I’m not the same girl I was yesterday
(Warning: may contain swearing and TMI)
Cancer treatment ended for me on the morning of Christmas Eve 2013. I was so happy to be finished! No more doctors, no more travelling, no more living out of suitcase, and no more poking and prodding. I was deliriously happy to be home. To be in my own bed, with all my people near, the beach, the sun, the heat! There was lots of celebrating! It took me about a week to get settled back into my life. And finally, I started to paint.
I had not painted since this whole thing started. The inspiration just was not there, in any way, shape or form. But now, it was just pouring out of me! I was simultaneously painting on as many canvasses as I could possibly fit into the studio! I just could not stop. I was painting with wild abandon and a sense of complete joy. I could not wait to get into the studio each day, which happened to be the master bedroom in my house. It was tiny but perfect. What was coming out of me was very different than what I was painting before cancer. I think it was better. And even if the art was not better, I was having the time of my life doing it.
My life felt like it was totally different. I did not feel like the same person all of a sudden. So many things had changed since the diagnosis. Some good and some not so good. Being back in the studio was definitely good. And by this time, keeping myself healthy was my main priority, so that was good too. But there are things that happen to a person once they have been through cancer treatment. Things that people do not really talk about. Things that I wish someone had given me the heads up about so that I could have been better prepared. I just thought once treatment was done….cancer and anything related to it was also done. In reality, it is not done. Cancer is the gift that keeps on giving, and not always in a good way. Things like chemo brain, drug side effects, the never ending “after cancer” doctor visits, tests, and the fear that goes with all that. I will never forget that first mammogram. I honestly thought I might have a heart attack that day! I was so freaked out about what they might find, I had worked myself into a state of craziness. While I was waiting for the results of that mammogram, in the cold little room with the hospital gown still on, I remember curling myself into a ball in the chair and rocking back and forth trying to keep myself from totally coming un-glued. It was awful. I think I was on the verge of a total mental breakdown. I was completely unprepared for that. I really thought I was losing my mind! After talking to some breast cancer survivors that I know, I found out that it is normal to have those fears and feelings. That they will get less and less over time. I am much better now. I still have my moments where the fear can sometimes bubble up over me, but I have coping techniques to help me through. Why did no one tell me about this?! And there is more!
The chemo brain! Aaaarrrg! Seriously, it is real! I have done quite a bit of reading about it. Mostly because I want to know how long it will last. Studies show that for some people, it can last for years and years after treatment. There are memory lapses, (a lot of them), disorganization, trouble with remembering common words, trouble learning new things, lack of focus, and the list goes on. I think I have all of those! Most of the time I just laugh it off, but there are times when it is extremely frustrating. Then there are the side effects from the after cancer drugs. Drugs that I will have to take for many years to come. Things like, hot flashes, fatigue, weakness, bone pain, dry va-jay-jay, itchy skin, osteoporosis, anxiety and depression. That is the short list! Good times! There are even studies being done about PTSD in cancer patients. Some studies I have recently read, say that 50% to 80% of breast cancer patients will suffer from some form of PTSD. More good times! Now you put all that stuff together and it can be potentially devastating for some people. For me, my biggest struggle is what goes on in my head, and it is probably just side effects of all the drugs, but it is very real for me.
I have times when I cannot seem to get my shit together. I move from one room to the next with no idea of what the fuck I even got up for. So I sit back down and hope it comes to me and hope like hell it was not something important. Like all the times my kitchen sink overflows because I forgot it was running. It happens at least once a month like clock work. Then there are the times when I actually get up to pee and then quickly forgot what I was getting up for. So if I ever pee my pants, you will know what happened! Or the days when I walk into the studio to work on painting, and for the life of me, I cannot remember where the hell I was going with that particular painting! And then there is the crazy shit that goes on in my head. Things like, do I have any talent at all? Am I crazy to think that anyone will buy my art? Is this really what I am supposed to be doing? What happens if it comes back? Am I doing enough to keep cancer from returning? My friend was cancer free for 9 years then BAM, it was back….that shit freaks me out!
No one likes to talk about this stuff. No one wants to scare a cancer patient. No one wants to admit out loud that sometimes they feel bat-shit crazy, and cannot remember the name of someone they have known for years. No one wants to admit that sometimes they are paralyzed by fear at every follow up appointment. I think it needs to talked about. I think every cancer patient should be informed about what happens to us after cancer. So that is why I wanted to write this. I put on a brave and happy face, that is part of how I cope with it all. But behind closed doors, there is some scary shit that goes on for people after treatment is over. Coping with all this is getting easier as time goes by. I have little tricks here and there, along with a really healthy diet, exercise, meditation and breathing exercises, so I can usually pull out of whatever funk might be happening for me.
I am certainly not the same girl I was before cancer. How I navigate my life has completely changed. I am bigger, better, kinder. I feel that life for me has no limitations.
All I have to do is say “yes”, to all that life has to offer. No more living small. I will continue to glide through this life with as much grace and humor as I can muster! I will paint from my soul. I will love with my whole heart.
Canadian artist, living the dream in Mexico.