Hi hello yes hello

Someone (who is not my mother) recently reminded me that I have not written anything in a long time. And it’s true, I haven’t. It’s not for lack of having things to write about, but more that I am overwhelmed by the changes happening in my life. I have found it difficult to form a cohesive narrative to bring to you, dear reader. But I will try, and I will hate every minute of it because it’s not perfect.

First, just to get this out of the way, let me talk a bit about health updates. I decided to move forward with radiation. I had been back and forth and, really, had thought I was 100% decided on foregoing it. I was tired. I was not sure it mattered. I was certain I would get cancer again. Blah blah blah. But then one of my coworkers said something to me that really hit me hard. We had recently learned that we were both a part of a 12 step program (more about this in a minute), and she said “it’s like trying to convince an addict to seek help- they won’t do it until they know it’s the right thing to do for themselves”. And it clicked. I knew that I needed to seek that help because it was right for me. I want to do the most that I can do to be healthy for me. And so I asked my supervisor about scheduling it, fully expecting to be fired, but she agreed! This was my first lesson in learning to be assertive with my needs and wants- and it worked out! So, I’m doing the radiation dance. I drive 20 minutes to a stupid hospital and lay on a stupid table and kill myself to make myself better. It’s a real mind-fuck of a situation.

Let’s see…what else? My hair is growing back. My eyebrows are making a valiant effort. My eyelashes fell out a few weeks ago, but they also seem like they’re growing back. I had my port removed, which was a fabulous early birthday present. I got to watch the surgery! If you’ve never watched surgery performed on your own body…are you even living? This. Thing. Came. Out. Of. My. Body.

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And I got to keep it!

So, aside from the gross body crap, what has been happening? It’s hard to explain, I think. The last time I wrote, I wrote to you from my lowest low. I literally hit my lowest low, grabbed a shovel, and started digging even deeper. Who does that?

Me!

I do!

I do, because codependency is a motherfucker, and those of us that suffer from that unfortunate personality trait will kill themselves and anything around them before they realize that they are insane. I feel like I should change the title of my blog to Obesity and Malaise (and Codependency!) because that’s the real issue here. It’s amusing to me because I could never see it. I always thought ‘that word describes my mom and sister’s relationship’, not realizing that I’ve displayed that trait in every single serious relationship I’ve ever been in. Who am I to criticize?!

So I found Al-Anon. Actually, my ex found Al-Anon for me and then snuck a Big Book into the things he packed for me. When we were together, I had wanted to go to a meeting. I wanted to go so that I could “understand him better” or know “more ways to support him”. When I walked into my first meeting, I sobbed. I spent the majority of a month sobbing, but this was different. I felt this feeling (eww, gross) that I was doing something for myself. That I was there for myself. That I deserved to be there and to be happy, and it seemed like this program, and these people, had a pretty good idea of how to achieve that. Part of what I’ve learned is that this is taking care of yourself, not other people.

And so here I am. I’m working my twelve steps. I am being honest. I am being open. And guess what? It feels fucking horrendous. That forth step- the one where you lay out all your faults and all your transgressions? It’s awful. Seeing my part in why I’m so perpetually unhappy and so unfulfilled is AWFUL.

But it’s also liberating.

Because I have the option to be different. I can choose to be a better person. I can learn from my mistakes, now that I see them as such. I have that freedom.

And really, that’s what this is all about. I’m finding freedom in being myself. I’m finally being myself. It’s a real ‘take me or leave me this is who I am la la la la’ situation.

So take me or leave me.

Some Feels

Let’s talk briefly about this shocking phenomenon I experienced yesterday.

Not only did I feel a feeling, but I was able to identify it! Yes, I realize this probably sounds like such a small accomplishment and you’re probably rolling your eyes like holy shit it took her 30 years to get in touch with her emotions, but this is a big deal for me. The simple act of being able to put a name to what I’m feeling is a huge accomplishment for a person who has routinely stuffed their emotions so deeply down into the dank, dark recesses of their cold, dead heart.

