It has been awhile since I’ve technically had cancer. I was declared “no evidence of disease” after chemotherapy ended in July of 2016. Of course, I still went on to have a bilateral mastectomy and 28 doses of radiation. As much as I would like my dance with cancer to be in the history books and on the shelf, admittedly, I am still very much living with the after effects of disease.
To help all my friends and family who care about me understand, I worked out a good analogy for life post-cancer. While I absolutely want to be in the moment with you and have cancer fading into the rear view mirror, my body kind of has other plans. Enter: The Budget Theory.
I want you to think about all the things you have to do every day: Wake up, fix some breakfast, brush your teeth, shower, dress yourself, get to work, walk from your car to your office building or school, sit and concentrate for an extended period of time, move around, engage with clients, friends, and coworkers, travel home, prepare food, eat dinner, and eventually go to sleep. Now add in all the things you like to do: Have lunch with a friend, run a few errands, play with your children, exercise, spend time outdoors, go on a date. Perhaps there are even extra things built into your life like having to shovel snow, or tend to a child or elderly parent, or properly care for your pet.
The point is, there are a lot of things we do everyday that demand our energy. For people with disease, or recovering from disease, our energy reserves simply aren’t the same as yours. I explain it this way-
Say we all have roughly the same objectives to get through each day. Between our wants and needs, we pack our days full of activity and productivity. Now imagine each and everything you do having a monetary cost associated with it. More labor intensive things are more expensive and likewise a lot of small things can add up quickly. You get the point.
Imagine a normal, healthy person has the energy reserve equaling $100. On an average day, most people don’t use all the energy they have. They can get through the day without needing a nap, or a rest, and they can manage their daily needs independently. I think it’s fair then to assign a normal day’s energy consumption at about $90 on the high end. Now remember, you and I have to do the same things. We both have to meet our basic needs. No problem for you, you have the budget to handle it. But me?
I don’t. Not even close.
On a good day I have a budget of about $75-$80. Generally, I run around $65. This is not abnormal for someone like me. I have some pulmonary issues from chemo (I would explain it but it hasn’t been explained to me yet so here we are…) and it is possible that I also have some damage to my heart. Add to that the gross loss of muscle mass I suffered and the weight I put on due to exhaustion and you can start to see the cumulative effects.
But here I am trying to get through my days with not enough energy in my budget to do the things I want and need. That doesn’t mean I don’t try. I regularly push myself to get out of my budgeted zone. I try to add things in or strengthen myself in an effort to punch through the limit. What inevitably happens is I end up spending more than I have. I can sometimes pull this off for a few days in a row, but like any other budgeting blunder, reality soon comes knocking. By trying to indulge in a normal life, I’ve thrown myself into debt. The only way out is rest. My body literally quits on me and I completely crash and sleep for a day and a half before I can climb out of my energy crisis.
That may not sound that bad, but after months of this it is kind of a bummer. I have to make strategic choices about my day. Do I want to get some exercise? Better budget for that. Do I need to run errands? You’d better believe the mundane task of driving, parking, walking, and shopping is a real drain, etc. etc. Basically, anything that happens outside of my bed (my home for the past year and a half) is going to cost me. So unless you’re into slumber parties I’ll need to plan in advance for spending time together.
Despite the current lameness of my depleted physical stamina, I’m still choosing to believe I will get back to good. I am doing everything I can to increase my budget in the face of pretty overwhelming evidence of just how slow that climb will be. But I don’t care. While my old accomplishments used to include four hour bike rides and thirteen mile runs, I am currently quite proud that I’ve only taken the elevator up to my office once in the past six months. I even joined a gym and workout alongside super fit moms with enviable physiques who would normally intimidate the hell out of me. But hey, if a flight of stairs is my daily Everest, you can imagine the courage it takes to step into that arena. So good on me for doing it.
I appreciate the patience and support as I continue the climb, I really do. Thank you for waiting at the top of the steps with me and I pant for air. Thank you for allowing time for my afternoon naps on my couch in my office. Thank you for understanding that I miss you, too, and that we will do all our fun things together in time.
Give ‘Em Hell