The ears wake up first, then other senses come to life. Eyes are still closed but I am ready to pounce. Target in radar. I jump out of bed, wear my powerful warrior cape and attack the daily evils of cancer! Jump, duck, matrix moves and swoosh! Exercise for the day is done so I stumble my way to the breakfast table.
I wake up by 7:30 am with a roaring grumbling tummy. The 8 mg steroids keep me hungry and food is my way of dealing with anxiety. I eat a healthy breakfast and continue to attack my disease with a buffet of morning pills. Then I relax, get ready for work and spend my day with wonderful people doing something productive and constructive with life.
I blog, meet friends, trouble mom, watch movies, go shopping, travel and live life to the fullest between hospital appointments and treatments. I have also been brave again and got myself adopted by a puppy! It is my privilege to be his carer. After losing my bunny rabbit of 5 years last year, I missed having a furry friend and my family feels complete since we brought our beautiful Pug home.
Life is great and living with cancer makes my happiness graph look like a beautiful mountain range with many ups and downs. Therefore, the conclusion isn’t shocking when I admit that my darling disease couldn’t watch my happiness for long, so he decided to put up a fight. I was busy performing a beautifully choreographed tackle when he attacked and I am now wounded at the bottom of my mountain range. I get up with full gusto, except that I suddenly feel very light, lost and helpless. Where is my cape? And who put this dirty torn tissue around me?
I don’t feel brave right now. I’m unable to move without my cape. Gravity has seized to exist and I don’t know where I am floating. All I know is that I have lost my bearings, the surface under my feet and my cape. I need to hide, but where? This tissue couldn’t protect me. And what is this tissue?
Then I decipher; the tissue is a reflection of my strength.. which is fragile.
Sitting at the bottom of my mountain range, let me tell you what I grasped about strength
- It is in-built. One can take inspiration, but you need to create your strength concoction yourself.
- It is temporary. Strong people aren’t always consistent.
- It takes its time. Sometimes strength comes back in a quick somersault, sometimes it hides and makes a strategic entrance.
- Positive speeches ≠ Strength. Warriors do not want to hear motivational speeches because they are feeling low.
- Warriors feel morbid. And that is ok.
- Finding the strength switch. We know we have to pick ourselves up and carry on, we’re looking for the strength switch. It is a lone journey.
Often, chemotherapy warriors adapt a three-week- lifestyle- routine, where they plan activities based on treatment dates and how they feel after that. Similarly, they also plan bigger milestones over a three- month cycle as they get regular PET scans to monitor the cancer. I function under a similar format, so my nervousness knew no bounds as my tests were due and the previous two reports hadn’t been great. The doctor was kind enough to add a third to the list.
I am a strong minded, independent woman. Nobody tells me what to do and how to live my life. I complain to mom that I don’t have the discipline to fight cancer. Warriors turn their lives upside down to fight this disease. They transform their life for the better, but I can’t do it. Sure, I will add yoga, wheat grass juice, dry fruits and all other healthy things into the mix, but nobody takes anything away without my consent.
Therefore, a bad report tunnels straight into my internal demons of doubt, making me assume that the report resulted because of my personal choices. However I get over such thoughts quickly because I live each day as it comes and stressing is too exhausting.
Nonetheless, I do have a fear. Brain metastasis. I was very close to being cancer free when I was diagnosed with this six months ago. I have lost an uncle to brain tumor and I saw his quality of life suffer before he passed. This is my biggest nightmare and I promise that if cancer takes me it will take me standing on my own terms, not a lost version of myself.
This is my brain. My hard drive. Me. I’m so scared I’ll lose myself. Also, my previous experience with radiation was nothing less of torture. I felt like a dumb mannequin for two months after treatment where I couldn’t comprehend fast conversations, understand what I was watching on TV and felt completely lost and inadequate.
