Editor’s Note: Jennifer originally wrote this in November 2020
Cancer has left my body. It no longer resides, but it has certainly left its mark. Diabetes, beginning arthritis, fibromyalgia, lung damage, heart damage, neuropathy, anemia, and much, much more still reside with me. And I’ve been ok with that. I live my life, do my job, power through the pain. I’ve accepted the chronic pain and illness as part of my cross to bear.
Enter boyfriend. Strapping healthy 24 yr old. On heart medication now because he drank wayyy too many Red Bull’s. Apart from the infrequent cold, never had a health issue. He’s trying to wrap his head around my chronic illness life, and I’m trying not to overwhelm him with detail. But I do think it’s important for him to know how my long-term life will still look like. This morning he was surprised I wasn’t already working, and I repeated a few times “mornings are hard for me.”. Finally, he said “I don’t know what that means.” I shared how some mornings are so pain filled I can barely move. His answer- why don’t you take pain meds?
He’s always trying to “fix” me. My damaged lungs barely let me breathe during a recent cold. He immediately looked up the price of buying a lung transplant, and other organs should I need one. The pain I’m often in prompts him to bring up CBD and other pain remedies. The diabetes is fixed by only eating sugar-free ice cream instead of regular.
I love how much he cares for me, and is trying so hard to help me. But it got me thinking- why was I not trying to fix myself? Is there a way for Jen to return to the pre-cancer Amazonian woman, who would be stopped by nothing? Where did the girl who would fight for her goals at all costs go? Why wasn’t I pushing myself to be better, to be a whole person again?
I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks, and today I had my answer. She’s right here. As strong as ever, willing, and ready to face the challenge. But she is tired. Her body has fought battles no one should ever have to, much less as a teenager and young adult. And the strength once used to attack herculean challenges is now used just to get through the day. The strength goes into cooking healthy food so the diabetes will be under control. The strength goes into work, so she can keep her health insurance. The strength goes into mentally finding the fortitude to begin a new day, filled with uncertain sugars, aching joints, and sore muscles. She doesn’t have the strength to fix herself, because she’s using the strength to hold herself together.
At first, I was really upset that he keeps trying to “fix” me. I’m sure he’s wondering why I’m not acting on all his suggestions. Am I being lazy or indifferent or complacent? But I realized I’m too tired to fix myself. But now I have someone in my corner. Someone who is researching and pushing to find ways to help me. Someone who is trying to fix me so that I can live life even fuller than I do now. Someone who is standing by me, as “broken” as I am now, and is willing to face the brokenness together.
All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer. If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you! Please submit your idea at https://elephantsandtea.cdn-pi.com/contact/submissions/.