24. Cry when you need to cry, Sweat when you need to fight.
“She has a LOT of energy. Sometimes she needs to just run like a dog.”
-A slight misquote from my friend G about his wife S.
I so feel my friend G, ‘cause I am the exact same way. Originally from Wisconsin, I’ve been an active kid since leaving the womb. Genetically speaking this wasn’t much of a surprise, as, my mom was always active in team sports. (The family legend has it that when she was challenged as a teenager, she beat the all male lifeguards in a sprint across the “Park Pool.”) Decades later, when she was due to go to Sloan Kettering for a potentially life-saving clinical trial, she made certain she scheduled all her massage clients just before she left. Yup, she was close to “chemoskinny,” but she made sure that everyone got rubbed before she left.
Her reasoning? Even though she was pretty damn sick, she only felt a “little tired”.
Everyday in this process, I feel myself stepping deeper into her “patient shoes”. Understanding her need to protect the people around her, pushing away anger and fear and “bright-siding” her illness, so as to not worry the people she loved. I marvel at the amount of energy it must have taken her. But also makes me incredibly sad. Because while she was surrounded by people she loved, and so many giving her good juju, I don’t know that she had anywhere to go to fully release any of her fears. Her MO with stuff that scared her was very Scarlett O’hara: “I’ll think about that tomorrow”.
I get it. We are a society overburdened with the need to “think positively”. In her book “Bright-sided : How Positive Thinking is Undermining America” one of my favorite authors Barbara Ehrenreich does an incredibly job of taking a look at the phenomenum through her own breast cancer diagnoses, and the added stress that can come with the expectation of “always being positive.” Let’s be real. This is HARD. Cause you don’t have a whole lot of control over much of the process. The emotions can be like a friggin’ roller coaster, and you sometimes have to hold back from punching someone in the throat who tells you to “think positive.”
It’s why I am really thankful for my therapist.
Like someone who consistently tells people about their fitness or weight goals, for the last yearI had been continually told people that I think I need to see a therapist. The thought had occurred a number of times in the years after my mom died, but I never acted on it, wondering if some day I would just go off the proverbial “deep end.”
Her death robbed me of my closest confidante, non-judging sounding board, and best friend. So where do you go when your “person” is gone? The one who has been there to witness your life in total?
My answer was two-fold. Emotionally, to spread it among my “people.” To recognize that opening myself up to them, started to make the world a little brighter. And when the words failed me, to take refuge in my physicality. To do something very basic and focused like lifting heavy things, to direct my mind to only the task at hand so that the thoughts that felt so jumbled would fall into some semblance or order.
But there comes a time when you need to talk to a stranger. To unburden to someone objective, whose job is just to simply listen. Because cancer diagnosis or not, we all need someone like that. Even if you are lucky enough to have an amazing partner, sorting through that load with someone who is not participating in your daily life brings new perspective and clarity that is invaluable. So if you can, do it. It’s worth it.
Pre- cancer adventure, 2017 was a year littered with death. Significant people were passing away within months of each other. It was enough to drive a girl insane. The enormity of the sorrow was such, that to breathe was to cry or simply laugh at the absurdity of it all. I did my share of both, and found emotional salve for the hardest aspects of it on a very comfortable couch in a triplex in the hills of Silverlake.
Yet, if you are an active person like me, as you start to heal, you will feel the need to get up and get moving. It’s not just because you’re “crazy”, it’s because your brain has become accustomed to the endorphins and frankly NOT moving makes you feel like your energy is getting “backed up” and ready to explode. Sometimes having someone to listen doesn’t do the trick when I feel like a caged animal, snippy, on edge and ready for a fight. So I’ve learned that when those feelings start to bubble up, it’s best for me to move. While drugs have affected the timeline a bit, they haven’t curbed the need for motion.
So, much like my post-op instructions told me starting DAY 1, I have gotten up and walked. Then slowly, I have made that walk a brisker trot on treadmill, and then on an incline, because it makes that angry caged feeling subside.
Endorphins can take over for the narcotics.
And sometimes, when unexpected test results make you feel like that caged animal and the fear has you not wanting to “talk it out”, you get on a spin bike in an indoor cycling room, turn down the lights and turn up the music. diving into that movement, pushing the intensity to release those endorphins.
And as the music surrounds you, your breathe aligns, the endorphins release with the flood of tears that have been pushed down.
Cause you can run from your feelings. But your breathe will always call you out.