Cancer and … Recovery
I get asked, every day, how are you? How is Kaycee? How are the girls? These well-meaning questions are hard ones to answer truthfully. I have skillfully learned the art of redirecting the question and sometimes I simply answer fine (what a loaded word, eh?). But, really, the answer is we all are in recovery and it is a great place to be but it is harder than hell! Recovery from whatever ails you, cancer, surgery, chemo, a cold, a death, a divorce, pneumonia, a broken heart, a hangover…is hard to explain. However, I will try to explain a little more in depth about what recovery means to me…
What I know about recovery: What it IS and IS NOT…
Recovery is hard. Much harder than I was expecting and obviously even tougher on Kaycee than on me. I thought recovery would be the push for the finish line, the relief of breaking through the ribbon and the deep breathing that comes with a return to the regular rhythm of life. Recovery sounds like the end…and yet it is only a new beginning of tremendously hard daily work. Recovery sounds good to the observer or bystander. It was something that I thought would be easier than all this shit that we have endured, but recovery may be even more exhausting and invasive to the whole family than the cancer treatments… Maybe? Maybe I just feel this way because, as far as we know, the cancer is gone and now we have a cancer-free man that is vastly different physically and mentally than the man from just a little over a year ago.
Recovery is not about long naps that leave you refreshed and ready for adventure. Usually sleep is not even an option but a constant requirement. The recovering body is demanding. It needs lots of breaks from the sheer exhaustion of simply being awake.
Recovery is not lounging around indulging in all your favorite things. Although, recovery involves loads of sitting and couching, often with endless T.V., there is very little rest. There is, however, constant discomfort, repositioning, concern, monitoring and passing of endless time.
Recovery is not about eating all your favorite foods or gluttonously enjoying all the things you’ve missed over the last year. It is more importantly about the challenge of finding what you can stomach; chewing and swallowing becomes a chore. It is a constant battle to find food with nutrients that feed the healing process and fill the void without adding any discomfort.
Recovery is lonely. Everyone involved with the recovery (patient, children, spouse, friends) feels alone with their own worries, fears and effects that the said recovery is having on them, personally. Recovery is unique to each person. Sometimes even sharing what is going on with recovery can be lonely as it clearly paints dividing line between recoverees and healthy, yet concerned, listeners. As the patient, you are left alone all day every day while the healthy people around you go on with their daily lives/work/school/routines.
Recovery is painful. Getting the body to respond in ways it hasn’t in months or years, hurts. Sensations you may have never experienced are your new routine to learn and become accustomed to. Incisions have stitches and soreness; the body aches and skin is irritated.
Recovery is emotional. Tears, heaving sighs and sobs from exhaustion, physical brokenness and metal fractures are expected. The toll of piecing back together a normal existence leaves everyone aching for calm and serenity.
Recovery is SLOW. Much slower than we thought or imagined. The micro steps forward often get swallowed up by the giant leaps backward, leaving you feeling as if no progress has yet been made. Recovery is a gradual stage of this awful slog and I am very grateful to be here and not where we were a year ago. However, the doctors say it could take up to 2 years for physical recovery and even then, the mental recovery could be a life-long process.
Recovery is frustrating. Especially around the holidays when family is in town and everyone is getting together, you are home recovering, left behind, missing out. It is equally as frustrating leaving for the party alone. The person you want most to be with at the party stays home to… say it with me now… recover. It is frustrating because any conversation may be interrupted at any time, no matter how important or trivial, to focus on the recovery or attend to needs that go along with said recovery. There is no time to share stories of your day or talk about anything in depth. For the care-givers, I recommend, having some type of hobby (writing, singing, playing and instrument etc.) to fill that void. Something else to focus on while waiting for the person in recovery to “be available”. As a care giver, I highly recommend getting out whenever you can. Even though guilt often follows you around, leaving the house and getting breaks is imperative to be a better care giver to everyone.
Recovery is isolating. No one knows your thoughts. No one can feel what you are feeling. It is impossible to put yourself in the “shoes” of someone recovering. Empathetic people are a beautiful gift but honestly it is not something you can totally understand unless you have gone through it and I do NOT recommend this. Recovery is different for everyone.
Recovery is life changing. We will never be the same as we were before. Our world is now viewed through a different lens.
Trying to explain recovery is not easy. But after I read this to our youngest, Delaney, I asked her, “What do you think? Too much?” Her answer was clear and concise, “It’s depressing… but it’s true and real.”
I am thankful for recovery. I am happy we are here instead of back at the beginning. I am wishing for time, patience, acceptance, forgiveness and kindness.
Happy Holidays/ Merry Christmas
P.S. If you like reading what is going on in our life… I will be posting updates on a blog. Stay tuned for the blog address as soon as I get it up and running.