I realized last night – as I was falling asleep, because what better time to have a rando realization like this – that I hadn’t posted in ages. This is due to two things: first, I’ve been doing a lot of freelance writing lately, and working two jobs is, as it turns out, really time consuming. (WHO KNEW?!) I also hadn’t had the time to sit down at my computer and type out a post, so I’ve remedied this by taking the groundbreaking, revolutionary step of…installing the WordPress app so I can post from my phone.
Solutions. I like them.
So, to say the least, things have been busy lately. A quick roundup of all the goings-on ’round here:
1) My freelance writing gig brings me such life, you guys. I’m writing for The List, a women’s lifestyle site, and it’s the perfect combination of research (satisfying my inner nerd), writing (satisfying my inner aspiring author), and on topics I really enjoy (like wellness, women’s issues, and, because I’m nothing if not shallow, celebrities). I try to do at least one article per week, and although it’s time and energy intensive, it’s also engaging and fun. And someone is actually *paying* me to *write* things, which to me, is nothing short of amazing.
2) I passed the two-year post-hysterectomy milestone, which is a big deal in the oncology world. I now get to space out my checkups — so I’ll start going in every six months instead of every three months. Granted, I adore my oncologist and want to be legit, real-life friends with her, so those visits aren’t exactly onerous.
3) I rejoined Weight Watchers, and I have to admit: I’m not doing as good of a job with tracking as I should be. I keep thinking this’ll get better with time, and as I gradually improve my life, my bandwidth won’t feel so limited. Here’s hoping.
4) Remember how I talked about refinancing my student loans? I finally got it figured out, and I was able to use Credible to refinance allllll those bastards — both public and private, which is a big deal. It cut my interest rate in half, so now my payments will actually *do* something! Rejoice.
Anyways, now that I’ve got this handy app installed (can we talk about how old I felt when I realized how long it took for me to think of doing this? Oy vey.), I’ll be able to post and update more often. Until then, I leave you with this autumnal scene, because fall is bae:
Four years ago today, I heard the words that changed my life: “I’m so sorry. We found cancer.” I’ve spent a lot of time (read: entirely too much time) thinking about how much has happened since then — and yet, despite all that, how much some things haven’t changed.
On one hand, I’m proud of myself for surviving, both physically and psychologically, the last four years. This has been, for so many reasons — some of which I can’t talk about publicly, in the interest of preserving the privacy of those closest to me — the hardest time of my life. Surviving with both my body and mind relatively intact has taken a lot of work, and I’m proud of myself for muscling through the pain, fear, loss, sadness, and what felt like repeated assaults on my body.
On the other hand, though, today’s anniversary has reinforced, for like the 83,954th time, how much my body has changed in the last four years — and not in ways that I like.
However! Two side notes before I get into this:
1) Despite my own not-so-great feelings about my body right now, I very much believe in the importance of encouraging women to feel good about their bodies as they are, and not as society’s purveyors of skinniness would have us believe. Body-shaming is not okay, ever. As long as a woman feels good in her own skin, is able to do things she enjoys, and is healthy, then I have no f*cks to give about her size. My weight and body image struggles apply solely to me, and this is definitely not a commentary about anyone else.
2) I also want to make it clear that I know that none of this is my fault, and I don’t blame myself for anything that has happened. I got cancer because I inherited a shitty genetic mutation, not because I did anything wrong. I gained weight because of the medications I’ve had to take and the surgeries I’ve had, and I don’t blame myself for any of this. That doesn’t keep me from feeling gross about the end result, but I want to be clear that my frustration is with the situation — which has entailed losing control control over how I look and feel — not myself.
All that being said, my body has been through a lot in the last few years. It started in spring 2013: before I first got sick, the uncontrollable hemorrhaging was preceded by rapid weight gain. After having worked so hard to lose weight in 2012, it was alarming — who gains 30 pounds in 6 weeks?! — and profoundly demoralizing.