And what I felt was pride, in myself and in what I was doing.

Let me explain. I recently moved in an apartment of my own. I haven’t lived alone since I worked in Korea (2010), so this is a relatively new experience for me. It’s been marginally terrifying in the sense that there is no warm body next to me at night , but it’s also been fairly liberating. I’ve made a lot of changes in my schedule, picked up some new hobbies, and am, in general, doing quite well.

Yesterday, when I returned home from work, I walked my dog, made dinner and pre-made my lunch for the next day, did my laundry, and was ready to go to a meeting by 6 pm. And I have no idea why this made me feel as accomplished as it did; perhaps it’s because I’ve been relying on other people to help me with those things, and I now physically feel like I have the capacity to do them for myself. Is that a self-care thing? I don’t really know. But I felt proud of myself, and I can’t tell you the last time that has happened. I know, it seems trivial.

2017 really was not my year – divorced, house sold, cancer, surgeries, more surgeries, job moves, break-ups, etc. Up until about a week ago, I was so focused on the resentment that I held for all of these things (oh gods woe is me why is this happening to meeee). True, that list sucks a lot of balls, but I see now that all of it is what I make of it. I can choose to dwell on how “shitty” 2017 has been, or I can focus on changing myself to better handle those situations when they arise. Instead of perseverating on the “why mes?”, I can ask “why not me?” (this shit is going to happen to someone, after all) and then figure out how best to deal with it.

ANYWAY.

This has been your gross personal revelation for the day. I guess feelings can be okay.


**Cancer Update**

I finished chemotherapy last Friday! It is such a relief to have my Fridays free of poison. I am still deciding on whether or not I should/can do radiation, as it’s a huge time commitment and is physically exhausting. Everyone and their mother has an opinion on this, and I could probably write a lengthy post about how well-received opinions about my body are, but I’m trying to remember that they’re only coming from a place of love.

I do appreciate that people love me and want me to be around for a long time. Contrary to popular belief, I want that as well.

Me.

I realized today that I am a badly broken and damaged individual, and it has nothing to do with cancer. I haven’t seen that as clearly as I have today.

It is not something I want to be.

I’m going to take steps to fix that and right my wrongs. It is going to take time, though, and as an action-oriented individual, this pains me. I want it to be fixed now. I want to be proactive now. I want that serenity…now.

But that’s not the way mending broken things works. It takes time, it takes (considerable) effort, and it takes courage (not something I have a lot of it, it would seem).

I had another realization this morning, shortly after making a stupid mistake (and probably a harmful one), while listening to an Al-Anon speaker. The realization is that I’ve been searching for validation my whole adult life. I grew up without it, things happened, and the lack of validation piled up like a mountain. And if you know me, you know I don’t like climbing, or even being outside. That mountain seemed insurmountable and was likely too much for me to bear, so I sought that in relationships. I wanted someone to tell me that I was lovable, that I was worthy, and that I was truly okay. I wanted them to shoulder that burden because I was too exhausted and mentally incapable of doing it myself.

Gods. That’s a lot.

I don’t understand yet why it’s not enough to hear myself say those words “you are kind, you are intelligent, you are beautiful”, but it’s not. I want to know why, and I am going to work on that. Part of me believes it, but part of me is not enough. All of me needs to take that on and shoulder that weight so that it’s never placed on someone else. That is unfair. I see that. All of my problems are my own and only I am responsible for fixing them. I hope that, over time, I can learn to take only the responsibility that is mine, because that’s the only thing I can do. I want to figure out who I am, as opposed to relying on someone else to do it for me.

Naming emotions and feeling them is difficult for me. But I guess what I feel now is fear. Fear of being alone- the fear of being alone with myself. I’ve done a masterful job of escaping that these last few years, but I can’t run any longer. It looks like it’s going to happen whether I like it or not. Perhaps over time, I will learn to like who I am. So you’re right and I am so very sorry. But this is probably a gift in disguise. I suppose it’s only a gift if I see it that way, and I do.

