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Dec 03 2012

Update on Cancer Recovery and Stuff

It’s been a little while since I’ve blogged, and I’m starting to feel better and like I can do some writing again, so wanted to give y’all an update/ prognosis on my recovery from my cancer surgery.

As regular readers know, I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer — that’s cancer of the uterine lining — in mid-October, and had a laparoscopic hysterectomy on October 24. The cancer turned out to be Stage 1, limited to the uterus, not in my ovaries or my lymph nodes, and they’re pretty sure they got it all. I don’t have cancer anymore: I’m now in process of recovering from the surgery.

Recovery from abdominal surgery is a bitch, though, and the last few weeks have been difficult and exhausting. Everyone tells me I’m recovering well and quickly; I know intellectually that that’s so, and I even feel it. Five weeks ago I could barely get off the sofa by myself, and I couldn’t turn over in bed without serious pain. Now I’m taking 45-minute walks, and am even hitting the gym. (Very lightly. “Gently tapping the gym” might be more accurate.) Also, five weeks ago I was maxed out on Vicodin and Ibuprofen around the clock: now I’m off pain meds entirely. (Thank goodness. Vicodin is semi-fun for about a week, and it sure does kill the pain, but it gets old fast. I like having my brain back.) I know my recovery is going about as well as could be expected, and I’m grateful for it. (I’m also deeply glad that I’ve been taking care of my health as well as I have in the last few years. I know that’s made my recovery go much better.)

But it’s been a hard slog: sometimes painful, often uncomfortable, almost always tiring. Emotionally as well as physically. I always have to remind myself: emotional stress is physically exhausting. And getting cancer, plus my dad dying so soon before the cancer diagnosis, has been stressful as hell. But my recovery has mostly been progressing steadily. I’ve had a few setbacks: I had a bad setback with my pain when I started running low on pain meds and my prescribing doctor decided that I had to be tightly rationed (a topic for another post); I had another bad setback when I had a bad reaction to my new anti-depressant meds (miscommunication from the pharmacy about dosage); a couple others. On the whole, though, the direction has been pretty steadily towards better.

Right now, I’m in kind of an odd in-between place. I’m not in much pain anymore, and I’m beginning to recover my physical strength and stamina. I can do most of what I was able to do before the cancer diagnosis and the surgery. But I can’t do as much of it. If that makes sense. Here’s what I mean: I can take a long walk, or I can do a gym trip, or I can write an essay, or I can get semi-caught-up on some of my email, or I can run errands, or I can have a social night with friends… but on most days, I can’t do more than one of those things. Lately I’ve sometimes been able to do two of those things, or one and a half of them (a gym trip plus a little email, an essay plus a medium-sized walk, a social evening plus a couple of errands), and that’s been a big advance. Also, I’m trying to keep a little energy in reserve, in case something unexpected happens that I have to deal with. (Has everyone read The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino, about managing daily activities with chronic illness? It’s more or less what I’m getting at here. Except that for me, fortunately, this is temporary.)

So I’m doing better… but I’m not 100% yet, or even all that close to it. It may take a while to get back to where I was before the surgery. (When I asked my oncologist about resuming exercise once the “no heavy lifting for six weeks” ban was up, he said I should act as if I’d been inactive for a year and was just starting a new exercise regimen. To which my response was, “FUUUUUUUUUUCK!”) I get tired more easily; I get irritated more easily; small things upset me all out of proportion. In fact, I’ve been trying not to think in terms of “getting back to where I was” or “getting my life back.” I’ve been trying to think in terms of “moving forward.” I don’t think I’m going to be the same person after this that I was before it. Some things will be the same; some things will be different. Some of what I’m going through now will be temporary; some of it won’t be. I don’t know yet which is which.

In the next few weeks, I’ll probably be blogging more than I have been since the surgery — but not as much as I was before it. I know that it doesn’t look like it from the outside… but writing is work. I know that it looks like sitting around on the sofa dicking around on the Internet… but it’s not. It’s work. And since I typically have energy to write something substantial or to do substantial physical exercise, but not both, right now I’m prioritizing the physical exercise. The physical exercise is the lynchpin that everything else hangs on. If I can get my physical strength and stamina back up, I’ll get my mental energy back up, and my emotional energy, and my mood/ mental health. So if it’s a choice between writing or going to the gym, most days I’m going the gym.

