I am sitting here getting my twelfth and final Taxol treatment and I could not be more thrilled. Twelve weeks is a long time to endure anything, let alone something so difficult. Today I am feeling proud and strong and above all, I am feeling resilient. Physically my journey has been relatively predictable with a few minor bumps. For the most part I got chemo, I felt tired for a few days, really sick for one, and pretty good for about three. During those three days I worked, I worked out, I ran errands, I saw friends and my life was usually pretty “normal.” I’ve had a few trips to the emergency room and one really bad reaction to the chemo but even with those I have bounced back 11 weeks in a row and will do so a twelfth time just in time for Christmas! Emotionally speaking, however, it’s been a bit more unpredictable. Often feeling emotionally unwell came along with feeling physically unwell and vice versa. During my three “healthy” days I am usually in high spirits. But there have also been many, many moments in this journey that have left me feel sad or scared or angry or just plain overwhelmed. Sometimes these difficult emotions came from a dream, a conversation, a realization, something I read, a decision or change I had to make or someone else’s sad situation. While these moments are unpredictable in how they come up and where they come from the one predictable thing has been that they always, eventually leave. This is what allows me to say, with some level of confidence, that I am resilient.
I don’t think that I would have felt comfortable declaring that I am resilient before this experience. I have always considered myself to be a somewhat fragile person. For starters, I have always been a huge wimp about pain. When I was little, for example, I had a deep and stubborn fear of removing band-aids. I think I was more afraid of ripping the band-aid off than the actual wound underneath. This fear meant that, especially during the summer, I was often covered in band-aids from head to toe. I think it made my parents nervous that someone would eventually call child protective services on them. I wore markers of every bump, bruise and scrape around for weeks until they finally fell off or my parents tortured me by ripping them all off in quick succession. When it came to my emotions it was much the same situation. They came up, they hung around, they sat there on the surface and I wore markers of them on my face, in my actions, and through my behavior, for as long as I needed until they went away. I was an “emotional” and “sensitive” girl.
I used to think this was a weakness. I thought it was at the root of my fragility. To be sensitive was to be always aware, constantly taking in and taking on the weight of everything around me. To be emotional was to be unbalanced, always bubbling, potentially exploding. A good part of my journey into adulthood was learning to become more tempered, more balanced. But it didn’t mean that I stopped being sensitive or stopped being emotional… I just learned how to talk to my emotions. Instead of letting them control me and take me over I watched them as they came up. I knew them well so I could usually welcome them by name. “Hello embarrassment.” “Back again frustration?” Sometimes I let them come in and hang out. Sometimes I had to talk to someone else about their visit in order to understand them. Other times I had to tell them that their reason for stopping by was silly and they could feel free to go. “Sorry fear, everyone at the meeting will understand if I am a few minutes late…you can go now.”
I had been getting really good at this practice when I was diagnosed with cancer. Now there were suddenly emotions coming to stop by that I wasn’t used to: anger, for example, and deep, dark fears. Sometimes they all came at once and I got completely overwhelmed. Other times I couldn’t shake them and it felt like they were making plans to move in. Many times they came on suddenly and I was forced to sit there with them and to fully take on the pain they brought with them. But a lifetime of experience in being sensitive and emotional had prepared me in some ways. I was good at recognizing my emotions, for one. I also knew which ones I could send packing and which ones would need to stick around for a while. And most importantly, I knew that they would all eventually leave. For me, this has been the key to my new-found resilience. I get sad and angry and scared and overwhelmed but I can always come back to myself. I can eventually find my truth in the fog.
Feeling resilient has helped me to process the long road that I still have ahead. I have 8 more weeks of chemo which will be followed by a double mastectomy and about 4 weeks of recovery, then probably 6 weeks of radiation 5 days a week, and then the reconstruction process which could go on for several more months. I see each thing as having its own tunnel so that I get to see a light at the end of each one. I know it will be difficult. It will probably be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. But my body is resilient and so am I. We will survive.