I belong to a few online support groups for women with metastatic breast cancer (MBC). The women are wonderful and when I’m having a new symptom, facing a new test or treatment, or am just having a bad day, I go to these ladies for their wisdom and solace. They understand. They are living my life. And I don’t think I could stay sane without them.
But every couple of weeks there is the familiar “has anyone heard from so-and-so lately,” followed shortly thereafter by the announcement that another MBC sister has died from this friggin disease. Almost as frequent is a member posting that they are entering hospice care because they’ve run out of drug options, their bodies are failing, or they just can’t take the ravages of treatment anymore.
One day, this will be me. Sooner or later, metastatic breast cancer kills. And that makes it difficult to enjoy the times that I am feeling good and almost normal. My last scans showed that I am stable (no new spots of cancer), but the knowledge that this is a temporary state stays lodged in the back of my brain. I wait for the other shoe to drop, in 3-4 month increments between scans.
My life is not the one I had pre-MBC. It’s the simple, daily tasks that remind me of this. I can’t carry baskets of laundry, take out heavy trash bags, mow the lawn, read or write for more than 30 minutes at a time, or even walk the dog anymore (those of you who have met Sunny won’t be surprised at that one; she is energetic/spastic, as you’ll see below). I have to take naps regularly. I get winded climbing the stairs. And it takes me an hour to fill up my giant pill organizer for the week. It’s hard to be positive and productive when every day is filled with constant reminders of MBC and that omnipresent shoe #2.
So how do I live in the here and now and not in a constant state of waiting and worrying? It’s something I’m still working on, but I thought I’d share what I’ve found to be useful for me in hopes that it helps others.
Meditate. Meditation is a great stress reliever. I practice transcendental meditation (TM), but any form of meditation, done regularly, can help. Right now Ford’s Warriors in Pink program is offering women with breast cancer a free year-long subscription to Headspace, a guided audio meditation program you install on your phone. I used Headspace before being trained in TM, and highly recommend it.
Plan. Planning travel or local trips to have something to look forward to before your next set of scans. It’s also a great way to work through a bucket list. Just get travel insurance in case you have to cancel the trip. If money is an issue, as it is for many of us who have had to quit working, plan a day trip to someplace you’ve always wanted to go. For example, this fall I want to visit the Pez Factory, which is only 45 minutes from my home. Somehow I’ve never been there, despite my ridiculous collection of Pez dispensers.
Purge. As I worked on clearing out storage boxes in the basement last week, I found a Mr. Potato Head chip and dip platter that hadn’t been used since my son Cas was three and had a Toy Story birthday party (he’ll be 21 this coming March). The rule of thumb for me now is if I haven’t worn, used, needed, or even looked at it in a year (or 18 years), I toss it or give it to charity. I find this process extremely cathartic. Purging will also lighten the load for family and friends when the time comes to go through my things.
Create. Pick up a hobby and start making things for the people you love. It will be a nice memory for them, and you can also help relieve financial burdens during the holidays by making some gifts. Mine is cross stitch, but I’m considering picking up something new to further shift my focus from shoe #2.
Write. I’m a writer and editor by trade. I can no longer write professionally, as my concentration and short-term memory have been impacted by the spread of MBC to my brain. So I’ve redirected my efforts to this blog, where there are no deadlines or daily requirements. Of course I don’t get paid for it, but it helps me process things that are bothering me, keeps my friends and family apprised of my health, and hopefully helps the larger MBC community. Writing is great therapy, and I encourage anyone living with MBC to keep a journal or even a blog to work through the psychological aspects of this disease.
What do you do to keep your sanity when you’re obsessing on your health or another problem in your life? Share it in comments, below.