(Wo)man in the Mirror

I hate to admit this, but I’ve been struggling with depression lately. It is something that snuck up on me and surprised me when I was pregnant with Elle, and fortunately I was able to successfully manage it with medication when I was carrying Sophie. I recently learned depression alongside pregnancy can intensify with each subsequent baby. So, I’ve got that going for me.

I hate to admit that I struggle with this because positivity is something that pretty firmly grounded me during cancer treatment. In my head, I think, “How can you be happy when you were fighting for your life, and then unhappy when circumstances improve?” It feels paradoxical to be down when I am beyond the battle for survival. I mean, this is better, right? I then start to wonder, “What is wrong with me?” which is usually the kind of loving, supportive thinking that improves a situation, I know.

If I push the issue and try to understand why this is hard right now, I realize that the thing about disease is that in some cases, it never really leaves you. It’s part of the bummer about being diagnosed so young- the question starts to become less of if a reoccurrence will happen than when. In many ways it was easy to fight when the enemy was standing right before me- a tumor, a diagnosis, treatment plans and test results to confront and pivot against. It is harder now to confront the unknown and yet all too familiar opponent in the mirror.

Even though I know better, depression sometimes feels like the burglar I invited into the house.

On top of the baseline battle, it is also hard to make sense of reading the tea leaves of recovery. These next few years are a time when I am supposed to ditch disease and plan for the rest of my life while simultaneously staying vigilant over every small physical blip. It feels like jamming the break and the gas pedal at the same time and I haven’t figured out that awkward tension.

One the one hand, I want to pack cancer away and put it in a box on a shelf in the lowest, darkest corner of my mind. I want to think about the adventures I want to have with Tom, the presence I want to have with my kids, the impact I want to make on my community. On the other hand, I am the lone sentinel of my health. My medical team relies on checking in with me about any new symptoms every three months. Beyond the blood draws at those appointments, that’s it. It’s mostly just me- trying to pay attention and report, and yet not over analyze, monitoring the changes in a body that is pretty foreign to me anyway and drawing distinctions between meaningful and routine. What could go wrong?

Somewhat silently, I do worry about symptoms I have. A year ago my radiation oncologist wanted me to have an MRI to rule out a tumor in my brain because of some things I was dealing with that were outside the standard for recovery. I got to the threshold of the door to the imaging room when we all realized I have metal in my expanders in my chest- swiftly cancelling that project. It didn’t seem likely that I would have a brain tumor anyway, so I let that go and moved on with my life. But as symptoms continue to accumulate and intensify, I worry that I may be making a mistake.

Of course, there are totally benign causes for a lot of the symptoms I have. Pregnancy, recovery, and being human all qualify me to experience what I do. It’s a constant balance of whether or not the scales tip far enough in one direction or the other to decide what to do about any of it.

If you are wondering why I don’t just jam myself into a CT scan, try to appreciate that these scans have a cumulative effect. CT scans are not without risk (of cancer, naturally) and I don’t want to make a radiated photocopy of my head just because I have some paranoia. However well founded it may be. Add to that the risk to the baby and it’s why I’m still on the sidelines on this one.

The depression also chips away at my ability to reasonably assess the risk. I don’t really trust my feelings about things like this right now, so I am hesitant to take on anything that could cause harm. Still, not doing anything could be a disastrous decision at worse, but it would at least put the issue to rest if I had a scan. So again, here I sit, rocking back and forth weighing the harm and the help of more information.

It is simply my job to try to cope with the emotional waves that rise and fall alongside these concerns. Sometimes, if I am distracted or just feeling pleasant, I’m not worried about any of it. Other times, if there is a symptom flare up or a rough day, I feel deep sorrow and fear that my future is falling away from me. It feels like I’m in a little boat in the ocean just riding out endless waves and being very tired in the process.

But there is a brighter time on the horizon. I am definitely looking forward to the arrival of this little one in just over three months. It will free up some space to make decisions about my body and my health that are much easier to handle without a baby on board.

Until then, I’ll be making it work with the love and support of the people who care about me. Thank God for the Love Army. I can manage this with the kindness and care people so generously show me, and I am so grateful for every ounce of love I get. Thank you.

Give ‘Em Hell

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