I couldn’t exercise after the bleeding began, so I felt helpless to do anything about my sudden, and disconcertingly rapid, expansion. Oh, and there was the unrelenting, agonizing cramps that came along with it, and the nausea caused by the prescription pain meds I was given. None of that was a picnic either.
Then I got the cancer diagnosis, and I spent the next 14 months on massive doses of progesterone in an effort to treat the cancer while preserving my fertility. This made me gain an extra 20 pounds — by this point I was nearly 50 pounds heavier than I’d been before I got sick — and left me feeling like I had the worst case of PMS ever. Even though I was able to exercise during my treatment, the dose of progesterone I was on was so high that my exercise routine didn’t have any impact on either my mood or my weight. My anxiety and depression were in overdrive, and between that and the weight gain, I felt like an extremely emotional water buffalo.
Once I was declared cancer-free, I was able to go off the progesterone, and within a few months, I lost the extra 20 pounds it had made me gain. I was starting to physically feel like myself again, but emotionally I was still a wreck. And then I went on Clomid when we were trying to conceive, which not only gave me vertigo and made my hair fall out in clumps, but also took my existing anxiety problems and turned them into the mental health equivalent of Sharknado. I used to sit at my desk, holding onto it to keep from falling out of my chair from the vertigo, while also having panic attacks thinking about how everyone I love is going to die, and I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life. It was…not fun.
And then!!! Then my cancer came back, and then I had to have a total hysterectomy. My ovaries came out too, which made me a resident of Menopause City — and in case anyone is wondering, it’s a miserable, wretched city, and I hope someday medical innovation makes it possible to burn that sh*thole to the ground.
So then I went on antidepressants, which helped with the depression and anxiety, but also made me gain weight again. I have very mixed feelings about this: the fact that they give me a leg up on my brain’s determination to be freaked out and sad is enormously helpful, but when they also leave me feeling like the Stay-Pufft Marshmallow Man (among other side effects), it winds up feeling like a double-edged sword.
AND THEN. Around this time last year, I also developed a befuddling chronic pain problem (seemingly unrelated to the antidepressants): my migraines have become more frequent and more intense, and I’ll have days where every layer of tissue in my lower body just f*cking hurts. I’ll feel like I’ve run a marathon; my muscles, fascia, tendons, and joints will all feel like they’ve been brutalized, and I’ll be hit with overwhelming fatigue. I haven’t found a discernible pattern to when the pain flares up, and it’s increasingly resistant to NSAIDs. I’m allergic to opiates, and even if I wasn’t I wouldn’t want to take them since this is a chronic pain issue — but that means I’m running out of pain management options. Yay.
The last hurdle was this spring, when I discovered the hernia as a leftover complication from my hysterectomy. That put the kibosh on doing any sort of weight training, which just…seriously has bummed me out.
Granted, there have been some major improvements over the past six months: I was finally able to go on estrogen replacement therapy, which has almost totally eliminated the menopausal misery, and I found that eating a lot more protein helps my pain flare-ups be fewer and further between. So, there has been considerable progress in both minimizing and managing all my body’s temper tantrums.
But the fact is, I’ve always been strong, I’ve always been fast, and I’ve always been an athlete. (The way my parents tell it, shortly after I learned how to walk, I figured out how to run — and then I never stopped. I reportedly spent my first birthday running laps around my grandmother’s house.) But now, between the pain, weight gain, surgeries, and fatigue, I haven’t felt like myself in over four years.
Four years of feeling like someone covered my muscles with marshmallow fluff. Four years of running more slowly than I ever have, and working harder just to do what used to come so easily. Four years of having either intense physical pain, or feeling so besieged by depression and anxiety that I wanted to crawl out of my own skin. Four years of feeling weak, not being able to gain muscle mass or lift as much as I used to. Four years of feeling like a vastly diminished version of myself.
I want this stage of my life to be over. It’s been long enough, dammit. I’m tired of hurdles. I’m tired of unexpected complications and unforeseen challenges. I’m tired of feeling like I’m stuck in a body that feels so alien to me.
