“I had another chemo nap,” I told my husband recently.
“I know,” he said. “We ate dinner without you.” That’s when I realized I had slept for four hours.
I see other breast cancer survivors putting in full days at demanding jobs and then taking care of their families at night, shuttling kids to school in the morning, and volunteering for charities in their spare time. I wonder if I’ve allowed myself to become self-indulgent. How are they doing it?
Nearly three years ago, we moved from lush Northern California to the dry Southern California desert. After the marijuana laws changed in our state, pot growers slowly began to surround our rural home, and with cultivation came guns, cash, mean dogs, and other drugs. After a neighbor was shot and killed on a Christmas morning — one grower robbing another — my husband, Gary, and I decided it was time to move. I was fresh out of treatment for breast cancer, still a little skinny and weak, but we had to go.
At first, we thought we’d spend a year in the Yucatan and so we enrolled our daughter Lauren in a school there. I visualized Gary and me drinking piña coladas and all three of us becoming fluent in Spanish, a language which reminds me of tropical breezes and bright colors.
From our hotel in Mexico, we found a tenant to rent our house in California. Then, we picked out a furnished place to live on the beach and headed home to pack our bags.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the airport in Cancún.
An unscrupulous cop pulled us over and threatened us with all sorts of nastiness. We paid him off and he let us go, but 20 seconds later, after we were back on the road, the same thing happened. Different cop, same scary story.
On the plane ride home, Gary and I decided to forgo our plans to live in paradise and instead moved to the desert. Now we live in a crappy fixer-upper which we had bought originally as an investment.
Where a bathtub will one day be, I can see the plumbing stub-outs. It teases me every time I fantasize about being submerged in fragrant hot water, as every woman I know wants to do at the end of the day.
Wires still protrude from places where outlets will one day go, and in my imagination, I know just what the landscaping will look like when this place is done. In other words, our house is under construction.
Kind of like my post-cancer-treatment body.
“That lump’s been in there a long time,” a doctor told me shortly after my diagnosis. “You just couldn’t feel it.”
In those early days, I had one procedure after another. Mammograms. CAT scans. Bone scans. Biopsies. EKGs. Sonograms. Port-a-cath installation.
Getting a core biopsy felt like a teenager was screwing a drinking straw into my breast and then sucking up tissue as if it were a triple-thick milkshake. But the bone scan? That was as close as I’ll ever come to exploring life on the moon. The technology was other-worldly and fascinating.
Those procedures are behind me now, as are the months of chemo, a lumpectomy, and radiation therapy. Physical evidence of that crazy time has mostly disappeared. My hair’s grown back, I’ve regained the weight I had lost, and the scars are barely noticeable.
But my body? It still feels beat up. In fact, it feels like it’s under construction.
I’m still struggling to get my energy back and combat depression. I know that the way to do this is to exercise more. It’s one of life’s cruel ironies that we have to expend energy to generate more of it. But, when I feel so tired, the last thing I want to do is break a sweat.
I’m also working hard to repair the hit my brain took from cancer and the drastic measures it took to heal it. Some days, I still feel so foggy that remembering words and faces is a real challenge.
Thomas Carlyle, the famous Scottish philosopher, wrote that “endurance is patience concentrated.” But I want more than to merely endure.
So, I resolve to continue with the construction, of my house, and of my body, to make the small steady changes that add up. One day, those changes will result in a bathroom — with a bathtub. And I’ll use it to soak muscles still tingling from an invigorating run.
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