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Is this the best I can be? October 11, 2009

Posted by PAS in survivorship.
A table for each week

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I’ve posted here about trying not to waste opportunities, about not always feeling strong, about (lately) feeling perpetually tired. My friend Az posted today her reflections on her last year as a cancer survivor — wondering in the midst of being happy that she’s surviving if it’s okay to feel that sometimes, she’s not being all that she can be.

Cancer survivors live their lives in chunks of time: time off chemo before surgery, time after surgery recovering enough to take post-op chemo, time after chemo has ended waiting between scans and appointments. Like Az, I’ve lived most of the last five years in two, three or four month increments between visits with Dr. Personality in NYC, between scans, between treatments.

Before cancer, as a dog trainer, I often lived my life four to six months in advance. Dog shows (and especially agaility trials) close four months or longer in advance of the show weekend dates. My calendar ruled my life — see my Dog Trainer’s Log post to see the vital role my calendar still plays in training and preparing M. for the ring.

Before cancer, I used to mark out my vacations on my business calendar months in advance to ensure the off-time would be approved. My year was defined not by seasons, but by dog shows: American Spaniel Club in January, Westminster in February, Syracuse cluster in March, DOTCORNY trials in April, Western Lakes in May, SOTC in June — and those were just the obedience trials, and just the first half of each year! In the fall, Western Lakes starts September, followed in the same month by Wine Country, SOTC and DOTCORNY trials in October, Salt City and Springfield clusters in November, and Cleveland’s Crown Classic right before the holidays in December. It took a lot of careful balancing to be sure that I’d have enough vacation time left in December to have five days to spend in Cleveland.

I still mark out time on my business calendar far in advance — but these days, it’s for follow-up visits to NYC. Right now, on four-month follow-ups, I’m a bit disoriented. I’m unfocused. I am a month ‘off’ after four years of making much more frequent visits to NYC. At one point when I spent a year traipsing down to the city every 4th week, I felt like a mouse on a wheel. When in remission I was put on bi-monthly and quarterly visits, it felt like a serious vacation from doctors. I’m not quite sure what to do with my time with this extra month between visits.

And although I haven’t shared it here until now, work right now is hell on wheels. After the announcement that DSE would be closing its Syracuse site and relocating my group between sites in New Jersey and Indiana, my co-workers have been in emotional upheaval. I’m no different and no exception. The choices are mind-boggling. Relocate? To which site? Bid on my current position? Bid out to another group? Hang on for severance? Take early retirement? I need a bigger notebook, a wider white board to hold all the pro-con lists. Maintaining my focus, a tough job at best, has been nearly impossible since the official relocation packages and job postings were announced two weeks ago.

I’m working, coming home, falling asleep exhausted, waking up in the middle of the night, falling back to sleep, waking up late, getting to work late to start the process all over again. I’m sleeping through weekends and blowing off commitments.

If this is the best I can be, I want a makeover.

How do you cope with the life-in-chunks stresses of cancer survivorship? If you have any tips, please share! I know I can use all the help that I can get!

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1. azahar - October 12, 2009

It’s actually been a year and a half for me (hey, those six months count! 😉 ), but a year since the erroneous “death sentence”.

In my opinion, the “best you can be”, Gaelen, is a helluva lot more than a lot of people accomplish. Yes, it’s a bugger feeling tired and unable to concentrate a lot of the time, but remember that it’s also better than the alternative. I do understand your frustration, but in a way it’s like someone who has lost a leg not being able to do the two-step anymore. That can become the focus, or else a new dance step can be discovered – or even invented. And from where I sit, you have created a whole new ballet for yourself. You should be very proud of that.

I’ve been wondering how you’ve been coping with the job situation. That in itself would send most people tailspinning, so it’s no wonder you’re feeling extra exhausted. Give yourself a break already!

I suggest you take early retirement and relocate to Spain. The dogs would love it here and your cat already has a Spanish name…

In terms of help, I’m usually around and on Skype if you ever want to chat. What am I – about six hours ahead of you? I don’t have any specific coping mechanisms to share, but I know I would be totally lost without my laptops and the internet. And especially my cats. I think having “dependents” that you love with all your heart becomes the first focus of the day. And some days, that’s enough.

One day at a time, remember? I think you’re doing great.

2. Ryan Biddulph - October 12, 2009

Hi Pat,

My thoughts and prayers are with you and I focus on the idea that you continue to improve. My girlfriend’s father had lung cancer and my bro-in-law currently has brain cancer. I’ve seen how it can affect lives like no other disease.

3. gaelenscafe - October 12, 2009

Thanks so much for the comments and support; they mean a lot.
Az, I’ll make you a deal: I’ll give myself a break (and meditate more) if you give yourself the same slack to be who you can be, when you’re up to being you. My strongest thoughts and thanks to both of you.

4. azahar - October 13, 2009

Have been re-thinking this, and I reckon there must be better ways of coping. And not just coping, but moving beyond our limitations in a more creative way.

I like the idea of moving forward.

5. gaelenscafe - October 13, 2009

My forward movement is a little easier to see if I look backwards – progress sometimes is so incremental that I don’t see it comparing day to day, but it’s obvious when I look over the last month, or the last couple months, or when I think about where I was at this time last year. I guess I should start gauging progress the way I evaluate my fitness and weight loss — the graph looks SO much better when I look at it over the longer time frame than it does when I look at it up close!

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