Leave the Shoes

There is a tradition for Olympic wrestlers to leave their wrestling shoes on the edge of the mat when they have wrestled the last match of their career. When I retired from work a few years ago, as I was leaving the office for the last time, I took off my work shoes and left them next to my desk. The funny thing is that I went to visit my ex-coworkers a few months after I retired and my shoes were still there. My former coworkers didn’t understand the symbolism and were waiting for me to visit to pick them up. Plus, no one wanted to touch them to move them. Also of note, I wasn’t sure if I should be flattered that I hadn’t yet been replaced. Was I unreplaceable? Or was I so not vital, that there was no rush to get someone in my place. I say it was the former. It felt so funny visiting my old office. It hadn’t been that long since I had worked, but I felt awkward and like I was a complete outsider. While I still have a couple of friends from work, I vowed to never go back into the office again. I didn’t like that awkward feeling.

A never ending cycle

I’ve been on my current treatment regimen for multiple myeloma for over four years. It’s the best regimen in my 10 plus years as a professional cancer patient. I do a monthly immunotherapy infusion and take a daily chemo pill, plus steroids. The steroids are destroying my skin. But since my disease is stable, I was able to convince my doctors to lower my steroid dosage to help minimize the roid-driven emotional rollercoaster and to perhaps allow my skin to get a break.

Even with the stable disease and the fact I am feeling good, it feels like a never-ending cycle of labs and doctors appointments. But unlike work, I can’t just say I’m done and walk away. Myeloma is always there. But I can say that not having to balance work and treatment has been a real positive. I feel better, I’m less stressed and I can take daily naps.

Find someone you can talk to

I have a good friend, a fellow myeloma patient, who I met at my oncologist. We meet every couple of weeks for breakfast and a walk. It’s such a welcome break. It’s such a nice thing having someone who understands the worry and frustration that comes with living with an incurable cancer. We commiserate together. But we always end our walk by saying we are grateful to be alive and walking and living life as best we can. We’re fortunate. And I'm acutely aware that I’m fortunate that I can focus on my health. The farther away I get from my diagnosis date, the more I ensure that I’m embracing life. Nothing is guaranteed. Sure, I’m going to have some down days, physically and mentally. But self-talk keeps me focused on being positive.

It's been a while since I’ve seen a therapist, but I might search for a new one. Sometimes, I get tired of hearing my self-talk and can use someone else to help me be ok with the hand I’ve been dealt. And that’s my message to fellow patients: find someone you can talk to about how you’re feeling. A friend, a spouse, a therapist, a religious mentor. Someone who will listen without offering unrequested advice. I know for me, just being able to talk about my mental challenges is helpful and a stress reliever. It doesn’t make cancer go away, but it does let me know I’m not alone.

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