I fucking hate getting dirty and messy and sweaty, but it’s time to climb this mountain.

You know, I had this realization in the car this morning. My mom and I were sitting in rush hour traffic where 394 turns into 94 (I say this as if any of you know what I’m talking about- it’s a bad habit). We were at a complete stop for nearly five minutes which would normally make me drop a couple of F-bombs and drive my anxiety through the roof, but I was able to just sit there calmly and wait. And in this Twilight Zone-like state, I realized that there is no point in being angry at a situation that I can’t change or have no control over. And then I realized that I’d heard that somewhere before…

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

It’s been made so very clear to me recently that the only thing I can change in my life is myself; I can’t change other people, I can’t change situations, and I can’t change for someone. Really, all I can do is take some time for self-reflection and make changes based on that.

During our final conversation, the ex told me that I needed examine myself and my behavior. Of course, he said this out of anger and to hurt me (congrats buddy, it worked), but he’s not necessarily wrong. I do need to take a hard look at myself and process some of the things that have happened in my life that have shaped who I am today. I’ve been working on it in therapy and thought I was making some progress. Part of me wants to laugh and say “obviously, it wasn’t enough lol”, but I know that’s wrong because again, we can only change (for) ourselves. I hope my insurance pays my therapist really well because boy does she have her work cut out for her this Saturday.

I think one of my biggest flaws is my insistence on putting others before myself. I don’t mean in that martyr/St. Theresa sense, because I’m definitely not the nicest person in the world, but I do often go out of my way to put other people first and care for their needs before my own. I think we’ve talked about this before…but I see now how that’s really just a coping mechanism to help me avoid dealing with my own shit. It’s much easier to throw myself into a person, to get completely lost in them, than it is to address how I might be feeling, or what my wants and needs are. I also have a strong inability to identify my own wants and needs. My guess is that I’m incapable of it because I don’t feel validated. This was a new one for me- my therapist brought it up in the context of my relationship with my mother. She asked something (I don’t remember what), but I said something and then back-pedaled because I felt guilty. She then asked me the same question, but about myself- if I felt validated by myself. I burst into tears because, no, I can’t give myself validation. It was such an odd response for my body, but I guess that’s like…having feelings or some shit. Gross.

Along with that comes my poor communication skills:

  • I can’t communicate my wants and needs.
  • I can only communicate via writing.
  • I will sometimes lie to avoid a reaction that I (my brain) perceive to be a threat to my safety.

Allow me to explain with an example. Early on in our relationship, when we were dealing with some friends who treated my partner poorly, I lied about seeing them. I said I was going to the gym, and I did, but it was also to see this friend and spend time with her. I understand now that I should have been up front about that and not worry about the reaction, but I was afraid. I knew it would cause an argument. The funny thing about that is my behavior caused an argument anyway. Silly Elspeth. When we talked about it in therapy, I realized that it stems directly from the abuse I experienced growing up. I mean, it was so bad that I had to hide food, have my friends bring me clothing to change into at school, etc. I grew up thinking that it was okay to hide these things because that’s how I protected myself. Does it make it okay now? No, but at least I can see that.

Another silly behavior I exhibit is the inability to be alone. I think I’m scared of the idea because, you know, I hate myself. Before this gigantic shitshow happened, I really thought it was easier to be partnered with someone, and it was a source of joy for me- I was happy watching them be happy. I am now very excited to be alone af because a) let’s be honest, there’s no way I’m trusting anyone with my heart ever again (lol) and b) because I clearly have a lot of work to do. Also, I can already hear you saying “not all men”, but let’s not. I have a vibrator. So here’s to focusing on me. All the time. All. The. Time.

Okay, that’s all the self-reflection I can handle for now. I need to go cry in the bathroom.

 

PS: If you know where I can buy some courage, let me know. Is there a courage black market?

U-P-D-A-T-E

Hi, friends.

I keep hearing that it’s been awhile since I wrote anything. Is that true? Has it been awhile? I’m sorry.

