This week I'd been feeling very sensitive, and overreacting to little things (knowing full well that I'm overreacting but being completely unable to stop myself from getting upset anyway). This was made worse by the fact that as of this last week, when I'm stressed I can sit and obsessively pull hair out of my head, which then gets me even more stressed and upset. I've been trying to work out what's going on, and with the help of some clever, observant, objective people I think I've got it.
At the beginning of this week someone told me that I may feel fine now, but I am about to get very ill. I didn't know why but that one comment crushed me. I have made a concious effort to be positive, and to maintain as normal a life as possible. I thought I was doing a good job of that and I felt good and people have been supporting and encouraging me. Plus I've met so many women who have been through this and have been very well overall. But suddenly I felt like an idiot for being positive. I felt like an idiot for thinking this might not be so bad. I felt like an idiot and was sure that everyone else must think I'm an idiot too. Cue several days of unnecessary over-analysing and beating myself up over literally anything and everything.
Different friends asked me, "Do you think maybe what you're actually upset about is having cancer?"
Huh. At first I thought "No! I am genuinely very upset about [insert ridiculous thing here]". But having been asked the same question a number of times I decided maybe I should reflect on it, and I feel much better for having done so. (Turns out it's much easier to get over being upset, when you know what it is you are really upset about.)
Realisation number 1: I'm a control freak
I already knew this. But am now understanding it in the context of the situation I'm in. Might sound odd, but I've been giving very little real thought in recent weeks to the fact that I have cancer. As soon as I knew what was going on, I put all of my attention and energy to the treatment plan.
I'm not dealing with cancer. I'm dealing with chemo. Dealing with chemo is much easier to manage, mentally. I can plan, prepare, make decisions, overall maintain control. I know that Monday morning before work I'll be going to the doctor for a blood test. Tuesday morning before work I will be going to see the oncologist. Wednesday I go for the chemo. I know to eat a big breakfast this time, and drink plenty before I go in to try and avoid a repeat of the passing out incident. I know which friend is kindly accompanying me and making sure I get back to my bed safe and sound. Etc etc. It's all organised. So, while I can't say I'm looking forward to it, I don't feel too stressed or upset about going back for chemo. It's just what I've got to do next week.
But there are regular reminders that I am not in control at all. The unexpected nosebleed freaked me out. The hair coming out is a big one. Made more traumatic by it not going all at once (in one big shock move that I can then deal with and move on from) and not a general gradual thinning that I barely notice, but occasional decisions by specific patches of my hair to completely give up the fight and abandon me, leaving me constantly wondering whether that's it now or if there's more to go. One (luckily very small) area of my gum receeded a bit. It can be a side effect of chemo. I asked my dentist about it. Apparently if that's it, it's fine. But if it starts happening much more by that tooth, or starts happening to loads of teeth then they will be concerned. But what can anyone do? I have to have the chemo. Will my gums be ok or won't they? I don't know. There's nothing I can do but wait and see.
These things are all stressful, but I know full well they are just the icing on the cancer cake. Forget what the doctors said. What if the treatment doesn't work, the cancer spreads, and I die? I don't think about it much - because it is so far out of my control, what's the point - but of course, it's there in the background. I'm at the mercy of my doctors, the treatments available, and my stupid human body. So yes, I am upset about the cancer.
My usual way of handling things is to be in control. And now here I am in a situation where there is a huge amount outside of my control - and there is nothing I can do about it. I realise that the way I have been coping is by taking control of anything that I could, in particular my attitude. As I've said before, being positive is a concious choice. I could easily cut myself off from everyone, feel sorry for myself, assume the worst. But I had a choice, and I made a decision not to. How I respond to this is one of few things at the moment that I have control over.
I've discussed it with other people in the same position and we are agreed. It's up to the person with cancer to deal with it how they want to and how they are able to, and to tell other people how it is. It's up to everyone else to support them in that. So if there are days when I need to hide under the duvet feeling ill then I will. But the rest of the time, if I want to go on as normal (or as close to that as possible), then I should, I can, and I will.
Realisation number 2: I was angry
A particularly clever person surprised me by saying they thought there was anger in amongst what I was feeling. I know I rant and swear a fair amount but I don't normally think of myself as an angry person. Having spent a few days being overwhelmed by feeling hurt, stupid and sad I realised in that instant that yeah.... there was a truckload of anger in there. I was PISSED OFF! For obvious reasons.
I have found writing this blog to be very cathartic (to the extent that it definitely outweighs any fears/embarrassment associated with everyone who knows me getting full disclosure on what's going on inside my mind all the time now) but it turns out that getting really pissed off and angry once in a while is also very good for one's mental health.
So dudes, while positivity is my go-to approach to all this, obviously it doesn't work 100% of the time, therefore next time I am being annoying, over-sensitive and whingy, perhaps actually invite me to have a massive rant about everything that makes me mad. It might be about cancer, or it might be about the number 31a bus. Who knows. But sometimes it will be the case that I am woman (with cancer) and I just need someone to HEAR ME FUCKING ROAR.
Having said that, right now I'm actually back to a good mood and soon off to have a nice time and a few beers with my friends :-)