Is It Always Cancer’s Fault?

I’m not complaining. Not really. Maybe a little.

This is the last day of my vacation. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks. Sixteen lovely days off from my job as a homecare physical therapist. Sixteen days when I did not have to figure out how to solve someone else’s health problems, when I did not have to open my work laptop and spend more time than I like documenting how I attempted to solve someone else’s health problems instead of just solving them. Sixteen days when I could do whatever I wanted, or nothing at all.

I had plans, recreational ones. No plans to see any doctors. Just a few plans to have some fun, see a few friends. Not such a big deal on the face of it, but making plans to have fun is something it’s taken me a few years to get back to since being diagnosed and treated for cancer.

Mostly, I had planned to spend a good portion of these sixteen days helping myself feel better, feel good, feel sort of normal. I planned to relax, to eat well, to read, to get outside, to delight in going to sleep without an impossible work day hanging over my head. I planned to drink coffee only when I felt like it because I love the way it tastes, not to have to drink it to get myself going in the morning. I planned not to have to take Provigil to get through the day. I planned to go for walks, to stretch every day, to gently ramp up the sporadic exercise I manage to squish into an average week. I planned to perhaps get myself over this invisible hump I’ve been living with for three-and-a-half years, the not-normal-anymore hump. And if I didn’t quite get over it, I was hoping perhaps to redefine the hump a little, just maybe to chisel down its dimensions to make it fit my current circumstances.

I didn’t make it. Not even close. During my first weekend off, I had a close encounter with a two-year-old with a flagrantly symptomatic head cold, and I succumbed. I ended up spending most of the rest of my vacation in bed, drinking fluids, taking vitamins and anti-inflammatories and various other over-the-counter medications. I took my temperature a lot. I dragged myself to the store and bought boxes of tissues. I refilled my prescription inhaler when post-nasal drip kept clogging up my windpipe. I listened to my lungs to make sure I wasn’t developing bronchitis. I didn’t, thank goodness. I felt a little better every day, but not a lot. After a week, I hauled myself to my doctor’s office, confirmed that I did not indeed have bronchitis, just a stubborn sinus infection, and got an antibiotic. After three days of that, the glue in my sinuses is finally starting to let up. I’m not coughing. I’m finally starting to breathe like a normal person, but I’m worn out. Tomorrow I have to go back to work.

Could have happened to anyone, I realize. I get exposed to lots of fierce germs in my job and don’t get sick. But I don’t often get exposed to small children, who do, let’s face it, seem to spread their own particularly contagious brand of germ warfare like brush fire. But I can’t help wondering if I was at a disadvantage. Because I’ve spent so much of the past three-and-a-half years feeling like a dishrag, remembering with sheer amazement how vigorous and positively rippling with vitality I used to feel before cancer. I’ve spent so much of my time since adjusting, lowering my expectations; trying to accept how I feel now, trying not to compare how I feel now with how I used to feel before cancer; trying to remind myself that how I feel now is, in fact, better than how I felt six months ago, or a year ago, or three years ago. And feeling encouraged by that.

It’s just that the not-normal-anymore hump is always in the way.

Yes, I’m a few years older. Can’t blame that on cancer. In fact, because of cancer, I’m frankly relieved and delighted to be a few years older. It seems, though, that everything else about how I feel now is, directly or indirectly, related to cancer. Feeling broke, feeling out-of-shape, feeling like my energy is always limited; feeling overwhelmed by how many mundane, pedestrian, household tasks are beyond my ability to keep up with; feeling pain in my right shoulder and chest every day; seeing a body that looks different, that doesn’t fit my clothes the way it used to; acknowledging the fact that my priorities have changed and still are changing, that it doesn’t take much to throw me right under the fatigue bus. Feeling a kind of weary, grudging acknowledgement that all of this is, in one way or another, the result of having and being treated for cancer.

Other stuff might have happened to create this not-normal-anymore hump. It just happened to be cancer that happened.

I’m not even depressed about it, which, given my history of depression, is nothing short of astonishing. In fact, I count that as one of the blessings I’ve been reminding myself to count these last few weeks. I’m glad I have a job to go back to tomorrow. I’m glad I have paid vacation time. And health insurance. And a lovely doctor who is my friend, and with whom the other day, I laughed about how we’ve both passed one of those milestone ages that ends in a zero, how we both still find ourselves thinking things and liking things we thought and liked thirty years ago, in an older body we are sometimes astounded to discover still harbors these younger preferences. I’m glad I have a roof over my head. And got to read lots of books and blogs by friends. I even managed to start a new blog and write a few blog posts. And I got to snuggle a lot with my cats, who make me laugh at the fact that they are perhaps the two beings on this earth who regard my being sick in bed as a boon. And I’m glad that my immune system is still, albeit slowly, capable of helping me get rid of this cold.

