Tuesday, February 15, 2022

News ‘Wins’ and Bigger Battles

 "But now that I have cancer, everything has changed...."

I'm not a runner, but when my employer said it would be "good to network with other managers by running a marathon," I decided to train. This "training" consisted of hiking at least 6-9 miles every other day. That's how I fell in love with Gibson Jack's Slate Mountain Trail in Pocatello. It seemed like every time I went up there I'd see a deer, sage hen, or moose. The whole thing felt magical, like diving into another world--my own Narnia. 

I eventually didn't "run" a long-distance relay, but I speedwalked it--and luckily my teammates (some of my favorite people ever--Natalie and Gene) didn't mind. 

But now that I have cancer, everything has changed. 

I'm walking much straighter, and some people might not know that anything is wrong. But I can't stand for very long, and I definitely can't run or walk long distances. I'll slowly walk about a quarter of a mile before collapsing.... That means I might never make it 3 miles in...to where moose love drinking water up Slate Mountain. It was the best place to bring my kids and clear my head. There's nothing like it. Nothing.

I know I shouldn't feel "sad" or even "bad" for myself; it's not healthy. But I am grieving the sudden loss of normalcy. I went from speedwalking Ragnar in my 30s to being "disabled" within two months.

"You need to take the pain medicine," my doctor told me during a virtual visit last week.

"The oxy, it makes me feel weird. And I'm embarrassed that I've had to take it." But the fact remains, in the past months I've had pain that is so unbearable it feels like the endpoints of labor where I've literally writhed in pain. I abhor pain medicine, but at one point in 2021, I had to start taking it...just to get out of bed, just to function, just to spend time with my family. The problem is that you can start on a low dose, but soon your body gets accustomed and you need more...and more.

"You have cancer!" my doctor said. "Elisa, give yourself a break. That's what this medicine is specifically for. For people like you who have cancer."

"I stopped taking it two weeks ago."

My doctor gaped on the tiny screen. 

"I've had extra chills and fevers," I admitted. "I think I've been going through withdrawals. I can't sleep. It's honestly been horrendous--especially on top of cancer."

"Just stopping can do that to you. You have to stop slowly."

"It's getting a little better. The first few days were hell though." I'd honestly been shocked. When you have stage four cancer--and you've been fighting for a year and a half--doctors tend to put you on a lot of medications. I'm on blood thinner because I've had some blood clots in my lungs; I also take medicine because cancer treatments killed my endocrine system. There are other pills since my liver failed and something else since a tumor ate some pretty important nerves in my spine. "I'm still on the essential stuff, but I cut out everything else."  

"The pain though. Now you're in pain AND experiencing withdrawals."

"At least my head is clear," I responded. "I have a choice: less pain and cloudiness or pain and clarity." I sighed because I've never understood how hard it could be taking medicine once you're in pain (whether physically [like I am] or emotionally). This makes my heart break for anyone else who's gone through this. It's terrible.

The virtual visit ended and I turned off my screen. 

"I'm so tired of this," I told Mike.

"Of cancer?"

I nodded. 

"Me too, sweetheart." He held me in his arms. "Me too."

So, it's a fight that I don't think my doctor fully understands from the view of a patient. I want things to be the way they were when I could hop outside and goof around by skateboarding with my son (like I did a month before my diagnosis), or by hiking for miles, or even just making it through the grocery store without feeling completely taxed. But, I have different "wins" and different battles now. Today I'm glad to only be taking my pain medicine once a day when the pain creeps in so much that I just can't take it. I'm proud after making it from Idaho to Utah for my treatments. I'm proud when I can play a full board game with my kids without saying I need to lie down on the couch "for a minute." Those things are like running a marathon for me now.


Sometimes just making it through the day--while keeping a smile on my face--that's the biggest thing I work for; so my kids can see that not even THIS will get us down.

Maybe I will make it up Slate Mountain again some day. We'll see. This time last year I could barely make it to my mailbox and now I'm walking a fourth of a mile. That's gotta count for something.

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