There are some very tricky balances with this recovery. With physical activity especially. I need to be physically active if I’m going to keep getting better, and I need to add a little more physical activity all the time. At the same time, my body has been through serious trauma — including the part of my body that is my brain — and I need rest, much more than usual. So I’m trying to find that sweet spot, that window, that perfect balance between getting more exercise and giving myself rest.

We all have these windows, of course. Even entirely healthy people. You probably wouldn’t run a marathon in the morning, cook Thanksgiving dinner for twenty people in the afternoon, and go out dancing all night. You’d plan your life better than that. Even healthy people have to decide how much energy they have for the day, how much activity is too much. But when you’re sick, the window between “too much” and “not enough” is very, very narrow. It’s like one of those tiny slits in castles that people used to shoot arrows through. And I have to plan my life accordingly. I can’t just “trust my instincts” or “trust my body.” I have to think, carefully, every day, about how much time I’m going to spend exercising, and how much time I’m going to spend doing emails or writing, and how much time I’m going to spend sitting on my ass watching “How I Met Your Mother.” (Again: read The Spoon Theory. Must-read.)

Fortunately — if “fortunately” is the right word here — I’m somewhat used to having to manage this kind of balance. I have the same one when I’m dealing with depression. Staying active is one of the main things I do to alleviate the depression, both short-term and long-term… but if I overdo it I get exhausted and stressed, which makes my depression worse. Physical activity, social activity, rest, sleep… all have to be carefully balanced to manage my depression, to help make it get better and keep it from getting worse. I’m used to it. I know how to do it.And I know how to recognize it when I’m slipping too far in one direction or the other. So there’s that.

Enough for now. There’s more, but it’s a nice day right now and I want to get some sunshine, and I want to get to the gym today if I can. I’ll write more later, and if nothing else I’ll start throwing up some links and stuff soon. Thanks for being patient.

25 comments

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  1. 1
    Anthony K

    Thanks for the update. And please, you continue take care of yourself!

  2. 2
    opposablethumbs

    Really great to hear that you’re getting so much better, even though it must be incredibly frustrating. Look after all of you! :)

  3. 3
    Rawnaeris, Lulu Cthulhu

    Thanks for the update!! I’m glad you are blogging again. It’s selfish of me, but I’ve greatly missed your writing.

  4. 4
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Good to hear from you!

    The spoon theory article should be required reading for everyone. I can very much empathise, although my own recovery is from something much lighter. I’m in a group called “spoon-counters” on Fitocracy – which is a site I love and recommend for nerdy exercise tracking.

  5. 5
    Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

    Glad things are getting better. Also, spoon theory is brilliant.

  6. 6
    Pteryxx

    The heck with writing more essays for us right now; take advantage of that sunshine. <3

  7. 7
    moarscienceplz

    hi Greta,
    Glad to hear you are doing much better.
    You make no mention of having to cope with excess amounts of precipitation yesterday, so I hope that means you weathered the triple-threat “super-storm” without problems. (I live in San Jose).

  8. 8
    johnthedrunkard

    Wonderful to hear from you. patience.

    John

  9. 9
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    I live with my mother who has Graves disease and this is exactly what it is like for her. We sometimes get into bickering sessions because I can’t tell when she’s hit her limit and something taxes her too much. She’s fine one day about something and the next, it sends her over the edge. Or we’re talking normally about random stuff and she suddenly boils over because what we’re discussing isn’t important and concentrating on the conversation is taking too many of her “spoons”. At this point, I try to withdraw of course, but it can be difficult.

    Anyway, just to say, your situation is understandably draining and I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say, please don’t worry about anyone but yourself for now. We can roll with it and be happy to see you recover even if it takes longer than you’d wish.
    Kisses to the kittehs and Ingrid for looking after ya.

  10. 10
    LykeX

    Hey, Greta. Don’t worry about anything but getting your strength back. If you need to take a week, take a week. If you need to take a month, take a month. If you need to take a year, then we’ll miss you, but you should still take the goddamn year.
    If having an organ removed doesn’t entitle you to a bit of rest, I don’t know what will.

  11. 11
    Aurora_Belle

    Greta, I’m glad to hear that you are recovering well. Keep taking care of yourself – that is most important. The internet will still be here when you’re ready and able to come back :)

  12. 12
    allencdexter

    Glad you could write something. We miss you but want you to take it as easy as you need to. The body needs time to recover. I’ve checked every day to see if there was a blurb from you, and it was there this evening. So good to see it.

