Most days, my two-and-a-half-year-old cancer diagnosis moves smoothly, easily back and forth between the back of my mind and the front. At work, I can usually focus comfortably on the tasks at hand, and only think -- fleetingly -- about my brain tumor when my left-leg limp causes me to trip while walking down the hallway. Or I can spend an evening out with my friends and only remember that I have cancer when someone asks me how I'm feeling, or when my next MRI is coming up. I can take a shower, read a book, watch TV, talk to my mom on the phone... all without necessarily thinking the conscious thought, "I have cancer."But on some days, cancer remains stubbornly in the forefront. Of course, thoughts of my brain tumor are inescapable on the days, once every other month, when I spend hours at the doctor, first trapped under a face cage in the MRI machine, then waiting anxiously for the results. On those days, I can't escape the ticker flitting across the screen of my other thoughts that asks questions like:
And on and on, ad nauseum. Literally.
"What if my tumor is growing again? How will I manage my work and personal to-do list if I have to go back on chemo? How will I afford to pay my bills? Ugh, I feel so guilty that my parents have to help me financially because I can't work full-time, and can work even less when I'm in treatment. What if my tumor morphs into the more aggressive kind, the kind that could kill me in months? I am so sad about all the people I'll leave behind when this tumor finally gets the better of me."
It makes sense that the anxiety inherent in doctor appointments and face-cage MRIs makes me think of cancer. I'm also realizing, however, two and a half years into this diagnosis, that other stressors in my life also make cancer rise to the top of my consciousness -- and stay put. When I am overwhelmed by other things in my work or personal life, that annoying ticker boots up again, and starts streaking away. It jumbles my other thoughts, and makes the task of dealing with the primary stressor, or even activities I typically find enjoyable, that much more difficult.
Take this scenario for instance:
1) I have tickets to a concert for a band I really want to see tonight with good friends. That's fun!
2) #1 plus I need to review the parking and venue maps and plan the most direct and accessible route into the venue. I need to arrive early to find a seat, since the concert is general admission and most tickets are standing-only. (My brain tumor prevents my walking long distances and standing for long periods of time.)
3) #1-2 plus my identity was stolen last week and I am feeling powerless and overwhelmed and have a list of to-dos at least a mile and a month long.
4) #1-3 plus I have an MRI on Wednesday and need to prepare, including developing a list of questions for my doctor and reviewing it with my boyfriend to make sure we don't miss anything when we sit down to talk with her.
5) #1-4 plus things are super busy at work, and of course they haven't slowed down as a result of my identity being stolen. Since I want to move forward in my career and carry my weight despite my cancer diagnosis, I've committed to taking on a more intensive workload for the next couple of months, against the advice of my doctor.
The sum of steps 1 through 5 is that I don't want to go to this fun concert tonight because, among other things, I have cancer.
Are there inherently fun or inherently stressful things in your life that are made either unfun or more stressful as a result of a cancer diagnosis? How do you cope with cancer as an added stressor? How do you find balance between being mindful of your cancer diagnosis, and being in denial about your situation?
This post first appeared on Naomi Sichler's blog iamnaomisbrain.com, on February 1, 2013.