I think when we last spoke, I was deep in the throes of my final round of Adriamycin/Cytoxan, which is to say that I was being ripped end to end by some poison that I pay professionals to infuse into my bloodstream. The drug made me constantly tired and really ill, but I lost 12 pounds and reached my goal weight (thanks, chemo!), so it wasn’t all garbage! It felt a bit like a “milestone” or something to “celebrate” when I finished those four treatments, and I was almost excited to move on to Taxol- the once weekly drug that my oncologist built up as ‘not that bad‘.

I’m now six rounds of Taxol deep, with another six to complete, and I’m feeling pretty good. By pretty good, I mean I’m not vomiting, I don’t experience nausea, I don’t have to be left alone in a dark room for days on end (a piece of me enjoyed that part), and I’m no longer addicted to potatoes. Soup is not the only thing I can eat! I don’t have to endure Neulasta, which boosts your white blood cell count, but makes you feel like even a sneeze in your general direction is the most painful thing that’s ever happened to you. And I no longer rely on my 29-going-on-78 pill-box to get me through the day which is a real breath of fresh air- if that fresh air is still polluted, but only slightly less so.

The reality is that Taxol has actually not been that bad. Sure, my fingernails look like I’ve been living in a sewer and surviving off the garbage that rats don’t find fit to eat, but I’ll take it. And sure, my eyebrows finally fell out, but that just seemed to add to my sexy alien appearance. I even got cat-called as I walked into the cancer center last week! #blessed (Men are pigs.) But at its worst, Taxol has given me a wicked case of acid reflux and has run me into the ground, physically and emotionally. I didn’t know I could feel so exhausted at 6:30 AM when my alarm is going off…but again, it could be worse! I could have a shitty brain that doesn’t cooperate and intentionally mangles words and phrases, just to really goad the English major in me.

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Actual photo of my brain.

But, I suppose I should be honest and say that my writing has been slacking because I’ve been out enjoying life- something I never thought I’d take pride in typing. There’s been much less time spent dwelling on things recently, and while I think that part of that has to do with the “bitch, you got cancer live ur lyfe” attitude, I also think that I might just be happy.

SHOCK.

HORROR.

I know, I know. I didn’t expect it, either! What sort of demonic entity could drag me away from the safe haven of the Internet that I so dearly love? Could it be that I am just now understanding the concept of immediacy and participation? Because here I am, looking forward to getting up, looking forward to doing things with people, and looking forward to living this crazy life with my chosen humans. Naturally, there are still a ton of things to bitch about, but why do that when I can wake up to Justin and Mini-J: two people as thrilled to be going to the state fair as they are about Halloween? Who would have ever thought I would look forward to something like that? But here we are.

Don’t get me wrong, the irony of a death-invested person just coming to this conclusion is not lost on me. I know I have a lot of work to do once this time in my life is past (and if it passes without my passing??!!). My goal of becoming a mortician and assisting people in their end-of-life care is still very much alive and, as a I wrestle with my own mortality, is much more meaningful. I’ll get there; just not within the timeline that I had originally anticipated. Such is life, no? In the meantime, I’m staving off that pre-30’s meltdown (what’s 30 when you look like you’re 20 but feel like you’re 60?) and growing my hair out.

 

A special thank-you to everyone who sent me kind emails and bath bombs. You’re the bomb. Literally.

What they don’t tell you about having cancer.

Regardless of what disease you’ve just been diagnosed with, you’ve probably been given a metric fuckton of information about it. You’ve probably been scheduled to see multiple providers without regard to your actual time constraints. You’ve probably been told a whole host of things about stuff n’ things (facts, statistics, data, opinions, culturally ingrained bullshit opinions), and you are likely now in information/sensory overload with the immediate threat of stroking out looming over you. The point is that people throw information at you like a wasted frat boy throws darts at a wall.

