Post by Mermaid Julie Ann…
If you followed this blog BC (before cancer) you know I was just trying to get used to people reading my writing as I worked on a side project of writing a book. Since I was 8 years old, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I even won a writing contest and got to meet William Armstrong.
I continued to write over the years, but starting the blog was a bold step. At first, I think I had a total of 3 followers, which was great. I wasn’t really ready to have people read my thoughts, but something was telling me it was time. Then, BOOM. Cancer. My plans changed. Cancer has a way of shoving your plans right out the window. On the day of my diagnosis, my blog changed. My voice changed. I found myself having a lot to say and curiously, more than 3 people wanted to listen.
Mostly, I knew from day one that I would only be able to be authentic, even when it got ugly. I didn’t know how ugly it would get for me. Initially I did not know anyone my age that had gone through breast cancer. As I got to know other “breast sisters”, I found that when we were together, our voices were honest, pure, authentic and clear. Publicly we all put on a brave face and try to live up to the impossible standard of being “warriors” or “thrivers” or “survivors” or whatever the PC cancer label is du jour. But the truth is, beast mode looks different for all of us. And there is much you don’t see.
As of earlier this week, I am back out on medical leave. It was a hard decision to make as I wanted to power through and just put cancer behind me. I had just spent two months diving back into complicated work projects and reconnecting with colleagues. It felt good to be back until it wasn’t. I have been diagnosed with a host of neuro cognitive issues that are related to the chemotherapy and probably my autoimmune disease and other spine issues. Flat out, my brain is not working as it once did and to say I have “chemo brain” feels like a punch line and not a realistic portrait of what is going on… I have significant deficits in areas of my brain that are scary. I’ve had a car accident, falls/trips almost everyday (including hitting my head) and anxiety that makes me want to crawl into a ball. The psychological damage has been building. My inability to read, process information, organize, recall conversations, make decisions and calculate numbers were all interfering with my ability to do my job well.
Going back out on medical leave has given me a new job. To heal. Or, as my favorite doctor and friend reminded me, this cancer journey is not a sprint…it is a marathon. Shit. I guess I am actually doing a f*cking marathon. But not with sneakers on. Today I’m wearing slippers. Maybe tomorrow I’ll wear sneakers or LL Bean boots…or cowboy boots if I feel like kicking ass. Point is, I get to choose and as much as people want me to be the strong cancer warrior, my strength comes in a different form that you might not see right now. My strength right now is focused on taking the time to heal my whole person. Maybe down the road I’ll get the bug to do a road race or a triathlon, but for today, my marathon is getting my brain re-trained, healing the trauma my body and mind experienced and speaking up for what I need. Even if it is just rest.
I don’t write this for sympathy. I write to be honest and not being willing to contribute to the “Be Positive and Wear Pink!” cancer culture that often doesn’t feel authentic. Platitudes and pressures abound and even though I put on a happy face in pictures during chemo, hair loss and trying to go back to work, my loved ones could see what was really going on. Just look at my eyes. Media and cultural stereotypes of the breast cancer warrior/survivor who is conquering literal mountains, while well intentioned (maybe), can make the person who isn’t feeling strong enough or positive enough or planning to run a marathon feel like they are not “doing cancer right”. Well, I call bullshit.
As I was finishing chemo, I met a woman who was a few months ahead of me in her recovery. We are the same age and both have high level professional jobs. Something she said to me has just stuck with me and was one of the most honest things I’ve heard since I was diagnosed. She said when she was diagnosed, her first thought was, “F*ck! Do I have to do a triathlon now?” Right? Everywhere you look there are women who work through chemo and radiation, they climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and begin to run marathons and never take a day off from work. And then there are everyone else. Including me. And that is ok.
I decided to reframe how I think about my marathon. Some days my marathon training has been organizing a drawer in less than 8 hours or working for 4 hours and going home and not collapsing in a puddle of tears and frustration or going to the grocery store and not needing to take anxiety medications. Now, being on medical leave, my training will be full of more medical appointments, therapy, yoga, massage, going to the gym and adjustments to medication so that I can return to work soon. I hope to write but some days that is too difficult. And yet, I’m determined that the marathon training will include joy. Time with family. Time with loved ones. Time to appreciate the change of season and the approaching anniversary of my diagnosis. I am making it through. I’ll cheer you on if you are doing an actual marathon or triathlon and I know you’ll cheer me on as I take this time to heal. With love, Julie Ann aka Mug Up Mermaid
*I am still accepting guest bloggers – no topic assignment other than authenticity!
~Mug Up Mermaid
“Under all that charred wreckage was the heartwood. Bruised. Scarred. But still good. Still capable of growth. ” Gwen Mitchell, Rain of Ash