I’ll let you in on a secret that nobody tells you when you’re diagnosed with cancer: you feel like you lose your body autonomy. If you want to be treated, anyways.
That’s not to say there’s no choice in the matter. You can proceed with treatment, which means consenting to an array of testing, needles, surgeries, and drugs being thrown at you. Alternately, you can do nothing and allow your body to be overrun with disease.
My meat sleeve has betrayed me in the most dramatic way possible.
Six Months In
It’s been about six months since I was first diagnosed with cancer. I thought it would be interesting to share some accounting.
In the last six months, I’ve had:
- 3 MRIs
- 3 CT Scans
- 1 iron infusion
- 1 colonoscopy, with another scheduled a few days from writing this
- 1 major surgery
- 2 minor surgical procedures
- 8 cycles of chemotherapy
- 50+ needles, either from blood tests, treatment, or self-administered auto-injectors
- 600+ pills
- More appointments than I can keep track of
It’s a lot.
Just a Fleshy Brain Container
Through the process of being treated, it feels as if my body is just a container for my mind. The physical part of me is a playground for my care team as they work to cure my disease.
I’m fortunate that the new limitations imposed on me by my disease and treatment are manageable and minor. But my body could someday rebel in new and unexpected ways.
One example of a weird limitation is related to cold sensitivity. I can’t go swimming because of some of the peripheral nerve damage (neuropathy) in my hands and feet. Likewise, I can usually only consume room temperature (or warmer) foods and drinks. It’s likely not permanent, but we’ll see.
Fatigue hits hard as another limitation. Sometimes it’s physical, other times it’s mental. But in both cases it feels insurmountable in the moment. I’ve been doing a lot of sleeping lately because my body feels worn down, as if it just doesn’t want to participate in the day.
Another interesting thing about losing trust in your body is that you become hyperaware of things that are unusual. Part of being a cancer patient is being aware of any changes, physical or mental, so that you can provide details to your care team.
The result is that you find yourself wondering if you just happen to have the shits, or if you’re having chemo-induced diarrhea which requires actual medical attention. Maybe your chemo-friendly food is Taco Bell and your cheesy gordita crunch decides to voraciously exit your body. Who can say for sure?
You wonder if the nausea you’re experiencing is a side-effect, a psychosomatic response, or if, perhaps, you ate one too many pieces of pizza. Maybe you also just have a regular old stomach bug.
In my case, something that seemed innocuous—night sweats—ended up triggering an investigation into whether my cancer was spreading. I didn’t even have a fever!
How can a person be expected to trust their body after all of that?
I’ve decided to just accept that my body is going to just do whatever it wants and that I’m just along for the ride. It’s not a dissociation or anything that drastic, but more of an understanding that in order to get where I need to go, I have to resign myself to the idea that my physical self will need to tolerate a lot of poking and prodding.
Since the only way out is through, I guess I’m just along for the ride.