My preferred method for dealing with provider appointments is to show up, look attentive and, at the first mention of something depressing, stop listening. Thank the gods for people like Justin and my mother who have sat through those appointments with me and listened to the information when I could not. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be an active participant in my own treatment. Listen, when you start talking about freezing eggs and the millions of dollars it costs, expect to get traded in for the finer parts of my brain, such as Do You Think I Made the Right Decision at Breakfast? and Imagine What Would Have Happened If I had Done XYZ Seven Years Ago.

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But between shoving pink accouterments in your face and telling you that you should probably consider letting a plastic surgeon make bank off your acute despair, people forget to tell you important things, like how your life might change, or how you might want to consider mental health support immediately. Granted, I can only speak to this from the lens of breast cancer, but I have an inkling that it’s a feeling shared by many people who find their lives upturned overnight by the phrase “I’m sorry, but it’s….”.

So here’s a very incomplete and rambling list of things I’ve learned about living with a disease (that no one else mentioned).

  1. You may think you are strong and can see things through to the end without the thin veneer of bravery shattering into a thousand different pieces, but you are probably wrong. And that is okay.
  2. Your friends are going to turn it the fuck out. Their awesomeness has always been known, but it will be amplified by the threat of non-existence, and you will want to hug them that much harder when you see them. Don’t break their neck.
  3. Not all of your friends will want to stay your friends. This isn’t exactly specific to a post-whatever diagnosis, but if it happens while you’re in treatment, it’s going to sting like nothing you could imagine. George RR Martin couldn’t craft a better betrayal.
  4. You’re going to contemplate your mortality in ways you didn’t think possible. What would life be without the tangy bite of a good Gorgonzola?
  5. Decisions you were convinced were the right ones to make will vacillate between “greatest idea ever I love it so me” to “jesus christ what have I done this is all wrong” in a matter of minutes. In my case, once I’ve seen a nice pair of breasts on a Netflix show.
  6. You’re going to spend a lot of time wondering why your partner is with you when they could be with someone else who doesn’t share a temporary zip code with the cancer center. And who has hair. And who is in control of their life. And shits on a regular schedule. And who probably knows how to do winged eyeliner or some other magical craft.
  7. Your partner is going to surprise you with their kindness and understanding, and you will chastise yourself for pondering item 6.
  8. Potatoes are Satan’s gift to the world. Potato soup, mashed potatoes, lightly fried potatoes, raw potatoes, Mr. Potato Head. All amazing.
  9. You will have dreams of a day when you could brush your teeth without your gums bleeding, take a poop without bleeding, breathe…without bleeding. But then you’ll wake up.
  10. You’ll probably feel crazy and second-guess everything you think and do. It’s a real Gollum/Smeagol situation, if I’m honest. This is where it would have been helpful to have that mental health support in place.
  11. Lush bath bombs are made by kitten angels and sent to earth for your enjoyment and relaxation.
  12. BATHS. ARE. GREAT.
  13. Trying to take care of everything like you used to is a real stupid idea. Actually, this one they kind of hint at (plus, it helps to have family members who echo this sentiment), but you don’t listen because you’re so strong and can handle it.
  14. Glitter can, in fact, make things more tolerable.
  15. You will break. You will have moments of wishing that you didn’t have to see this through. End of that thought.
  16. BUT! You will get through it because, even if you don’t believe in yourself, hundreds of other people do. And you show up for the people you love, because they’re worth it.
  17. And maybe so are you.

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Edit: I forgot one! No one mentioned that the chemically-induced menopause was going to make me cry all the time. It’s onions. ONIONS.

In which we discuss feelings, doormats, and ways to be kind.

I’m going to state, note: not apologize, that this post is fueled by a lot of emotions and anxiety. If you have a problem with something, you know where the red x is.

These last few months have been pretty stressful. And when I say ‘stressful’, I mean fucking insane, ridiculous, demanding, brutal, unkind, etc. It’s been a real sidewinder of shit, but in a way, I’m grateful for it. Cancer has forced me to slow down and examine my life in a way I probably wouldn’t have been capable of otherwise. It has shown me incredible kindnesses through my community of friends and family, and given me a chance to connect with people I might not have before. It has forced me to work on my relationship with my partner, as well as my friends, and really value them for what they bring to my life. So for that, I am grateful. And because of that, I’m doing some self-work, y’all!

