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ejourneys's picture

A friend called me on Sunday to see how I was doing.  He knows someone who is also on chemo and who has been having a much tougher time of it.

I brought him up to speed.

Then I told him that I look at all this as an adventure.  It's not one that I would have chosen, but it's an adventure nonetheless. 

He got that.

In an earlier phone conversation prior to starting chemo, I had said, "This is going to sound weird, but I'm actually having some fun with this."

He got that, too.  I'm learning new things and for me that constitutes fun.  Finding work-arounds and connecting with others is fun.  Sharing information on the cancer forums is fun, especially if the material I've learned helps someone else.

He deals with his own chronic illness.  During Sunday's talk, my description of the deep fatigue I had felt in the days following infusion resonated with him.  He experiences that, too, for a different reason.  At first, he hadn't known that the tiredness he felt was an expected part of his disease.  Once he learned that it was, he could stop being frustrated with himself and get the help he needed.

I think that's a major component of well-being.  We face up to our limitations and let ourselves off the hook.

Or, as the yard work guy told me on Sunday, "It's time to throw in the white towel."

On Sunday I relinquished my role as Weed-Whacker Extraordinaire.  Up until now, I had practiced a roughly once-a-month ritual during Florida's insane growing season.  There would come a point where my yard had grown shaggy enough to set off my internal alarm, which rang, "Cut it down before you get a letter saying your yard is in violation."  The next non-rainy day (which could constitute quite a wait), I would put my electric weed-whacker through its paces.  [Cutting] my yard on 1/8 acre typically took around three hours, give or take a half hour depending on weather and growth.

I made the task as palatable for myself as possible, listening to my MP3 player through noise-canceling headphones, making sure I had ample Gatorade available, leaving a rest chair in the shade, and shielding myself from the sun as best I could.  The only thing I truly disliked about the job was how much it disturbed the Phaon Crescent butterflies making their homes and livelihoods in the tall weeds.  I hated to do that to them.  (I took this shot of one during a weed-whacking session, since I also made sure my camera always remained within reach.)

A full-tilt session could leave me pretty tired and creaky, especially at the height of summer, when our heat index reaches the triple digits even in late afternoon.  My tool of choice meant longer labor, but it was ultimately more practical.  The front of my yard boasts a slope as steep as 11 degrees.

By Sunday, my yard had gotten pretty shaggy.  I had last weed-whacked it almost a month earlier, on April 19.  Prior to my lumpectomy on March 25 I had gone on a lopping spree, taming years of overgrowth and amassing an impressive hill of yard waste.  That needed transportation to the landfill for mulching.

M and I both did what we could, cutting branches into manageable pieces and setting out our allotted can of yard waste for weekly pickup.  But even working together, I knew that we were already no match for a summer that hadn't even started yet.

Enter the yard work crew.

They're a young, hardworking family.  In four hours a crew of three mowed our yard, trimmed our trees down to size, removed a line of bushes that M wanted gone (I grudgingly agreed that it was better in the long run, all things considered), and made several trips to cart off the resulting small mountain of yard waste added to our already-established hill.  The yard looks better than it has in years.

To supervise, I stood in the shade whenever I could, dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and broad-brimmed hat.  I had slathered 100-SPF sunscreen on my face, neck, and hands.  The top button on my collar was closed to protect the still-healing incisions from my chemo port insertion, including the one at the bottom of my neck.  Replace my jeans with a bustle skirt, my shirt plaid with ruffles, and my khaki hat with silk, and I would look downright Victorian.

I also held onto my water bottle for dear life.  I drank 14.5 glasses, which puts Sunday's water consumption in second place behind the 17 glasses I had downed on the day of my first chemo infusion.   Even though my fatigue has lifted until the next infusion, I needed nine hours of sleep that night.

I am passing chemo with flying colors so far, but I could tell that my body was in no shape for what my yard required.  It made me wistful.

I balanced my wistfulness with other emotions: happiness at a job well done by good people; gratitude that I had the option of getting help and that the work helps others; satisfaction that I have someone to go to for future upkeep; and relief that neither M nor I had overextended ourselves.  The positives far outweigh the tiny ache in my independence-loving soul.

But I do honor the ache.   Time will tell whether I'll be able to reclaim my Weed-Whacker Extraordinaire status following treatment, but if I've learned anything as a caregiver it's to live in the moment.  I am now learning it as a patient.   More than my slightly altered body shape and new scars and more than my side effects, Sunday's relinquishment brought my "new normal" home to me. 

I remind myself that my new normal is also self-care.  And self-care is a vital part of this adventure.

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