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YAFC: Learning to Love your Body (even if it’s trying to kill you)

by Anne Marie Cerato, Section Co-editor, Living with Cancer

To say I have issues with my body is an understatement. It did, after all, try to kill me. Twice. So how does one come to terms with their body after something like cancer? I can tell you it is a work in progress.

Once upon a time, I took my body for granted. It was strong and flexible and I tipped the scales at about 95 lbs. soaking wet. Fast forward a few years and a tussle with lung cancer and my once slim frame is much more Rubenesque. It has taken a while to realize how ludicrous it is to worry about something so trivial and superficial as putting on a few pounds, especially when I stop and think about what my body has been through in the last five years. I mean, what are a few pounds when your body has been poisoned and radiated to the “nth” degree, not to mention cut open then poisoned some more. My vain self wishes for my old body back, but my rational self realizes that this is where my body is and needs to be to be healthy and the two factions battle. Most days my rational self wins, but there are days when I go to my closet and nothing fits and I want to pull out my hair!

The bigger issue for me is reclaiming my body and getting used to its new limitations. I hate to say I have limits, but I do. On a good day, I feel like I’m a vibrant young woman, but most days, I feel old. I am constantly tired, my joints are stiff, and my legs and feet are swollen. Despite this, I still try to be as normal as possible. This “normal” is new for me because I once had boundless energy and pushed through fatigue; now its all I can do to get to a couch before I pass out. I have often tried to explain what my fatigue is like, but words fail me. The best way I can describe what is happening is a complete and total shut down that sneaks up on me like a shadow then totally consumes me and I can’t stop it. The problem is even if I sleep, I still wake up exhausted. This makes working and socializing rather challenging.

Having lung cancer really messes up your lung capacity. Even though pulmonary function tests say I am in the normal range, I know I’m not. I can’t run to save my life. Climbing up hills is out of the question, even just a slight incline has me huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf, and stairs, lets not even talk about them.

An added bonus to all this wonderfulness is the edema or swelling, acute neuropathy  and arthritis I experience. None of these side effects are predictable or treatable. The neuropathy, which for a long time was a mystery, turns out to be a side effect of the chemo I received. When it happens, it makes anything that touches my skin incredibly painful. Pair that up with the swelling and arthritis and I am one sexy beast.

I used to have great legs, now it seems that I have two stumps attached at the hips. I began to notice that my knees and ankles would get stiff, and then I realized that my legs were sometimes swollen, as time went on, they were always swollen to the point that my range of motion became limited. To help this problem I began taking a prescribed diuretic that worked for a while but became less effective as time ticked on. Topping it off was my bone scans revealing what I long suspected, that I have arthritis in most of the joints in my ankles, feet and legs and in my shoulders, hands and wrists.  Hello creaky old lady bones.

You might think that with all these complaints, I am not thankful or grateful for the treatments I have received, but it really is quite the opposite. These obstacles are just that, speed bumps. I gladly take these inconveniences over being sick or dying any day. I am slowly learning not to beat myself up when I get tired, when I can’t do something I used to find easy, or when I’m gasping for air. I’m learning to accept my less lean self and love every inch of it, because it has been though the ringer and remains true. It’s a steep learning process and there are always setbacks.  So the going is slow, but I will take this body for better or worse and learn to be kind to it.

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