I haven’t been writing as much on this blog lately. In part, that is because I’ve been feeling well, and in part because I’ve had this particular post in my head for a few days but I wanted to wait until after this weeks doctors appointments before writing it. I was reflecting today on how I don’t do a good job of writing about things when they are going well. It is so much easier to find things to say when you are struggling, but as things start to get back to normal and go well, I wonder what I should be talking about?
Something really clicked for me a few weeks ago. It was almost like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I’ve been doing some cognitive behavior therapy that has really helped. I’ve learned to internalize the idea that I can change the way I feel by changing the way I think. More to the point, that once I recognize that my thinking is going down a negative path, I can re-program my brain to stop doing that. What has been cool about this, is that it has not only reduced my stress about cancer recurrence, it has also helped me cope with impostor syndrome when I’m in an academic setting. I’m finding ways to use the cognitive behavior therapy in areas of my life that go well beyond breast cancer treatment.
Part of dealing with the fear of recurrence is that I needed to develop a deeper understanding of what I fear the most – metastatic disease. More to that point, I needed to understand what a metastatic diagnosis might mean to me. How would it change my life? At some point, I realized that other than logistics issues, it wouldn’t. I would still want to be doing the things I’m doing. I’d still want to go to academic conferences and write academic papers and collaborate with some really cool people. Heck, at the conference last week I actually had fun!
I also realized that the worry about recurrence was not serving a positive purpose. Before my diagnosis, the worry that I had about breast cancer was minimal – however, I still checked my breasts every time I got in the shower. It was part of my normal routine – soap up and examine for changes. It was during that time that I discovered the hard area, and then the change in discharge. So, it was a week later than I saw myself in my primary care doctors office, and later that week the radiologist told me I had cancer. My point is, that I had only a low level of worry, and that low level was enough for me to be diligent and to find the cancer quickly. Adding more worry would not have changed my outcome. So, that same logic is sinking in regarding recurrence. At first, I thought every pain was a recurrence. I was constantly worried about it. Now, that worry has lifted. I’ve managed to replace it with the idea that I’m going to go ahead and live my life, cancer be damned!
It has been freeing to let go of the worry. I’ve gone back to some of my contract work, and I’m making progress on it. I have a to do list a mile long, but I’m making slow progress on it. I’m also regularly asking myself is this what I want to be doing with my time? Is this how I want to be living my life?
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still struggling physically. I’m still wanting to be doing more things than my body will currently allow. But I’m also having fun collaborating with people from around the world. Next week I’ll be in Ottawa visiting so many of my friends that I have missed this last year. I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing, and that is a blessing.