Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

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.

IMG_6236

A few of my favorite Pez things.

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.

19 thoughts on “Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

  1. Paula,
    You are such an inspiration to us all. I am humbled by your strength, courage and sense of character. Thank you as always for sharing your view of the world and the importance of daily gratitude.
    Sending you lots of hugs & love,
    Cori

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paula, thank you for sharing your thoughts. You are such an inspiration and I adore you xoxoxoxo.
    On the Pez factory front: my sister stopped there a few summers ago on her way home from Cape Cod. Her comment was it was small, but you can buy almost ANYTHING in Pez form at the factory. She checked it off as a win 🙂

    Love ya,
    Susan

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Paula, you have managed to make everyone think that you are doing wonderful, but I can see that you have your own set of problems, yet maintain a strong and happy appearance, you are and always will be amazine. I just wish I could do everything for you. I feel the need to reach out and hug you as much as possible. I pray to God that I can somehow take your place and let you live a happy life with Tim and the boys, I would do it without a second thought. My love is always with you, Tim and the boys. I love you so much. Many, Many hugs

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Paula,
    I think we’ve had plenty of practice with playgroups when our kids were little, we need to plan an adult playgroup. I love to paint rocks, which is one of the few activities that takes my mind off things that are worrying or stressing me out. If you want to try it out, I have all the supplies we need. let me know what you think. I’ll bet Joannie would take the ride up with me too. Sending love your way and a kiss from your pen pal Mitch too!
    Tina

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Loved this! A reminder that life is a precious gift. Yes, you aren’t paid for your writing anymore, but that doesn’t mean that your words have no value. They do. Love you to pieces.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Paula, thank you for your honesty, openness and your willingness to let us into your most personal thoughts and feelings. You are a wonderful writer, and I really reflect on your blog posts. I have learned a lot from you about the actual disease, about how to help others who are sick by not saying the wrong things and to always remember that everyone is walking a journey, and we all need to be more compassionate to each other.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Paula, you really are amazing! I lost my husband a few years ago and I’ve tried to live life to the fullest since the harsh realization that life is oh so short. Thank you for sharing your journey with all of us. You’re a beautiful woman and I’m certain your family is very proud of you. Much love, hugs and positive vibes being sent your way. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Paula,
    I SO admire your ability to deal with the hand you’ve been dealt with courage and grace. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. More than once you’ve given me insight to what you and others battling this disease are going through.Still praying for you daily.
    Linda

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Marla…..You are a tower of strength! I am one of your mothers friends and have kept up with you every now and then……I know she is coming to stay with you and enjoy each others company! When I get stressed , I draw or paint! I find this very relaxing! You are always in my thoughts and prayers. xxx Nancy

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Paula, If only all of us had your strength and wisdom. I am so proud of how strong you are but know that you are going through so much turmoil and stress. When you are down remember how much you are loved by Tim, the Boys, your family and your many, many friends. If you need me to come out to help just let me know and I will be there ASAP. Love and Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I write limericks to work out my stress
    Poetry makes light of a mess.
    I’ve got a new itch
    To make limerick cross stitch
    We could team up! Please say yes!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Why am I NOT surprised by your courage and strength, but so appreciate how dark and lonely it might feel, despite the support around you. It just sucks to be beaten up by this on daily basis with long term outcome hanging on the horizon. But as you know, you never know, and there are mysterious exceptions and possible therapeutic breakthroughs to hold onto. Meanwhile, you’re helping the community in a way unique to your special talent. Hang in there.

    PS: I LOVE SUNNY!! What a beautiful lug head!

    Liked by 1 person

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