Sunday, December 23, 2012

Being flexible

As a clinician, one of the things that I believe is that flexibility is a basic necessity for long term mental and physical health.  If you are able to adapt, you can survive.  I teach coping strategies to help to that end.   I often give the example to my students about a strong tree that doesn't move with the wind and breaks - as opposed to something more supple that goes with the wind and rides out the storm.  I tend to be a big strong tree - that sometimes tries to impersonate a willow.

But how do you become flexible?  Is it innate?  Do your parents teach you flexibility by showing you how to handle small and large catastrophes with grace? I have read that in general women tend to be more flexible than men.  I look at my children, and notice that my daughter was born a big strong stubborn tree.  A gorgeous tree.  But one that has a very hard time bending.  My son on the other hand, seems to take things in stride.  I don't feel like I did much different parenting - although I am sure I did.  Your child's innate temperament impacts how you parent each child.  My mother says that as a child I was difficult- high strung, never slept, emotionally sensitive, physically sensitive, and stubborn.  It is interesting the way as mothers we sometimes get to mother tiny versions of ourselves.  I have a whole new respect for my own mother.

But what does this have to do with Cancer?  Well, on December 11th I was told that chemotherapy would abruptly end due to the increasing neuropathy in my feet and hands and some possible foot syndrome.  I was extremely frightened about this notion.  I wanted to finish all six rounds of TCH (Taxotere, Carboplatin, and Herceptin).  Doctors feared that the chemo could cause extensive damage.
I had to shift my understanding of what was happening.  Scary.  I needed something to change my vision of what was happening.  I needed a visualization that would center around my healing.  I wrote the following story - when you read it, imagine a kind of WWII narrator from one of those short news reels that were often shown in theaters prior to the featured presentation...

The  cancer cells had no idea what was happening.  Why would they?  They had been allowed to grow undetected for years in a comfortable section of my left breast.  So comfortable they were, that they didn't venture beyond one lymph node in my left armpit.  
My doctors were brilliant and extremely versed in breast cancer warfare.  After sizing up the enemy, they quickly surmised a course of action to destroy it.  Armed with knowledge, experience, and research, they began their attack.  A strategy that would begin with chemotherapy.  Experienced fighters - Taxotere and Carboplatin would join forces with a newer player, Herceptin to begin the battle.  
With the first infusion, the cancer cells were taken completely off guard.  The medicines found their target immediately and went to work annihilating the enemy.  Cancer couldn't fight back.  By the third round only scar tissue remained.The fourth round killed any remaining cells that might have been hiding from view during the first three battles.
My body was another important force is these battles.  It worked tirelessly with the medicines to do what was needed to win this first battle - and win we did.  The war is not over yet.  The defense forces suffered some injuries, and so for now, my body will rest, train,  and gain strength preparing for the next battle.  Thank you chemo for a job well done.

I know, it is kind of silly.  But it helped me to reframe what had happened.  I didn't want to feel like I had failed.  I wish I had the time and energy to do a comic strip- maybe something I can work on when I am better.  After I wrote the story, I really did try to work on the healing portion.  I began changing my diet again, riding on the exercise bike, maintaining better sleep patterns.  I started to be happy that I no longer had to sit in the big girl chair.  My hair began growing.  And now I was on to my next challenge- figuring out how to cope with surgery.

But, this very long blog post is about flexibility.  My oncologist called Wednesday and asked about the neuropathy- which has improved greatly on the new medication.  He feels it is important to continue chemotherapy.  The one thing that helps me to be flexible, is that I trust my team.  But it is still hard.  I spent a lot of time crying.  I hate chemotherapy.  It hurts - physically, emotionally, spiritually.   But I also know that thus far, it has been extremely successful in obliterating my tumor.  So, I have been working on changing my attitude once again.  Which has not been easy.  I went in on Friday.  My pattern tends to be that I feel fine the first three days, and then it hits me hard - and remains difficult for the rest of the week.  Which means that it will hit on Christmas.  I will do my best to take care of myself, take my medications, and stave off the misery of chemo during the holidays- but I feel crestfallen.  As a mom, I have been preparing for Christmas.  I love Christmas.  I have a basket full of projects needing to be done, gingerbread houses not yet baked, pictures and snowflakes I haven't hung... and now, I don't know what will happen.  Flexibility sucks.  But breaking sucks more.

1 comment:

  1. This is a powerful post, Deann. I like the storytelling as it helps me better understand your tough situation and the efforts you are making to bring ease into your life. And the art! OMG! It's fabulous and speaks a gazillion words all by itself. I have a visual of you -a willow, swaying in the breeze, dancing and adjusting with each changing current.