The Bridge

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Exhibit A of why I’ll never be a visual artist.

This morning was my last session with the therapist at the cancer center. She’s a master’s program intern, so she’s graduating next week. I sort of felt like our time was kind of winding down, anyway, as I’ve talked ad nauseam about my anxiety over recurrence/metastasis. She has introduced me to some techniques to help manage said anxiety (hello, meditation!), and also helped me see some of my underlying issues with control and needing to always have it together for others (it’s the responsible oldest/middle child in me).

As part of today’s session, she asked me to draw a bridge that represents my journey, and draw myself somewhere in the photo. That’s the masterpiece you see above (pretty sure my sisters got all the genes for visual artistry in our family).

In explaining my drawing to the therapist, I divulged a longstanding irrational fear of bridges. There’s something about them that’s always kind of freaked me out, particularly those over water (I also have an irrational fear of water I can’t see the bottom of, too, so I’m sure that plays into it.). I told her about the Bonner Bridge that takes travelers out to the Outer Banks–that one has always given me the willies. I mean, look at it:

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I drove over this thing at night once, and nearly peed my pants before reaching the end. 

I also told her about a recurring dream I have about crossing a precarious bridge, usually represented as the old I-85 bridge over the Yadkin River linking Rowan and Davidson counties in North Carolina (I grew up in Rowan county). I’d post a photo of that one, but it was permanently closed in 2012 (see, I was freaked for good reason!), and images are few and far between on the internet.

In my drawing, I put myself halfway across the bridge. There’s a pretty substantial chunk of land behind me, and a smaller one ahead with a sign: “Normal life.” That’s the goal. That’s the magical place I’m trying to reach. I’m not really sure what it looks like. In my drawing, I’m almost half-way there.

Below me, the water churns. I wasn’t planning to draw water at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized the water was the perfect representation of my fear. If I fall off the bridge, I could drown or something in that abyss could reach up and grab me. I might survive, but I could just as likely die.

That’s what metastasis/recurrence looks like to me. I could survive, but I also could die. So many others have.

But on the bridge, I’m safe. I’m moving forward. I’m figuring out a way to make sense of all this, to live life without constant fear, to get closer to “normal,” whatever that means now.

Another point the therapist made was all the worrying I do is a way to trick myself into thinking I can prevent something bad from happening. It’s true. If I’ve thought about it, considered it from every angle, run through all the scenarios, they can’t possibly come true, can they?

Of course they can. And that’s where I am right now. In meditation, I’ve learned to acknowledge these thoughts when they pop up, and then send them on their merry way as I get back to focusing on the moment at hand. The truth is, obsessing about this stuff isn’t going to stop any of it from possibly happening. Rationally, I know that I’m still under pretty careful surveillance by my doctors, and they’re likely to catch something should it arise. In the meantime, fretting and Googling and working myself up into a froth isn’t doing anyone any good.

All that is easier said than done, of course, but I’m working on it. And step by step, I’m going to get across that bridge.

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Coming Out of the Fog

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Aside from the jaw-dropping fatigue I’ve experienced with chemo, the hardest thing for me is the phenomenon known adorably as “chemo brain.”

I’d heard about this affliction before, but until I was in the throes of it myself, I had no idea how hard it would be to deal with.

Since I never really got physically ill from my first treatment, I thought I was in the clear as far as side effects go. Obviously a little brain fog and sleepiness are far superior to puking, but it just never really occurred to me how hard those “lesser” side effects would be.

I’m an editor by trade, so my job is to read and rework copy, and also to write stories for a magazine. This is work that you need a clear head to complete. Grammar and punctuation, not to mention syntax and overall organization, are sort of hard to figure out when you’re not firing on all cylinders.

Yes, this was an opportunity to take it easy and take some time off. My very kind boss and coworkers urged me to do just that. But that’s not how I operate. I need to work. It makes me feel normal. It makes me feel useful. And it feeds my passion–I love writing and editing. It’s not just a job for me; this is something I truly enjoy doing.

So, not being able to craft a clever turn of phrase, or whip some lackluster copy into something that sings really is hard for me. Looking at a Word document and feeling utterly overwhelmed because I don’t even know how to begin to approach it makes me feel like I’m out of control. My brain function is something I can’t harness and use as I want, like I’m so used to, and that drives me absolutely batty.

Thankfully, the past two days (now 5-6 days out from treatment) have been better. I know that I probably need an extra day to veg out after my next treatment. I know to be easier on myself. But it won’t be easier to do that, because even though I know self-care is the right thing at this point, it’s the hard thing, and not being wired to operate that way is a challenge I had no idea I’d have to face.