The month of October is filled with so many cancer anniversaries. My first visit to Mayo was October 1st, 2018 followed quickly by SRS radiation and my first immunotherapy infusion. I rounded out the month being admitted to the hospital for severe side effects from said immunotherapy treatment.
To be honest, this October is filled with bittersweet feelings for me. One year ago today, I had my last infusion. One year ago today, my oncologist used the word “cured” in reference to my cancer. One year ago today, my family and friends threw me the best surprise poop party because I kicked the shit out of cancer (and I freaking love the poop emoji). I watched the video of us toasting to everyone and everything and it brought tears to my eyes. I’m just so damn grateful for so many things.
While this is the anniversary month of a lot of happy memories, it’s also been a very challenging month for me. My company recently went back into the office after working remotely for 7 months and it’s been a lot for me to process. I felt like my priorities and values were competing. I prioritize my health, spending time with my family, my relationship, and my career. I felt like I had to choose which was the most important to me — and that felt like I was being backed into a corner. I felt like I worked so hard over this past year to be mentally strong and throwing me back in an environment full of variables I couldn’t control was threatening everything I worked so hard to build. Sure, I was nervous about exposure, but I’m also very nervous that I can’t handle that much uncertainty — not again.
In reflecting over the past year I’ve realized that in some strange way, cancer prepared me for this pandemic — go figure. I’ve had to learn how to cope and process uncertainty. Those feelings you have about how this entire year sucked and you can’t seem to catch a break — been there, done that. Extreme anxiety about spending time around others? Yep, I know that all too well. Mourning your life pre-pandemic and still trying to figure out your “new normal”? SAME.
Hell, I’m pretty sure I could have summed up 2018 and 2019 as “unprecedented times” in the Crider household. Now that we all have that ‘burnt out’ feeling in common, I thought I’d share a few tips on how I’ve managed to cope with uncertainty. These tips, alongside a wonderful therapist and some Prozac have helped me tremendously.
Search for the things you CAN control. You can’t control everything anymore, but that doesn’t mean you have lost all control. I control how I spend my time, what happens in the four walls of my house, and how I protect myself and others from the virus. Focus on those things.
Give yourself grace & practice self care. Your routine is likely totally different than it was 7 months ago. If you have children, you’re probably balancing at-home school and work at the same time. The things you took for granted, like randomly going out to dinner, are off the table (pun 100% intended). Times are different and your expectations of what you’re capable of should be different too! Reset your standards. This was by far the most difficult thing for me to do. But, I learned that comparing myself pre-cancer and post-cancer wasn’t fair and was simply unproductive.
Figure out your values and make sure you’re doing things to satisfy those. Don’t sacrifice on your values! For me, my family is my number one value and being with them is so important to me. That makes it easier to quarantine and stay home because I know that I’m doing it so I can spend time with them.
Oddly enough, I found myself getting borderline offended when people talk about how terrible 2020 has been. I understand it’s been challenging for so many people on so many levels, but I’d be happy to share a thing or two about shitty years (just read the rest of this blog).
But I don’t believe comparing experiences and feelings as a means to validate them is productive. My feelings about my cancer diagnosis are no worse than yours about this pandemic. If anything, maybe the general population can finally understand what it’s like to mentally process a life-altering disease.
After many tearful and anxiety-ridden nights, I’m working on flipping my mindset. Rather than fear going back into the office, I have to remind myself of all the work I’ve done in the last year to better position myself for life challenges such as this. It’s not easy and it’s something I’m actively struggling with and having to consciously focus on. But reflecting back on these cancer-versaries has a strange way of inspiring me.