That phase conjured my thoughts of reliving third grade and being taught math again. I don’t understand numbers and everything beyond 2+2 is difficult for me while my life after radiation felt like learning trigonometry. The doctor promises that this radiation is different and I will not have side effects, but what is the guarantee? Every time I forget something, can’t see clearly, can’t write neatly or get a headache, I am in a state on panic.
I am still floating through the air in my tissue and I commence another round of brain radiation next week. Till I can’t put this in the past I know I’m not going to be a happy bunny. So what is my biggest mission? Getting my strength back.
Hunting the Strength Switch. This is how I am looking for it.
- Break from work. I’ve taken a break from work because I need to come to terms with my scan report and distracting myself won’t help.
- Overdosing on chocolate ice cream. Ate six scoops the other day and then cried.
- Using my favorite cuss words. And pouncing on all my loved ones. Also a little rude to strangers for no reason.
- Planning my funeral. You are invited and it will be a fun party.
- Trip to the Jungle. Took off on a spontaneous trip to the jungle to be away from technology and civilization while I try to find peace. My darling mum was in panic for two days as I have never traveled alone before.
Hmm, doesn’t look like a great ‘Strength Searching Strategy’ but it is all I can instinctively muster. However, it has been twenty days since I got my MRI reports and I am starting to calm down. I notice I feel slightly stronger and the quality of my tissue is improving. My smile is a little less bitter too.
Strength Searching Strategy
I’ve gained the perspective that strength is an evolution. It starts to grow where it is nurtured. It may or may not come when I call for it, but it begins building in the background nevertheless. However each time differently.
When I was diagnosed with brain metastasis earlier, I felt the need for a spiritual connect. A wish to understand the Higher Power. Today I don’t relate to that. I am feeling betrayed by His lack of support. I don’t believe that the universe owes me anything, but I don’t have to like or always respect what has been served on my plate. I am rebuilding strength during a very weak moment while I seem to be getting no help at all.
My Cancer Universe
I am looking into my cancer universe for inspiration and support, but all I see is a haggard cosmos of patients, oncologists, underdeveloped cancer organizations and the invisibility of qualitative support.
I agree that an immense amount is being done to create awareness. But truth be told, this isn’t helping me right now. I need a cancer buddy, a friend, a person who can empathize with me. Maybe someone who has walked in my shoes? A psychologist, a counsellor, anybody! But they hardly exist in India. Over here, getting treatment is a privilege and all else rudimentary.
But I suppose how beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, inspiration, strength and support can be attracted by those who want it strong enough.
Blogging has been a huge emotional release and has connected me to beautiful souls from across the world for strength and advice. Closer home, I have been introduced to a lovely NGO called UncancerIndia. While India has big strides to take in developing cancer support, I see that there are braver warriors acting in this direction while others like me complain.
In the process of hunting for my strength switch, I have also begun to appreciate the concern of my oncologist and radiologist. They keep in touch with mum to check on my well-being, make time for me whenever and as often as required, to reassure that my life does matter. I am not just a case study.
Despite my moping and brooding, I have felt loved ones send me strength from wherever they are. I may be angry with the universe right now, but I know their prayers protect me.
And that’s the best thing about cancer, it unites people against it.
The biggest gift cancer gives a warrior is unconditional love.
So in a world where there is growing intolerance over ones religion, political preference, global warming, animal extinction and other deteriorating issues, at least this ugly cancer brings out an action of concern and care from those who interact with it.
We are transient souls sent on Earth to witness life and move on, yet we fight over man-made issues while there are bigger in-discriminatory antagonists to fight against as a species.
Cancer isn’t a battle I would have chosen to fight, but at least it is worth fighting for.
I am still in the process of converting that little tissue into my powerful warrior cape again. I am still floating, but starting to find direction and control. I am still on baby steps, but I know I will stand on the peak of my mountain range again.
In the meanwhile, I will count my blessings and appreciate the fact that even though I have marbles in my head, I am still functioning fine and all will be well.
It has to be.
Now time for my next chocolate ice cream scoop.