Chemotherapy stole my concentration, compassion, and creativity. I came home from chemo treatment to find my brain ransacked. Neurons scattered everywhere. My orderly mental filing cabinet of memories ripped apart and discarded in a jumble of fragments. My organized identity as a conflict manager strewn about my skull. Emotional reserves looted. It felt like being asleep and awake at the same time. The awake part of me saw things. The asleep part didn’t react to what the awake part observed.
And sneaky chemo so impaired me I wasn’t aware my complement of thoughts and feelings had gone. It took two years to inventory the personal and professional resources chemo stole. With hindsight I understand the impacts on myself and others; my quest is restoration.
Personally, I stared for two years at nothing in middle space like a lazy cat on a pillow. Two years of valuable reading and writing time – poof – evaporated. Relationships and conversations were hard work in the absence of thought and reaction. Can I recapture lost opportunities?
Professionally, my tactful tank was empty. When someone complained about a sore back while I was locked in chemo-induced acute pain syndrome, I said: “Would you like to trade problems?” Snap. Next, I disrespected a support group of bald women. “They cut out body parts to save your life and you moan about your hair?” Harsh. Empathy and sensitivity, which are basic to conflict managers, went missing. Is it too late to respond with kindness?
I needed a new inventory. Recapturing lost opportunities and words wasn’t possible, but restarting was. Gains have been incremental, requiring patience.
A win – I read again although v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. The delightful days I once spent with books are now a delightful hour. That’s an hour more focus than I had a year ago. I prowled our bookcases for skinny books, judging only by their covers, and stumbled upon three classics long buried in our bookcase. I give each discovery 5 out of 5. They are:
Ali and Nino – pray the movie in production does justice to this gem.
The Paper Men -profound and funny.
A Single Pebble – a world in a river trip.
A win – I returned to my dream job as Ombudsman’s Adviser and Conflict Manager for West and North Canada at Parks Canada, which I love. I have the privilege of working with Rebecca in Ottawa, Pierre (Spike) in Halifax, and be well managed by Parks’ Ombuds, Luc.
Yet, I’ve resigned and leave in two weeks. To quit was an agonizing decision. Chemo also sucker-punched my stamina and as long as I work full time, that’s all I get done in a day. Another win – work part time as a Conflict Management Consultant and finish revising my novel.
I like to believe I lived a mindful life before the diagnosis. I like to think my adaptive and resiliency skills made dealing with the treatment/side effects easier. I like to show that being so fit and living a healthy lifestyle before, during and after the treatment has some bearing on whether or not my life is long.
I like to think and believe and show all that, but ultimately, Triple Negative Breast Cancer is a randomized crapshoot. So, what gives meaning to life is what I have left. Pining over the losses of what used to be, wishing for what can’t be anymore, isn’t part of my conflict competence. If I can write a bit again, then writing is going to be my new job.
That’s a permanent win for me. If my novel is ever good enough, maybe it will be a win in other ways.