I am still trying to figure out how to be around myself and now the holidays are here. I am expected to be around all these other people. What am I getting myself into?
Over the past year, I’ve been navigating a very new life after whirlwind treatment for metastatic cervical cancer. Immediately after finishing treatment, I felt broken. My normal life as I knew it was over. I didn’t recognize myself. My face and body didn’t seem to be my own. Throughout much of this year, my recovery consisted of a lot of alone time; time trying to figure out how to be myself. A lot of the time was spent chasing information (and then trying to remember it), advocating for the HPV vaccine, regaining strength, managing menopause, going to physical therapy, and trying to quell pain and anxiety…seemingly all while sitting on the toilet. Thanks to pelvic radiation for all those bathroom trips! I still have so far to go that it’s hard to picture a day when I’ll be fully recovered and be my “normal” self. That’s okay— I’ll manage. I have no other choice.
I’ve developed a lot of social anxiety – I often feel so isolated from others in their mid-30s. I feel like they couldn’t possibly understand how I’d suffered – how I continue to suffer. It takes a lot of mental energy to function in the outside world. It is mentally and physically so much easier to stay home than to go in public and deal with being in pain or in embarrassing situations (especially if I eat the wrong thing). It takes a lot of convincing to even physically get out the door.
I am grateful for the holidays; this time of year, really forces me to suck it up and get out there. I have found that once I get out socializing, I feel better for having done it and it gives me confidence that it will get easier. I adore the people I choose to spend my time with and laughter heals.
There are still challenges. When going to a holiday party or night out, do I just pretend that I’m fine? I am surrounded by people who don’t understand what it took for me to even get out the door. People who didn’t have to take Imodium, remember a coccyx pillow, put on compression garments, and maybe even take an Ativan just to get out the door? Yes, I pretend I am fine and that none of those things are going on. When people say, “oh you look great”? I say, “thank you.” When they ask how I’m doing? I respond the way we have all been taught, “I’m good, how are you?”
I respond in these ways because, I truly believe, people mean well and are being kind and polite; I assume they probably DON’T want to know the state of my bowels this evening or the fact that I used a whole tube of concealer under my tired eyes. While I am there, I’ll order my weak cranberry mimosa because I want to be normal again, but my body can no longer drink OJ, non-carbonated beverages, or much alcohol. In an act of self-care, I’ll allow myself to relax and just be with my loved ones, eat food that I shouldn’t and pretend remember that cancer doesn’t have me!
While out, I strive to continue enjoying the evening, as though my body won’t revolt in horror at the first chance it gets. I know that this time socializing will come with a cost, it does most likely mean that I’ll spend the next day elevating swollen legs, possibly wearing a diaper, and I remember that still won’t be too much different from any other day when I am home.
My advice to anyone dealing with similar issues as mine and dreading the holiday event calendar due to all of the managing we must do just in order to show up: Be kind to yourself and listen to your body. If it’s telling you to rest, then rest. Show up everywhere or cancel plans with abandon. Enjoy the moments however you choose to celebrate, or not celebrate, the season. And always keep wipes in your purse.
Learn more about my story here: https://cervivor.org/stories/mary/