Friday, February 22, 2013

Betrayals, large and small

In 2005 when I started experiencing symptoms of what would turn out to be rheumatoid arthritis, I felt betrayed by my body.  I was in the midst of training for my second sprint triathlon, and feeling very fit and strong, except for the excruciating pain in my feet.  Well, it turns out that was nothing.

In 2012 I was feeling as good as I ever have.  I accomplished my goal of completing an Olympic triathlon in three hours (technically 3:02, that pesky bathroom break).  My fitness and my body, I felt, at the age of 49, were in their primes.  That was a month before I was diagnosed with cancer.  Certainly and unknown to me at the time, I had cancer throughout my training and through completion of the triathlon.  After I was diagnosed I could not shake the suspicion that my body was filled, all over, with cancer.  In the couple of excruciating weeks between diagnosis and scans, between diagnosis and beginning of treatment, I experienced a lot of unfamiliar pain all over my body.  My irrational mind, or the mind that was feeling the sting of being betrayed by its body, interpreted everything as cancer, everywhere, and gave me symptoms to confirm it.  It turned out that I had a lot of cancer in one breast, a little in the lymph nodes under my arm, and none anywhere else.

Throughout chemo and now in its aftermath, I am forced to conclude that my body, no matter what I do to take care of it, is at times painfully out of my control.  I can no longer brag that I never get the sicknesses that float from school into our home.  I seem to catch everything, with my still immunocompromised system.  I can no longer exercise my way to health, or the illusion of it (I have yet to be cleared for running or swimming at four weeks post-op).  Hopefully I will be able to start jogging again in the next several weeks.  Even so, even if I could right now, I couldn't, as my body has gone and betrayed me once again.  I have no idea how I did it, but my back is just killing me.  I suspect I threw something off lying on the hard metal table getting set up for radiation while raising my arms over my head and grasping a bar as instructed by the technician.  My arms are more mobile

every day but the over my head reach is still a challenge.  Maybe my muscles spasmed while holding that stressful position.  Who knows?  All I know is I am now one of those people for whom "it's always something."  As soon as one thing improves, another falls apart.

And, since having cancer, it is of course impossible for my mind not to speculate on whether this sudden back episode is cancer.   That is the crux of the betrayal.  While in our culture there is so much cancer that I imagine many people have moments of wondering whether a symptom is one of
cancer, for those who have or have had cancer it hits a little closer to home.  If I am cancer free for the next five years, or bettery yet ten, these doomseeking tendencies may calm themselves.  But with radiation still to go to sweep up and kill any "rogue cells" in my chest wall, these thoughts are hard to shake off.

If you're still with me after all those downer paragraphs, there is good news.  I will be starting radiation next week on Tuesday, after one more set up appointment on Monday.  It is a week sooner than expected, because I cajoled them to hurry up with my set up and let me start.  And because my physical therapist has helped me alot with regaining the mobility in my right arm so I can lie with my arms over my head and receive the death rays properly.

And... Jon went ahead and purchased the two of us a little getaway to San Diego at the end of April after the radiation is done.  Temps hovering around 70 and sunshine.  It is raining here again and blowing like stink, so this is an awesome thing to look forward to.  It's not all complaining and doomseeking, and everything feels better every day.


  1. Wow. Starting radiation a whole week earlier.
    Crummy about your back! Are you still seeing your PT person. If so, she might suggest a little stretching exercise before you lie down on that table again!

  2. This reminds me of the "not yet sick" posting, which I think of frequently. It's true, the health we possess is ephemeral, which is why I try to enjoy it while I can. There's no logic or fairness about it.
    My officemate at work (who has MANY stressful factors in her life) always says, "If we got what we deserved, my life would be far worse." I don't necessarily believe this, especially for her, or you, but I understand the feeling of betrayal.

    Hope to see you tomorrow at BG!