Thursday, July 9, 2009

What Doesn't Kill You...

Dark Paths

By Tzvi Freeman

"He could have placed streetlamps along all the pathways of wisdom, but then there would be no journey. Who would discover the secret passages, the hidden treasures, if all of us homed in straight for our destination?"

Tomorrow's the last day of radiation - YAY!! I'm celebrating by buying the paper goods for Aimee's Bat Mitzvah party. And my kids are coming home from their big trip around 3pm (G-d Willing). That will be a treat in itself.

I have been fighting the radiation burn pretty successfully with lots of different lotions. I made a friendship that I will continue after I'm done. And she has her own story of horror: her surgeon told her after her lumpectomy that they had to do it all over again because the lump was bigger than they thought!

Yesterday I went to the Lymphedema clinic and was told there's no need for me to return - unless I get swelling that doesn't go away. I will be letting go of the sleeves next week. She reassured me and gave me more info and so I am not afraid of the disease anymore. Another person who got radiation when I did had 17 lymph nodes taken out of one arm and her hand is swollen. I felt sorry for her and I was so grateful that my doc only took 7.

The past week (while the kids were gone), I found myself thinking about that saying, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Twice I heard Geoff reference that saying while telling a friend that motherhood didn't kill me, but it did weaken me. Whereas this diagnosis & treatment has made me stronger.

With the kids away from home, I found myself obsessed with what Geoff said and wondering why motherhood didn't make me stronger and why breast canSer did.

When Jason was a newborn, he had reflux which made him a terrible sleeper and a screamer. I had thought I would always go back to work but when he needed medication 20 minutes before every feeding, it was hard to trust anyone else to know when he was getting hungry in order to give him his medicine. Harder still was trusting someone to know how to hold him off for 20 minutes before getting fed. The first time I got a baby-sitter and pumped and got out to my office to see my one client, she was a no-show. That was the last time I tried to go back to my practice for 10 years.

In the meantime, my health began to fail when in addition to weekly migraines, I was having severe insomnia from my baby's sleep habits. Then came Aimee and I ended up selling my furniture to the woman who was sub-leasing my office. It was really hard to let that go. I had done the office up so nice and it had a view of the ocean and the Hermosa Beach Pier.

After moving from So. CA. back to S. Cruz, my life wrapped around the lives of two little people. I volunteered in their classrooms and focused on their needs, while trying to catch a few hours here and there for myself when they were in school. Baily and I had a great time back then, hanging out together and talking while our kids would entertain each other.

Then Aimee got into kindergarten and first grade and I finally got a full 6 hours all to myself. But at the time, our school board was threatening to close our school and I became consumed with advocating for my kids through the loss of all that was familiar and the move to another school. That was when I became PTA president to help make that transition work for us as well as I could.

I suppose focusing on my kids to the extent I did wore me down. It also gave me an excuse for not having to face my fears of going back to working at my practice. I had been holding the belief that I never really liked that work anyway. Plus, the thought of dealing with others' problems seemed overwhelming when I had so many of my own. I couldn't imagine taking care of one more person. And I held the belief that I was never really good at being a therapist anyway.

I couldn't imagine building a practice again after being out of the field for so long. I was very insecure and didn't think I could ever market myself the way I'd built my practice the first time. Unfortunately, I had no idea all I needed to do was apply to insurance companies and they'd send me clients without my having to teach any classes or market myself in any way. Working with the insurance companies and doing all that paperwork didn't appeal to me, so I never pursued it.

That's when I tried to market to mothers. I felt I had a real good picture of what problems they faced and had the heart to help mothers like me. Unfortunately the website I created and the workshop I led didn't build the kind of practice I had before when all I did was lead a workshop to build it. Luckily I ended up trying the insurance companies just in time to catch this canSer before it turned into a stage 4. Once I had regular clients coming in I must have felt secure enough to finally get that mammogram and face what I didn't want to face and had no clue I would have to face.

So I guess where I'm going with all this is that maybe having my practice finally going right before getting diagnosed helped me to stay stronger through this ordeal than through the ordeal of motherhood. It's been helpful because it's something I do for me that helps me feel stronger and accesses the best part of me. So it reminds me of my strengths.

Going through this diagnosis and treatment has also made me stronger by reducing my tendency to lose myself in other people's problems or get overwhelmed by them - like I may have before when I had my earlier practice. My life is just too precious now and my energy too important not to protect. I don't go down that co-dependent road as much as I used to. So doing this work is not as draining as it was and I can be better at it than I was before.

There's nothing like staring death in the face to make you rise to the occasion. Of course the anti-depressant helps tremendously. In addition to no more migraines, it would be very easy to give up and just want to die instead of live if I didn't have a handle on my tendency toward depression. Getting my practice going and getting on Celexa right before getting diagnosed was such a miracle for me. I could not have survived this year and all its trials without either my practice or Celexa.

I think there's one more important piece that I have now that I didn't have back when I was a new mother. Geoff. Ok, I did have him back then but truthfully, I was the one to work in the classrooms, help with the homework, make the dinners, clean the house, work on the yard, pay the bills, do the taxes, get the kids ready for school in the morning and take them to school. I pretty much had gotten used to doing it all and not asking for his help. Gradually, through the years, he's taken on many of these tasks and thankfully, through this canSer challenge, he's been doing everything.

I have not had to do anything but focus on myself and get better.

Focusing on myself has been so healing. Not having any other responsibilities but your own self-care has got to be THE way to make sure that what can kill you instead makes you stronger. I'm in my own therapy, I've got my own carepages for writing therapy, I'm reconnecting with friends, I'm watching TV whenever I get tired, I can sleep in if I've had a rough night, I go to acupuncture weekly, I've had more massages this year than probably my entire life, I found an exercise I can do regularly that I really like, etc. My life is no longer so entirely wrapped around two other beings. I am finally able to take care of myself.