So, it hasn’t been the vacation I planned. But life, as I’ve so often been reminded these past few years, is what happens when we’re making other plans. And I have another vacation in October. And the dozens of tissues I’ve used during this one haven’t been for crying. And I’m still dancing with NED, as far as I know. And I’m trying to convince myself that that’s good enough. And that maybe I don’t have to blame something when it’s not.

When we don’t feel good, is it always cancer’s fault?

This entry was written by Kathi, posted on Wednesday, May 09, 2012 at 01:05 pm, filed under Fatigue, Survivorship and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

15 Responses to “Is It Always Cancer’s Fault?”

  1. Is it always cancer’s fault? I don’t know . . . sometimes working in a medium that so directly addresses cancer makes me wonder if it’s stopping that ‘letting go’ process. Hard to know.

  2. It’s tricky, Catherine, isn’t it? But then there’s that snowball effect that I’ve had from fatigue…or maybe I’m just not zen enough!!

  3. Brilliant post!
    I’ve been feeling the fatigue and all the other nasty side effects of chemo lately a lot and I too keep wondering when or if I will ever feel “normal” again. I hope your vacation in October isn’t spent spending trinket money on tissues though. I hope you are feeling better.

  4. Thanks, Laura, I hope so, too. And I’m staying away from anyone who so much as sniffles!

    Such a stinking bore, all this, isn’t it?

  5. “I’m still dancing with NED.” I love that line!

    Hard to not see the color of cancer; it bleeds into everything. (Out, out, damn spot!)

    I hope you’re feeling better soon.

  6. If I can’t come up with another explanation for something, Renn, cancer sure is a handy one. And here’s a nifty link to’s actual, hold-it-in-your-hand-and-play-it Cancer Card! Their motto: “If you’ve got it, play it.” LOL

  7. I live in hope that it WON’T always be cancer’s fault, Kathi – but fear this may take quite a while. I am so sorry you got sick on your break – gah!! – and hope you’re feeling much better. And I LOOOOOOVE the ‘Cancer Card’….brilliant!

  8. Kathi,

    It sucks to get so sick during one’s vacay. As a mom of an almost-four-year-old, I can attest that kids are the dirtiest, germ-laden people on the planet. I’m glad you got to snuggle with your cats (I have two, so I know the cat-snuggle draw).

    As far as it always being cancer’s fault, I hear you! It’s like you were reading my mind. I blame cancer for a lot of things. Like my chemobrain. Like bone loss. Like everything. I don’t get upset about age-related things, but the cancer experience — it’s a b*tch.

    Thank you for an outstanding posting.

  9. Thanks, Beth. I’m starting to feel a lot better, and my hope is that this exposure to this little two-legged germ factory will have helped me build up a nice supply of antibodies that might last me for a while. 😉

  10. “Not normal-anymore hump,” love that description. Cancer may not be entirely to blame for all that ails us ongoing, but it sure continues to be a player doesn’t it?

    Sorry your vacation had some low spots. Hope the next one is a bit better.

  11. You know, Nancy, I do try to count my blessings, but gee whiz! Well, I guess we all become experts at trying to find the silver linings in those storm clouds, but sometimes it’s harder to find them than other times…

  12. Kathi,

    What a drag to be sick during your time off. Seems it always happens that way, at least for me it does. I’m always coughing and sniffling during semester breaks. Wishing you a swift recovery as you knock that crud out of your system.


  13. I’m so sorry your hopes weren’t fulfilled on your vacation, Kathi. What’s great about this blogosphere of breast cancer sisters is that we “get” it. We know that our bodies have changed, as well as our attitudes toward life and situations. I’ve learned so much from my blogging sisters that it’s helped me put my chronic chest pain into perspective and face each day with hope and gratitude for NED. We’re all rooting for you. And keep writing! xx

  14. Thanks, Jan. Yes, it’s so helpful to know my blog sisters are there. xo

  15. So sorry to hear that your vacation time was spoiled by this Kathi. It happens a lot though .. to non cancer people too – I know that every time my husband gets time off work, he comes down with a sore throat, or a cough – it’s like he has been working so hard with no time to slow down or get ill – that when he has a free moment, his body says right, time to get sick now. Maybe there is a lesson in this for us all? Hope you are feeling much better now and that you get to do all those things you were planning on real soon x

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