  13. 13
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Bookmarking the Spoon Theory page. Another halogen-bulb moment regarding my experience with Asperger’s and neurotypicals. >.>

    Hope you feel betterer soon :)

  14. 14
    magistramarla

    Greta,
    I’m glad that you are on the mend.
    I’m very familiar with The Spoon Theory. I have autoimmune issues, and that is what The Spoon Theory was written about.
    I used to be the busy mother of five children and a high school teacher. I was super-organized, and I could get so much done in a day!
    Now, I have to plan my days carefully, and I can usually only manage to do one thing per day.
    Hang in there, Greta. Things will get better for you.
    Just be patient with yourself.

  15. 15
    poose

    Gretta,

    SOO GOOD TO SEE YOU BACK!

    Sorry about the yelling-just a bit of a Joygasm-YEEHAA!

    I can empathisize with the rationing pain meds BS-I care for my elder Mother and Father nowadays (he’s 80, she’s 74 and I hope I can be that active should I reach that age…)

    Dad’s a teacher. He’s overwhelmed with arthritis. Almost every joint hurts.

    She was a career Nurse-rolling 250-lb patients for 40 years does a number on your back.

    Yeah, the “War On Drugs” MUST KEEP THE ADDICTS AT BAY!

    We can’t have over-medicated (or just maintained and pain-free) civil servants-they’re a bad influence on Rush Limbaugh and might make him relapse…

    Oh, the horrors…

  16. 16
    oolon

    Look after yourself and here’s hoping you’ll be back soon.

  17. 17
    sheila

    Greta, you’ve been through a fire. Of course it’s going to take time to recover, and of course it’s going to change you. But some of the changes will be good.

    I don’t mean that in a new-agey, life-always-gives-you-exactly-what-you-need-right-when-you-need-it bromide. I find that even less convincing than young-earth creationism. I just mean that some of the shit will eventually get used as fertilizer.

    Keep pacing yourself. We’ll wait.

  18. 18
    Stephen T

    I guess I’ll just have to read ‘Why are you Atheists so angry’ again. Seriously, delighted that you’re doing so well – enjoy the sunshine and take care of yourself.

  19. 19
    rory

    Glad you’re hanging in there, Greta. Keep taking it a day at a time and we’ll look forward to having you back on a more regular basis whenever you’re feeling up to that.

  20. 20
    mcallahan

    Here’s hoping you make it safely outside the cancer gulag. I rarely comment but read you all the time. I have been missing you.
    My prognosis was 10% survival about 3 years ago. I am too lucky. I have a newfound empathy for the disabled. If my wife did not have a corporate job with good medical insurance then I might be destitute and doing my shuffling in shabby clothes near the homeless center. This country really treats the underinsured and disabled harshly. I am a lot more sympathetic now than I would have been. I didn’t care as much before. Sorry to dump this. I was wondering if cancer had a similar effect on you. Cancer science is so much more interesting now. Who knew I would know so much more about hematology oncology.
    Good luck and take a nice walk in GG park or hit the beach at Fort Funston. I was shuffling about at Lands End yesterday above the Cliff House looking for Porcini under Bishop pine. Too early yet. Dang.

  21. 21
    Nick Gotts

    Pleased to hear you’re recovering well!

  22. 22
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Greta, it’s good to hear that you’re recovering. You are wise to recognize that your energy levels are not back to normal yet and you must rest after exertion. Be gentle with yourself and don’t feel guilty for not bouncing back like a comic-book hero. *hugs*

  23. 23
    geocatherder

    Greta, I read your description of what you’re going through and it reminds me so much of my mom-in-law, who is recovering from back surgery. She’s actually progressing really well, but these things take time and she’s not the world’s most patient person. I just wanted to mention this to remind you that you’re not alone, that recovery is an ongoing process, and (like my mom-in-law) you are to be applauded for choosing to prioritize the things that will make you get better faster.

  24. 24
    lamaria

    Thanks for the update. Keep taking care. All the best.

  25. 25
    Ani J. Sharmin

    Greta, I’m very sorry about all the difficulties you’ve been going through, including the cancer and your father’s death. I’m glad to hear that your health is improving, and hope that things continue to get better. *Hugs*

  1. 26
    Around FtB | Pharyngula

    [...] Greta Christina is off the drugs and is beginning to get antsy. Somebody harsh her mellow so she’ll start writing ferociously again. [...]

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