Please allow me to be the first person to acknowledge that I have a tendency to be a doormat. I am the type of person who goes out of my way to accommodate people who I consider worth it and, often, people who continually prove they don’t deserve it. I do it because I was raised to treat most humans with respect and kindness, and I stick to that as a general rule. Sure, I set some boundaries, but it takes a lot of abuse and pushing to get me there.

Even my work knows my questionable personality traits!

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Sometimes, I think being a caregiver and being a doormat coincide. My ultimate desire is that everyone be happy and cared for and this often comes at price- to myself and my needs, to my partner and his needs, to my family and their needs. Again, I know that this has played a part in the end of some of my relationships, but it’s hard to break the cycle when it’s something you’ve been doing for so long. It’s hard to say ‘no’ to people when you only want to say yes, because helping people out is a fulfilling feeling. But it’s difficult to set appropriate boundaries with people when you’re used to bending over backwards to please them. And it’s quite difficult to understand why people would not afford you the same kindness.

The clear unwillingness to not be kind to someone, even if you don’t “understand them”, is baffling to me. And no, I don’t mean #peaceloveandhappiness #truth #powerofpositivity Instagram bullshit kindness that isn’t followed up with an action. I mean put your biases aside, slide into your human suit, and offer people the same treatment that they have extended to you. It’s not hard! I do it all the time, and I do it because I believe that people deserve respect, until they demonstrate to you that they don’t. And, as I stated before, I have previously CONTINUED to show them kindness, well after they’ve shown me their true colors.

I guess I believe that, even if we don’t necessarily see eye to eye on something, or we don’t get along for whatever reason, that you are still deserving of respect as a person and I am willing to help you. I believe that people can coexist in this world peacefully even if they don’t like each other. For example, you might have voted for someone whose policies I don’t agree with, but I’m not going to treat you poorly because of that choice. Someone might engage in activities that I would not choose to partake in, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to think less of them for it. The world isn’t black and white like that, at least for me.

Recently, I started going to therapy. I think the cancer has pushed me to the point of serious self-evaluation; a place where I need to decide what/who is important to me and put in serious work to realize my life goals and dreams. So, through all this work, I have come to conclusion that it is time to start enforcing boundaries. Saying ‘no’ is going to be big area of growth, as well as learning how to divide my time appropriately. I want to  learn how to accurately express my feelings, even if it feels uncomfortable and weird, and then learn how to stand firm in them when they are inevitably challenged.

So a shout out to all those people who have abused my kindness. The deliberate avoidance of eye contact when I’ve gone out of my way to do something for you or your family member? Bye. The honest well-wishes to you and your family members in their times of need, when you’ve referred to my illness as a “FUN ADVENTURE” (yes, this really happened). Bye. Tolerating snide remarks because I’m too nice (doormat)to call you out in public? Bye. Expressing my feelings in what I assume is a safe space, only to have them used against me in the workplace? Bye. Holding all of this in and letting it fester is just hurting my chances of healing. So blessed be the fruit, fuckers. It’s a new Elspeth.

BUT!

I would also like to sincerely thank everyone who has stuck with me through this last year and a half. The people who have turned out to show their support and love have floored me. The people who continue to read this word salad and send me thoughtful messages- it means more to me than you know. I know I’ve said it before, but I never thought that I would, or could, make a difference to someone just by writing. Thank you for being there for me, for being part of my community, and for being the amazing people you are. My sock drawer thanks you, as well. I value you, I appreciate you, and I love you! I have no idea how to ever repay the kindness, but I will do my best.


PS: If this seems disjointed, or not like my regular writing, I apologize. I am apparently suffering from “chemo brain”, which is a real thing verified by my oncologist (!!!), and it has really been taking a toll on the way I express myself, as well as my memory. Bear with me, as all I can do is continue to push through it. October can’t come soon enough.