I keep thinking about water. I keep thinking about hair. I keep thinking about relationships and circumstance and dumb luck. I think about eyebrows and how I never really learned a damn thing about makeup and cultures of girlhood and initiation to womanhood. I keep thinking about gender and race and class and access and healthcare and networks and communication. And grace outside of religion, and reciprocity and abundance and how it takes so many different forms.
And then my brain fizzles and sputters and I have no choice but to sleep or do something very, very slow — very, very different from what my brain usually craves.
I have so, SO much that I start thinking about — that I make rough notes about and sketch out in fits and starts here and there, but synthesis? Synthesis is hard right now.
The doctors had tried not to scare me or “prime” me to experience certain side effects, but the heavy fatigue that started to set in after AC chemo treatment #2 was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. They reassure/d me that it was/is “not at all unexpected,” much like the (much more minor) chemo-brain that had crept in since the very first session.
They even reassured me that the depth and heaviness of this tiredness was something that oftentimes doctors — going through their own cancer treatment — did not fully understand until they themselves experienced it. It’s odd when even sleep does not feel restorative. But luckily, there are still moments and even an hour here or there where I feel more like myself, energy-wise. Most days, I still try to walk at least a few miles and/or do gentle yoga at home, because even if I feel crappy at the beginning, at least those things help make me feel a little more fully a part of my body and less like a tired blob. I’m also ALL OVER some basic nutritional things I can do, and acupuncture helps a bit.
A few years ago, in my first year of grad school, I had a car accident that left me with a minor concussion. I remember suddenly realizing I was standing in the middle of the highway, with broken glass all around me, and the ding-ding-ding of the door-ajar alarm tinnily ringing in the background, my tiny car smashed, but having done its protective job amazingly (I’ll probably always buy Subarus now).
I was lucky to be alive, and to be, in the big scheme of things, relatively OK. But the concussion did take a few months to fully heal, and it was scary to have just jumped back in to the massive amount of reading, analyzing, and writing that grad school entails, only to have my brain and ability to focus jostled. I was fortunate enough to have insurance, good doctors, and two instructors in particular who understood that I might need a little extra time and assistance on papers, and I got through.
In fact, once I was on the other side of healing, I used what I learned on the process of “sensory gating” (I became temporarily less able to block out light and sound — sometimes I would wake up suddenly in my bed in the middle of the night, with the hum of the far away highway or hospital SO loud in my ears) to write one of my favorite papers about information overload. I think about that cycle these days, and how in the midst of healing, things felt really hard, but how ultimately, my body did, indeed heal.
Man, was I really, really lucky that I healed well then. Man, am I lucky now to be able to even go through this treatment — to have an illness that has a good research base and treatments that most often have really good end-results.
But in those moments of trying to adjust to a brain or a body working differently or needing far more rest, it’s still a challenge. Not every moment, and not even every day, but it’s a strange identity shift when you’re not able to do or be the things you’ve usually been able to. Especially when, like me, you’ve kinda prided yourself for a long, long time on being someone who gets thing done and makes things happen.
As the AC chemo gets out of my system little by little, my energy will come back a bit. I just did my first Taxol infusion yesterday, and so far, it seems way less mean. I even went to work for 3 1/2 days last week (not much, but the most I’ve been able to do so far without every email turning into a mess of typos – ha!). Then, promptly caught a cold and had to sequester myself again — ha!
BUT, my energy is getting better, little bits at a time. I look forward to having the energy to put my thoughts together more coherently – whether in conversation, work, little songs (SO many lazy little voice recordings to go through) or simply writing things down.
For now, my writing still feels very disjointed to me – whether in notes to friends or here, but I want to keep at it. I want to have this both as a way to check-in and a way to reflect. Also, as a way for people to know that everyone struggles with things, and it’s so very, very human — whether we/you are comfortable talking about it (and there are often very good reasons not to) or not. This being human thing can be wonderful, joyful and amazing, and it can also be really hard. That’s OK. That’s all a part of it. That’s how we learn and can try to understand each other, if we’re lucky.
In the near future:
More about why I’m writing, about water, about all of the gender stuff you just can’t avoid thinking about in the midst of breast cancer treatment, and also, on radio, art and grace…
My super-talented partner in crime (go see the originals for his amazing Stooges comic and other work at GIG: through 1/30 at the Art Center (review) if you get a chance to stop in!) has been pretty amazing in the way he’s risen to the challenge of things. I’m super, super lucky.
He made a really honest and wonderfully put-together comic, here (click thru on it to go beyond the lil’ preview image)…