One of the worst parts about my cancer experience up to this point was NOT DOING ANYTHING. When I was back home after surgery I was so consumed by discomfort and pain management that to focus on any single task was an impossibility. Getting out of the house to actually go somewhere was completely out of the question for a long time and even just having a conversation with friends wore me out after only an hour. Everything was just so difficult and I found myself spending the days counting down the hours until I could sleep away a good portion of it.
Then slowly, but surely, I started to regain strength and made efforts to DO things. Even if it was catching up on emails, writing blog posts or even concentrating on design work, the most important thing was that I wasn’t a lifeless blob. Rather, I was beginning the process of restarting all my systems again, mental, physical, even emotional. Then I took the greater step to even getting out of the house on my own, riding my bike to the coffee shop a couple miles away or going for walks. It wasn’t easy, trust me…not. at. all. But again, I was building and building, and with the help of Vicodin, even getting out for a couple (demoralizing) runs. In all though, whether I was making any huge strides, I was at least DOING something. And that was important to me.
Of course, with me, that is never enough. Just doing something is only a small part of the bigger picture, of having a goal, a purpose, and a measurable trajectory. I can now go ride my bike for hours on end, but without a reason to do so, I’d rather sit at home and watch reruns of New Girl. Don’t worry, I save those as a pre-bedtime ritual now. Now, fortunately, I’m at a state where I can not only DO SOMETHING, but do it with a purpose and have the strength to measure progress. It’s a large part in why I’m riding so much right now (outside of fundraising for Team In Training), preparing for the Century in September, working out the logistics of a backpacking trip at the end of this month, and now going to the gym every day to conduct a strength routine that leaves my arms flopping at my sides like noodles. In a temporary, but measurable way, I’m trying to fight back against the cancer experience. Notice, I’m not saying I’m “fighting cancer”, because I’m not yet convinced doing any of this actually helps, but to rage against the debilitating aspects of the cancer experience, the side effects of chemo, the weakened lungs, the continued pain from surgery, etc. is just as important to me as if I had the ability to fight cancer itself through my actions.
With that said, I succumbed to the notion that maybe I CAN do something to fight cancer directly. Maybe I can activate the systems in my body to turn on cancer and shut off their cell growth process. Maybe I CAN. Maybe there’s just something I’ve been missing. A very small detail.
I don’t know, part of me thinks that idea comes from a place of desperation, or at least frustration, where I’m now physically, mentally and emotionally able to conduct my life at a very satisfying and extreme degree, and so maybe I have the ability to fight cancer itself, do MY part…somehow. But that’s the thing….I don’t know what else to do. And so I succumbed to that idea that maybe there IS something I can do that the doctor’s don’t address.
I was browsing the section in the bookstore where the shelves are full of books addressing the many aspects of cancer. The books about what NOT to say to a cancer patient. The inspirational books about overcoming cancer and living a full life. The books that reject the “cancer industry” and rely on unproven, holistic methods.
Honestly, I don’t know what I was looking for. I was just…looking.
Then I found the section almost overflowing with books about cancer and diet. “Foods that fight cancer.” “What to eat when you’ve got cancer.” And so on. Book after book after book discussing the foods that prevent cancer, that work against cancer when you’ve got it, and the foods that minimize the side-effects of chemotherapy once you’re in treatment.
I started flipping. And flipping. And flipping some more….only to grow increasingly frustrated. Every book said pretty much the same thing and in reading between the lines I got the same message, “Do what you’ve been doing for the past 18 years of your life.”
Eat fruits and vegetables. Use turmeric and cinnamon. Eat lots of greens. Eat garlic. Get plenty of exercise. Engage in an active social life. And so on, and so on, and so on.
Like I said, everything I’ve been doing for the past 18 years. I had the urge to throw the books across the aisle. Thanks. Thanks a lot. I’ve done all this….I’ve done all this for so long, because I know it’s the good thing to do…so why the fuck did I get cancer? Why isn’t that obese, frowning, chain smoking, hot dog eating, miserable person staring at me from across the cafe ridden with cancer? Why isn’t 75% of the State Fair goers shoving shitty foods down their throat facing the prospect of dying far earlier than they wanted to?
I shoved the books back onto the shelf and walked away, internally shaking my head…but not necessarily at the common sense the books were written upon, but at myself for giving into the idea that cancer is a “fair disease”, that it only effects certain people in the population, that it judges our lifestyles.
It doesn’t. As a friend put it to me….”It certainly doesn’t discriminate.” And he was so incredibly right.
I walked away frustrated at myself and dejected at my situation, giving into that idea that I could actually DO something about my predicament, that I could turn this around, walk into the CT scan next week and walk out of the doctor’s office a week later with a NEC diagnosis (No Evidence of Cancer). but I know that’s absurd. I just WANT it to be a possibility. I just WANT to be able to have some agency over what is happening to me right now….and I don’t. Not in the direct sense.
But I’ve moved on. I don’t want to dwell on that reality anymore, because in truth I CAN DO SOMETHING with this predicament, even if it’s not actually TO cancer. It’s at least AGAINST cancer. Or even just the Cancer Experience. And for those of us whose lives have been turned upside down by having to go through the various experiences, this is hugely important, to be able to live in spite of our circumstance, to be able to rebuild our lives and our bodies in the face of these weakening treatments and surgeries.
And so at every chance I can create, I’m trying to DO SOMETHING. I’m taking all these empty hours in my life and filling them with legs spinning over and over and over again as I ride around the city, jumpstarting my cardiovascular and muscular systems, in turn firing up everything that activates my emotional release. Then with the other empty hours after my ride I head to the gym to work on strengthening everything that went neglected while I was distance running, and everything that atrophied after surgery, and everything that will need to be as strong as possible leading back into surgery. And at every meal I’m trying to make the most of my nutritional needs, eating the same cruelty-free, animal-less, diverse and nutrient-dense meals I can create, cutting out excess sugar and continuing to do what I’ve been doing up to this point….cancer or not.
And in the end, that’s what is most important. Not JUST doing something, but doing everything that was my life before cancer, as close to the degree I was pre-diagnosis. Sure, I’m a little weaker in some places, but probably a little stronger in others, and my cardiovascular strength is completely destroyed from chemo, but I’m not breathless. What is most important is that, at this juncture, I feel more myself than I have since this all started. I’ve set big goals for myself and I’m going for them, breaking down and building back up in the process, experiencing the rewards of that whole fascinating process that once consumed my days like I’m making happen again now.
I want to be that example. I want to be that example to others that our lives don’t have to completely stop in the face of diagnosis…until it’s all said and done and we’ve moved beyond cancer. We may be halted temporarily, and the lives we led may seem too far off in the distance to even recognize, but they are there and we can get to them quicker than we thought. We can be that example. We can show others that healthy, active lives are possible in the face of diagnosis and treatment, and so for now I’m going to keep DOING just that. If for no other motivation, that’s what I’m doing it for.
Now excuse me, I have some more episodes of New Girl to catch up on before tomorrow’s ride.