should back up slightly and clarify that I am steadily improving and while I was home over Thanksgiving I felt I made some significant leaps forward in terms of energy levels. Before I went home I had difficulty leaving the house for more than three or four hours at a time. I would return home feeling leaden and something far beyond tired. My whole body longed to retreat into hibernation but sleep was not readily restorative so I allowed myself a goal of just one thing a day. And sometimes that one thing was a walk to the store and back. But while I was home some of my missing energy snuck up on me and I managed to do things I have missed. I say it snuck up on me because it arrived so suddenly. My first day at home I decided to go snowboarding but allowed myself time to sleep late and take my time getting to the mountain. Delta forgot to send my snowboard on the same flight as me so I had to rent gear which added more time. I won't pretend I am the type to get to the lift as it opens at 9 am with any consistency but I usually like to be making my first turn by 930 or 10 but that day I don't think I was on a lift before 11 am. I purchased a 20-ride pass which could be used at any time throughout the season and half-way down my first run as I sat in the beautiful, fresh powder I fought back tears. I had no energy. Everything hurt. My body wasn't listening to what I was telling it to do and I worried I wasn't ready for this. With great effort I managed to get myself vertical again and down the rest of the mountain for a rest in the lodge. I reminded myself there was no hurry, I could go at any pace because no one was watching or waiting. I managed four runs that day.

But I went back the next day with my own equipment and was greeted with the type of blue sky you pray for. On my own snowboard I doubled the prior day's runs and strayed onto tougher terrain - including a black diamond off the newly opened Powderhorn lift, just to show myself I could do it. And I did. Two days of exertion in a row meant a lazy day before Thanksgiving spent primarily on the couch as my mom and sister shopped, prepped the turkey and made pies. Oh, how I wanted to rouse myself enough to make pie but I never managed it. I reminded myself it is all about focusing on where I want to exert my energy and the next morning I had a 5k to run! And I did it. I had 7 wonderful people who tore themselves away from their own thanksgiving preparations to run with me. My sister, her husband and I had run our first turkey trot together two years prior but this time instead of trailing behind them on my own I was flanked by two long-time friends. Their company fueled my resolve to run as much as possible and just as I was talking myself into one final push for the finish line we saw the rest of our group lined up a block or two from the finish cheering us on and we finished a handful of seconds shy of the 40 minute mark. Such a good milestone to hit surrounded by people I love.

My last full day in Salt Lake I returned to Solitude Mountain Resort which, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful places on Earth and never fails to put a smile on my face. The mountains do something else for me, they refuel my spirit. My mind clears, other fears, concerns, stresses and distractions fall away and I fill up with love and awe and gratitude for everything I have. The mountains have always restored me this way and sometimes I wonder how I have managed to live 2,000 miles away from them for so long. On that day, for the briefest time, I stopped focusing on my own limitations. I stopped worrying about what was still to come and I stopped counting the days and weeks ahead or behind. I sat in the moment and breathed the crisp winter air, felt the warmth of the late November sun, pointed my board downhill and glided over the snow and felt the rush of the wind in my face. I no longer felt like I was a conspicuously bald chemo girl. I was myself. Energy and stamina had crept their way back into my body and were promising to make a longer stay.

I still get tired. I still have to pace myself. I still get unbelievably frustrated with my own limitations. But, I know it is getting better. Of course, my impatient nature doesn't always allow myself to recognize this improvement. And some things are still very difficult to accept. Chemo ravaged my body in many ways with which I am still forced to cope. My fingers and toes still have remnants of neuropathy leaving my sense of touch oddly different. Sometimes I feel a slight electric charge shoot down the soles of my feet. I have to keep my nails extremely short so they don't tear away and they are ringed with white lines I think correspond with each round of toxic chemotherapy. I have gained enough weight that even the largest clothes I own are significantly strained or don't fit. My hair is slowly growing and filling in bit by bit but my eyebrows and eyelashes continue to fall out. Although today, for the first time, I noticed tiny little sproutlings of eyelashes growing on my bottom lids. Those were the first lashes to go so I'm hoping the top lashes will start growing soon as well. Without makeup I feel like a different person is returning my gaze in a mirror. There is a certain blankness to my face without the definition of my normally overgrown brows and lashes. While I appreciate the reassurances I receive from friends and family, I can't say I will ever feel comfortable with this look and the extra weight exasperates it all for me. I'm tired of baldness as well but honestly, I could endure that a lot longer if I could just have my brows and lashes back and return to my normal size.

While I was home for Thanksgiving I asked a photographer friend to take photos of me. I thought it would be nice to have photos of me at the end of treatment without the makeup. But when I got the photos back I was not prepared to look at the woman staring back. I felt an alarming disconnect I was not prepared for. Somehow seeing myself caught looking so vulnerable made it all so very real. I looked like all those other cancer patients I have been seeing all these long months from whom I thought I was so distinct and different. I have posted a few of the photos because I am ultimately glad I had them taken despite the fact my vanity screams they aren't actually of me. I still have a lot of healing to do that goes beyond regrowing hair.

In terms of where I am in the overall process, I had a PET scan this last Monday and am anxiously awaiting the results. I see my oncologist Monday morning and my radiation oncologist Monday afternoon and I'm hoping between the two appointments I will have some answers for myself. Both doctors are still being very cautious about my sternum and the spot that was biopsied back in May, which I appreciate. I think we are all anxious to see what has become of that pesky spot. Whatever has happened, I look forward to having some sort of answer on Monday. After that I can focus on final trip preparations and leave the worrying about radiation for January when I return.

1 comment:

Tiffany said...

This was beautiful, and so are you. I'm glad you had the pictures taken. I love the first one especially.

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