Here is a guest post from a woman who reached out to me. Obviously her name is not Hazel Flatchest, but she wanted to remain anonymous.
Breast cancer, you say? Well, it is October…. That month when you walk into the grocery store and it looks like someone vomited Pepto Bismol all over the aisles. So of course we want to talk all about breast cancer and awareness (gag!) and mammograms this month. Screw that. Cancer is soooooo 2010. Let’s talk about NOW.
The mastectomy scars have healed. The port was removed. The hair has grown back. Everything should be back to normal, right? WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. I don’t even know what “normal” is anymore.
But for the sake of argument, here’s my new “normal”: I haven’t held down a full-time job for more than 3 months in over 4 years. I cry several times a day. Not out of sadness or depression (although I’ve experienced my fair share of both of those in the past four years…), but mostly out of sheer frustration. I often feel as if I have lost my mind. It is shrouded in a haze of chemo fog that has affected my ability to solve even the simplest of math problems or puzzles. I can no longer multi-task without feeling stress and fear rise up from the pit of my stomach. I am, quite simply, a hot mess. And the worst part? Having to accept that this is now my new “normal”.
A recent article on NBC News regales that “Women who get chemotherapy for breast cancer may end up unemployed for a very long time.” I am living proof that this sentence is true. And discussions with friends who also went through chemotherapy for this asshole disease only seem to uphold this statement. Even friends who were employed throughout treatment and still hold those same jobs whisper of negative performance reviews and fears of losing their jobs. So what the hell? Seriously. WHAT. THE. HELL?
Here are some observations of my own situation since I did 16 rounds of conventional chemotherapy and 2 years of Herceptin for my stage 2, asshole Her2 positive breast cancer:
1) I get frustrated (and cry) easily. It really doesn’t take much. Just hand me a pile of things to do. I used to be a consummate multi-tasker. Now I just look at the pile and can’t figure out how to prioritize it into a reasonable workflow. So what do I do? Well, sometimes I just cry.
2) I am crippled by difficult problem-solving. I recently took an aptitude test that included a “spatial reasoning” section – lots of puzzles and shapes where you figure out what comes next in a series of shapes and symbols. After much consternation and nail-biting, I had to call a spade a spade and realize I was freaking myself out instead of arriving at the answers. I actually could not finish that portion of the test. I was just too stressed out to do it.
3) I am extremely forgetful. I have learned to write things down if they are important and need to be remembered. This has been particularly hard for me to accept because B.C. (before cancer), I had a mind like a steel trap. Now my mind seems to be riddled with giant holes that allow information to escape at record speed.
4) I am socially inept. This is an area of life that represents a true paradigm shift in my behavior. Before cancer, I was a social butterfly and easily made friends. Now I am unsure of myself and hesitant to start conversations with new people for fear I will appear stupid or desperate.
And that is just a short list of things I can come up with off the top of my chemo-addled head. I am Jack’s chemically altered brain. I am constantly frustrated, ashamed and humiliated by these changes in myself. And horrified that they are getting in the way of me getting a job and putting back together some semblance of “normalcy” in my life. Is this cancer’s dirty little secret? Does anyone else feel the way I do? Bueller? Bueller?