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.