Okay, I got used to the surgical scars across my chest and under my arm. I got used to the radiation burn down the middle of my chest. I got used to the weakness in my left arm after surgery. I got used to my lopsided silhouette and to none of my clothes fitting properly, even with that stupid breast prosthesis that never looks right. I’m used to all that by now.
What I hate is what is happening on the inside of my body–and I’m not even talking about the tumors per se, or the pain. It’s the invisible erosion of my physical self. The white blood cells that have been destroyed–apparently forever–by chemotherapy. The exhaustion after minor exertion. The lack of appetite. The inability to sustain even mild exercise for more than ten minutes, if that.
What brought this on? Changing my bed linen. I pulled the bed out from the wall and felt a pang of guilt because I can’t wash the floor under my bed as often as the rest of the floor is swept and washed. (I don’t do it myself any more, and there is a limit to what I can ask my underpaid household helper to do.) I felt so bad that I took a picture and texted it to a friend for a reality check. The answer came back “In this picture it actually looks clean.” I accept that, but I still know that it is not as clean as my formerly houseproud self would have had it.
So on to changing the bed linen. Pull the bed out for easy access, lift the bottom of the mattress on to the footboard. Take off the old sheets, sit down for a moment to catch my breath. Put on the clean bottom sheet, slide the mattress back down. Sit down again to breathe and then get up to spread the top sheet. Sit down to put clean pillow cases on two pillows, then get up to arrange the pillows on the bed. Decide not to sit down yet, push the bed back into the corner.
I sat down again, feeling dizzy and out of breath. Took my pulse: 114 beats per minute. That is actually within the bottom range of aerobic exercise for me. From changing my bed! I really, really hate this. I was never a triathlete or anything of the sort, but I was reasonably fit. I enjoyed urban hiking and riding my exercise bike “long distance”. I feel diminished, humiliated.
It is hard to separate the ravages of cancer from the effects of normal aging, but I am only fifty-eight years old, not seventy. My eyes have gotten so bad that I can no longer do the fine lacemaking that I have loved for so long. My hands have become weak and unsteady, so it is even difficult for me to knit, so that when I use the computer for writing or for doing the translations that are my livelihood I often have to use dictation software because I can no longer type as quickly or accurately as I used to.
There is much in my life for which I am sincerely grateful, not least the fact that I am still alive. I am still committed to finding a modus vivendi with my cancer, rather than putting my energy into battling it. That doesn’t mean that I can’t hate cancer and everything it has done to me. And that’s where I’m at today.