Last week I went to my watercolor class, ready to jump back in after a missed week when the instructor was away. Half an hour into class, I suddenly had to sit down to rest. I felt weak and tired, and put my head on my arms on the table, almost like a rainy day “Heads up, Seven up” game from elementary school. In no time, sweat was dripping down my scalp to my face, nose and onto the table. My clothes were wet, the table soaked. I couldn’t get up to clean things up. People noticed. Marcia, who is also in my cancer support group, came over to check on me. Other students asked if I was alright. I tried to play it off as no big deal because I was uncomfortable with the attention. Ultimately, the fact that I didn’t know if I could stand on my own, let alone carry my supplies to the car and drive home, forced me to call my husband to pick me up.
I found the whole experience mortifying, scary, and humbling.
I hated being in a setting that is not cancer related, where I’m just Lisa – the fledgling painter, the prospective hiking patrol volunteer, another parent at the school – and suddenly having cancer thrown into the limelight. It’s not that I want to hide the cancer, but that I don’t want to lead with cancer. I don’t want it to define me, but in so many ways, it continues to do just that.
Going from feeling good and being excited about class, to a shivering, weak mess in a matter of minutes was frightening. I was thankful to have Marcia, who knows some of my history, there to support me. But what if this happened at the grocery store, driving my kids somewhere, on a solo hike? It took me a few hours of sleep, followed by a good lunch to bring me back to a semi functional state. I guess a nap in the forest wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but the helplessness would be scary.
The thought of having to adjust my life to fit these changes in ability is difficult to bear. I love my independence. I crave time to myself. Not always, but regularly. I’m not helpless; I can take care of myself – it’s always been a mantra of sorts. But maybe not so much any more. With this shift of mindset comes the multitude of other disappointments. Ideas that hadn’t quite gelled into goals or plans must be discarded. It seems quite clear that I won’t have the energy or ability to obtain the knowledge, achieve the fitness, or spend the time needed to reach these possible goals. I recognize that these may have been pipe dreams in the first place, but I still feel the loss of the hope, the wish, the dream.
For now, I’m trying to make adjustments so that, as much as possible, I can live close to the level I’ve been living, and continue to do the things I’ve been doing. That might mean more naps and saying no to even more “obligations,” and focusing on the things that I can still accomplish, even if that day the list is
- Get out of bed
- Spend time with my family
- Go back to bed.