Logically, I know I’m improving. I know I’m in a much better place than I was a year ago, when both the pain and the menopause symptoms were wildly uncontrolled. I got the hernia repaired, and I’m nearly at the end of the compulsory six-week waiting period before lifting anything over 10 lbs.
But at the same time, I’m panicking that I’ll never actually feel like me again. I’m scared that I won’t ever be in a position to go off of my antidepressants — given how deeply unhappy I am with both my career and living in D.C., it would be madness (pun intended!) to discontinue them right now — and that I’m doomed to be eternally fluffy, slow, and weak.
I mean, what if the physical trauma of the last four years, the menopause f*ckery, and the meds have all joined forces to permanently wreck my metabolism? What if I never find a decent pain management regimen? What if the depression and anxiety prove too squirrelly to manage without medication, and I have these side effects for the rest of my life? Or, what if I discontinue the meds, someday when my life circumstances are more forgiving, and nothing improves? What if I’m like this forever?
Aaaaaallllll that being said, I know that, for now, I need to just focus on the things I can do. I can go running, even if it’s slower than a tortoise that just smoked a joint the size of a yule log. I can start weight training again on the 13th. I can keep being gentle with myself, because I know that none of this is my fault.
So, those are my goals for now: to focus on doing what I can, to remind myself that I’m still kickin’, even after all this grossness, and to keep taking things one day at a time. Even though I don’t love the pace of things, I know that small steps tend to have a cumulative effect: after a while, they eventually lead to big changes. I’ll definitely be ready for those big changes when they roll around, but for now, I know I need to just keep on keeping on.
This is a story all about how My life got flip-turned upside down And I’d like to take a minute and sit right there And tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air
No, wait. Hold on. That’s not my situation. My life definitely got flip-turned upside down, but the last time I checked, I was neither royalty nor in Bel Air. (Alas. Le sigh.)
Let me try this again. You know how sometimes people have a so-called “annus horibilis” (year of disaster/horrors/misfortune)? I had four of those. In a row. It was exceedingly lame.
To make a loooooong story super short, endometrial cancer, the realization that I got myself into the totally wrong line of work, student loans, fibromyalgia, major depression, a hysterectomy – and the resulting infertility and premature menopause – all pulled a Captain Planet and combined their powers to turn me into a hot mess.
I’ve been pretty fercockt for a while – but now, with my health under control and things calming down a bit, it’s time for me to rebuild and recreate my life not as something to slog through, but rather as something to enjoy. Hence the renovation: much like HGTV – but without Chip and Joanna Gaines or the Scott brothers, alas – I hope to tear out the old, dilapidated parts of my life that don’t work anymore while rebuilding a much nicer, more livable structure in its place.
It’s not what I had originally planned or wanted for my life, but a mantra that has gotten me through the last few years has been a quote borrowed from Sheryl Sandberg’s incredible Facebook essay about life after losing her husband: “Option A isn’t available. So let’s kick the sh*t out of Option B.” The things I had planned, hoped for, and wanted – fertility, a job and career that I love, perfect health, full repayment of my student loans, a life free of debt (the aforementioned loans) and chronic pain (fibromyalgia) – aren’t available right now, so I have to move forward and rebuild with what I’ve got.
So, this is my effort to start kicking the shit out of Option B. My goal is to do one thing each day that helps me renovate my life. Whether it’s something that helps me improve my physical or mental health, un-fuck my professional situation and move towards a new career, improve my finances, pay off my loans, or just something that brings me happiness, I’m a big believer that small steps can eventually lead to big changes.
And so, to use the already heinously overused cliche,* if a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, this is that first bit of forward movement. I don’t anticipate being able to write a long and involved post about each daily activity, but as long as I’m doing something, I’ll consider it a win. So, feel free to come along on this ride, and welcome to the party.**
* May the writing gods forgive me this sin. I shall provide a burnt offering in hopes of absolution.
** And by “party,” I mean an introvert party wherein things are tame af and we all go home by 9.