When the weather is nice in New York and I am working in the city, I usually pack clothes to go for a run in the park when the workday ends. Along my runs, I almost always notice at least one dangerously skinny white woman powerwalking. To me, there is absolutely nothing more terrifying than the sight of a skinny white chick walking at full speed with her arms flailing back and forth. Skinny-white-lady-powerwalking is, essentially, the definition of bat-shit crazy, and everyone knows it’s crazy in the “slash your tires” way and, personally, I prefer to remain safely in the crazy in the “fun” way zone, so, therapy has begun.
I had to break up with my first therapist. I attended two or three sessions with him, and I know that isn’t much time, but I could tell it wasn’t a fit. I’d arrive and he’d ask me a couple of leading questions, and then I would spend an entire hour answering while he stared at me with pursed lips and a tilted head, stopping every once in a while to ask, “how did that make you feel?” It felt so cliché and lame that I think I might have even rolled my eyes at him a few times. I really wasn’t looking for someone to unload on, so much as someone who can offer me informed feedback. I already share intimate details about my greatest fears and hurdles with anyone who wants to read my blog, so it’s not as if I have difficulty opening up. What I wanted was someone who would be willing to share some insights and advice, and someone who will push me to go deeper; a place where I can be even more honest.
I found a new therapist through a personal recommendation, and it’s been going a lot better. I’ve only seen him three times and, honestly, I don’t totally know what I am hoping to get out of it, but I know I feel better after each session, which is a step in the right direction. Plus, this doctor offers dialogue which I find to be a lot more helpful and validating. Perhaps I all am looking for is validation. I want be told it is normal to feel like I want to stop “bigtime adulting” all together at times. I want to feel validated that needing more time for myself is not a sign of weakness, and that I don’t have to be a martyr. I don’t always have to be strong and able to handle everything, no matter how tough it gets. I want to know it is all right to dread the feeling of spending five days out of each week with my kids without anything to do, or anywhere to go. I want to know it is ok that it makes me want to lose it some days.
I realize that my responsibilities are simultaneously what bring me the greatest pleasures in my life, but I need balance, too. Because of what we are going through with Calum and, especially because of how well he is doing, I carry a ton of guilt in expressing any complaint but, if I’m really being honest, I crave action and routine and I prefer conversations with adults, so being at home wiping asses with no activities and no adult contact every day is not my idea of a swinging time. Sure, there are moments of pure unadulterated joy, but the monotony of breaking up brawls over who gets to play with the Paw Patrol toys has become enough to make me feel crazy in the “skinny-white-lady-power-walking” way sometimes. I say that with hesitation because I don’t think I could ever fully get to that place (thank God), but until we are able to return to a normal amount of germ exposure, I realize its probably better for everyone if I carve out time to get of the house more.
Making time for oneself, as it turns out, is a stressor in itself. If you’re a primary caretaker you have to organize alternative childcare and, presumably, you want that person to be competent, especially when dealing with a child who has any extra needs. Furthermore, you feel like you need to do something constructive with your time away, as you know how precious each minute of independence is; chances to go to the bathroom alone are, indeed, a treasure. These factors have overwhelmed me to the point of nearly not being worth the trouble at all but, I can say with confidence, it is fully worth it. At the risk of sounding trite, going to therapy, for me, if nothing else comes of it, is a gesture I’ve made to myself to consider my own needs a little more, and it is actually making a difference. Additionally, I have asked our babysitter to come one extra afternoon a week, so that I can leave the house and do whatever I want for a couple hours, which has had an equally liberating effect on me.
I was describing to my therapist the way I have been feeling about life lately and comparing it to being on a leash. You’re out for a walk, but you can’t run free, and it is a difficult adjustment. Calum, though he’s doing so well, will be in treatment until March 7th, 2020. That’s two more years of this cancer journey and, even then, we will never go back to where we were before his diagnosis. Even when Calum finishes treatment, we will have to wait five years for him to be considered “cured” and, though I am confident that this nightmare will end well for us, it is a very long wait.
When Calum was initially diagnosed I was in complete shock finding out his treatment would run for more than three years. Before Calum’s diagnosis, all of cancer treatment was incredibly elusive to me. Even thinking about cancer treatment scared the life out of me and, honestly, before cancer entered my own life, I was too nervous to ask anyone who’s been through cancer about their own treatment in any real detail. A large part of that was because I was worried I would upset the person or the family. I didn’t want to put them in the position to have to talk about it or re-live what they have gone through, so I would mostly avoid it while trying to offer a few quick words of support and love. I suppose I realized that different cancers were treated differently, but I had absolutely no clue there was such a range of chemotherapy drugs out there. I had no idea about the varying uses of radiation or the reason why some people need bone marrow transplants and others do not. I am far from an expert on this, but I do have a much stronger grasp on it all now. To those of you reading this who were like me in being nervous to bring up someone’s cancer with them, don’t be. Don’t be afraid to ask how they are doing and mention you’re always thinking of them or praying for them. Doing or saying something is always better than doing or saying nothing. I certainly don’t keep score or notice the people who have not said anything to me about Calum (and really most people are very good about asking), but I am always very warmed and, frankly relieved, by people’s verbal acknowledgement of him. I know it can be the elephant in the room and, as a rule, everyone feels better when the proverbial elephant has been addressed.
With Calum, he looked ill when he was diagnosed because he had been sick with a virus that he was unable to recover from due to Leukemic cells wiping out all of his infection-fighting blood cells, but he didn’t look nearly as sick as he did when he was going through his most intense phase of treatment. Cancer treatment, not cancer itself, is often what makes people with cancer look their sickest. All of these ups and downs of cancer treatments is confusing for people who have not had direct exposure to cancer. It is hard to see a person looking so sick with cancer, but the crazy part is, how sick they look during treatment has almost nothing to do with the outcome of their health, but everything to do with the strength of the treatment they are currently receiving. Calum, for instance, achieved remission from cancer after the first thirty days of his treatment/daignosis. His chemo regimen continued, however, and four months later he entered his most aggressive treatment phase, a protocol they have found necessary in the long-term success of treating childhood Leukemia. Because Calum went from being diagnosed with Leukemia to looking pretty healthy and then looking very sick again all of a sudden four months later, I had people ask me if his cancer had come back. This aggressive phase of treatment was part of the plan from day one, so it had nothing to do with cancer relapse, but it is a totally valid presumption from an outsider. In any event, I mention this because, even though Calum is looking so well now, he is still undergoing a strict chemotherapy regimen that will not stop for two whole more years. Thank God the treatment is working, but despite his appearance, we are very much still in this.
Luckily, we are now in a place where I am no longer treading water, and I am able to take this time out for myself. Though life will continue to be lived on a leash in a sense, life is being lived, for which we are most deeply grateful. Acknowledging my feelings and needs has had an immediate shift on my mentality, and I feel much lighter lately. Granting myself some weekly freedom won’t make cancer treatment go away, but it gives me the energy I needed to deal with everything that cancer treatment entails, and I am so happy I made a few changes. It’s incredible that a simple few hours to myself each week has put so much more distance between me and the “skinny-white-lady-powerwalking” crazy zone. It’s the little things, I tell ya.