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
7 thoughts on ““F*ck – Do I Have to do a Marathon Now”?”
Dear Julie Ann, Oh, how I have missed you! (It feels like it’s been such a long time since I’ve heard your ‘voice’.) But you’re coming across; as clearly, and as authentically – as I could ever imagine anyone could! (Thank you….) And speaking of voice, I (literally) lost mine last Sunday. To the point where I needed a substitute to lead the Ash Wednesday Service – and THIS Sunday, DICK will be in the pulpit! Life is never boring. His first wife, Cynthia, died yesterday, so – needless, to say, he’s working hard, on all levels! But he is, for his 3 children – as well as for me, a pillar of strength. I am blessed…. as are you, I know! Ruth
I missed your special day – happy birthday!! I look forward to some time together hopefully soon. You are loved. I love that my expletive filled blog didn’t stop you from reading it and writing! This will sound strange, but try to enjoy not having a “voice” – you have so many other ways to shine. My love to you and Dick. Namaste.
Thank you for this naked vulnerability …it’s exhausting trying to be everyone’s fav BC Warrior. Right? Never mind real life, behind the scenes. I was with an old friend most of yesterday …I am resilient, and have a lot of fortitude. But much much less than before I had BC. Yesterday, I was able to push through the everyday discomfort and brain fog…to smile and laugh…but we walked a lot…And I’m in a boot for at least a month and same with a left wrist splint.
I fell at Disney World…🙈
Today I paid a heavy price…dizziness from anemia, fatigue, soreness, a fast heart rate from my overactive thyroid, a new condition since BC.
(I plain old over did it). But I wanted to have fun and laugh …I NEEDED to.
I was a stylist/ salon owner for 30 years…my Drs told me when my surgeries and treatments were done …I would not be able to continue. I was in denial for 6 months. BC took my livelihood and it took me 2 years to feel like I wasn’t late for an appointment, or needed to do the bookkeeping for the salon. If I wasn’t being productive…what was my value?
That was the life long message running through my head. I had to go to counseling to deal with this “new normal” (I love counseling and think everyone should have to go!) but I also sadly had to accept that BC disabled me. That was so brutal and shameful for me to accept. A type A …that did it all and did it all really well.
So give your self …some love girl…this BC has a crazy mental and physical component to it that is brutal. Take your time …and be extra kind to yourself.
Heal and Breath.
Blessings my #sister xoxo
Breathing this all in and trying not to hold my breath. Exhausting being a warrior is so true. I can’t wait to meet you this spring and wrap my arms around you. Sending love back.
Hooray for birthing this baby! Love you!
Just read this last blog. Thank you for your honesty. I am driving to Kennebunk this Fri. With my family. Will be there for just over a wk.
Reach out if you feel like connecting…maybe Talking walking, yoga. Totally up to you – no expectation.
Thinking of you.
Lisa Mitchell 137 Wildes 416 898 8474
Sent from my iPhone
I would love to see you and yes to any of your suggestions!