One Year and Counting

February 4, 2010

Well, the one-year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis came and went last week with little hullaballoo. Part of me was braced for an emotional tidal wave that never manifested. As it turned out, January 29th, 2010, was just another day. And, more than anything, I felt/feel lucky. Lucky that I’m on the other side of cancer (knock wood). Lucky that mine was the type that could be sliced out—I have a good friend with lymph cancer who will never have the luxury of another cancer-free day. Lucky that I’m back to worrying about the little stuff, like freelance work. Lucky that I get to move on with my life. Speaking of moving on, friends sometimes ask me what nuts-and-bolts lifestyle changes I made in the past 12 months, so I thought I’d make a little list. Of course, this is not meant to be health advice, I’m just offering a little window into what I did after my cancer diagnosis (aside from freak the hell out). So, here it goes:

  • Stopped drinking Diet Coke
  • Started drinking green tea
  • Started juicing in the mornings
  • Stopped eating sugar, wheat, soy and dairy
  • Went vegan at home
  • Traded anti-perspirant for natural deodorant (yeah, it sucks)
  • Got serious about buying only paraben-free soaps and shampoos
  • Bought chemical-free laundry detergent and dryer sheets
  • Traded soy milk for rice milk (I’ve eased up on the soy)
  • Reduced my use of canned beans
  • Replaced most of the tupperware in my kitchen with glass containers
  • Cut back on wine
  • Yoga, yoga and more yoga

None of these rules are written in stone. In fact, they fluctuate depending on the day. But, more days than not, I follow them, and my plan is to keep it up for a long, long time. I’m not naive. It would be silly to think any one of the actions above might ward off cancer. But it would be equally foolish to stick my head in the sand. I figure that the least I can do is to cut back on the number of cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting substances I invite into my home and body. After that it’s anyone’s game. This time around, maybe I’ll get lucky.

Homebody

January 27, 2010

Standing on the cusp of my first cancer-versary, I’m surprised (but not) to note how much I’ve changed during the past 12 months. The most obvious and painful souvenirs of my trip to cancerland are also the most permanent—the two neat scars, like dash marks, running across my chest. The psychological shifts are harder to see.

Some days I feel like a completely different person, as if my body was hollowed out and re-stuffed. Other days I feel as though I’ve simply settled more deeply into myself, as if my psyche moved from the second floor to the basement apartment.

As cliche as it sounds, I’m less likely to sweat the small stuff (a parking ticket, a hole in my sweater, cat litter on the furniture–eww) and more likely to do annoyingly upbeat things (like hum in the shower). One of the most notable shifts is both physical and mental: a profound need to stay put.

I’ve always been a homebody. I like routine. I relish the simple stuff  like cooking, walking the dog, and practicing yoga. At night I love cuddling on the couch with Mary to watch a movie or laugh at bad reality shows. I love sleeping in my own bed. Since I need a lot of alone time and dislike crowds, confined spaces, and flying, travel has always presented a challenge. But I bite the bullet because I know I’ll be happy once I’m there.

So, last summer, after I’d physically healed, I thought I was ready to hit the road. Nothing crazy, just a few trips to visit friends and family. Oy, big mistake. Somewhere along the way, my travel angst blossomed into a full-blown aversion. Departing for each trip felt like walking off the gangplank into a churning sea of chaos and confusion. Mary deserves a medal of honor for traveling with me because I was a mess. In DC, I burst into tears when we got lost leaving the rental car facility. In San Francisco, my favorite city in the world, I felt physically pummeled by the city’s vibrancy and spent most of the trip in our hotel room, dodging maid service and crying. Fun times.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was mired in a bog of depression and traveling exacerbated my sense of helplessness. (I’m doing much better now, thanks.) Finally, at the end of my last trip, I had a complete and utter meltdown and realized that what I really needed was to stay home, so that’s what I’ve done. For the past four months I’ve stayed home and the world feels right again.

Shortly after my epiphany, Dana Jennings, a writer for The New York Times who blogs about his experience with prostate cancer, posted an entry about his sudden desire to stay home. He writes, “More than ever these days, I want to shrink the world to the couple of rooms in my house where I’m most comfortable…I’m still reinterpreting myself in the face of cancer, and that takes time and quiet.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.