A lawn mower cutting really tall grass

Giving Yourself A Break. And A Break.

Cancer is such a monumental, life-altering experience that it can be difficult not only to get through it but to return to “normal” afterwards.  Normal.  It’s a word that takes on the exact opposite of it’s meaning when you start to rebuild a life after cancer, so let’s see if we can figure out some tips to get started.

The overwhelming return to life post-cancer

Overwhelming is probably the only word that comes close to describing what it feels like to even think about what’s waiting for you back in the real, non-cancerous world.  It’s easy to want to curl up in the fetal position, pull the covers up over your head and hang a “here lies Dan – Yes, you still have to pay me back” sign on your bedpost.  Of course, if your name isn’t Dan, you’d use your own name.  Because that would be weird.  The things that you’ve probably neglected while you have been, oh, you know, fighting for your life, could fill in the Grand Canyon.  The unpaid bills, spoiled food, dirty clothes and houses, now super fat kitties that got into the bag of cat food apparently – you know, the regular stuff of everyday life that doesn’t stop piling up simply because you inconveniently got cancer.  It’s a mountain of crap that you, frankly, don’t want to deal with.  If only the grass could cut itself.

Even choosing where to begin is difficult.  You don’t want to pull on a thread that leads to a pile of stress falling right on top of your head, but you feel like you have to start getting back into real life.  So here’s a good mantra to remember – even crawling is still moving forward.

Take your time

The first thing you have to do is take your time.  Your body needs to heal, but so does your mind.  No matter what kind of cancer you have or had, it requires a tremendous emotional outlay.  Some would say it takes more of a mental toll than a physical one, but whether that’s true for you or not, your mind needs to heal.  What do I mean by heal?  Here’s an example.  Before you got cancer think about what you’d have done if you got a cold.  You’d say “this sucks,” plug your nose up with a tissue walrus, stay in bed for a few days and then tell your boss that “I think the germs are regrouping for a counter-attack” because it’s Thursday night and the Hell if you’re going into work for just Friday.  After cancer when you get a cold what do you immediately think?  Yup – “Oh crap, is this the chemo?  Do I have to go back to the hospital?  Is the cancer coming back?”  See what I mean?  Your mind needs time to heal just like your body. So take it slow – it will all come back but it’s not going to happen overnight.  Or overweek.  Or even overmonth.  Be as patient with yourself as you would be if one of your loved ones had cancer.  Not your in-laws.

Start off slowly

The next thing is not to do too much in one day.  Those of you out there like me who get all antsy when things don’t get done will be chomping at the bit to get-a-workin’ but you have to show some restraint.  A method I developed is called the month-a-day method.  It goes like this – in your first month of recovery try to do ONE thing a day.  In your second month, try to do TWO things a day, in your third month of recovery – you seein’ the pattern here?  I hope so because even my blind and deaf cat caught on and he makes me let him in and out of the same room seventeen times in a row.  Which I counted as a thing I did.  Now, I’m not saying you have to keep track of how many things a day you’re doing on paper, and don’t email with questions like “If I take the dog out and then pick up his poop and an older poop also does that count as two things??”  It’s a guideline people.  It’s only meant to give you a general idea of where your head should be at and also to remind you to leave time to recover.  It isn’t supposed to take you more time to figure out the rules than actually doing things.  If it did then we’d have to count the counting as a thing, and that particular rabbit hole only leads one place - a padded white room.  Trust me.

Go easy on yourself

Finally, and this is the tough one, you have to give yourself a break.  I don’t mean literally – well, actually I do mean literally, breaks are always good, but what I really mean is don’t whip yourself with a cat-o-nine tails if you don’t finish or can’t do something.  Unless that’s what you’re into, but even then, try to have someone else do the whipping.  Your master commands it.  Listen, if you aren’t immediately able to do something you did pre-cancer, don’t assume all hope is lost and mail yourself to Tibet to count pebbles.  Give yourself a break!  If your parent or child or friend had cancer would you call them a useless clumsy jackass if they couldn’t make two dozen cupcakes for a birthday party a month after they got through with chemo?  No, you wouldn’t, and if you would then you should probably see someone about that.  So why then would you beat yourself up for something you’d never expect anyone else to do?  Are you better than everyone else?  No, I am.  So you can’t be, so go easy on yourself.  You will thank yourself for your self-love later.

I said it once and I’ll say it again – even crawling is moving forward.  It may take longer to do the things you once did, and, honestly, you may never get back to the way you were before cancer but that’s OK.  Just because things are different doesn’t mean they are necessarily less than.  Take your time, give yourself a break, and don’t do too much too soon, and before you know it you will be so far removed that you’ll wonder why you ever stopped believing in yourself.  Talk soon.

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