Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What limits?

Are you a cancer survivor?  A trauma survivor?  Have you gone through something in your life that has inherently changed who you are and how you view the world?  Sadly, I know too many people who can say "Yes" to any of those questions.  Yet the thing about (some) traumas, it is possible to come out on the other side and be thankful for the experience.  It is possible to survive something that literally breaks you down until you can feel nothing, that strips away your essence and the person you had spent years assembling.  It is possible to experience that and somehow, find a way to rebuild yourself.  You won't be the same person you were before; I am nowhere near the person I was five years ago.  If you are lucky, though, you might actually like this new person better.

When I was back in school and only receiving maintenance therapy, I spent months trying to deny the fact that I had cancer, that I was no longer just like every other student on my college campus.  I cracked multiple times in my attempts to act like nothing had ever happened to me.  Finally and fortunately, I recognized that I was not taking care of myself and my lifestyle was not sustainable.  I started seeing a psychologist who helped me work through some old issues and a lot of new issues brought on by the cancer.  A "breakthrough," for me, came in the fall of 2008, right smack in the middle of my first battle with the facetumor.  Basically, I had an assignment due for a class that I hadn't finished.  Between barely being able to speak, not eating, and all the uncertainty surrounding whatever mass was growing in my sinuses, I was completely out of my league.  My academics weren't quite suffering, but I was struggling just to get everything done.  The deadline for this paper - I don't even remember what it was about - was growing ever-closer, and I had few ideas and fewer words on paper.  There was a constant weight in my stomach and a pressure on my chest as my stress increased because I had to finish this thing!  I didn't want to admit to my professor, much less myself, that I was sick and needed time to finish the stupid essay.  And yet...  I had spent the past few months working with a therapist, listening to her tell me that it is OK to accept that you are sick.  It is OK to ask for help.  People will understand, and you need to take care of yourself First.

This professor, this stalwart of the communications department, terrified me.  Yet I knew I wasn't going to have the essay finished on time.  So maybe a few days before the deadline, I visited him during office hours.  I walked in and said, "Hey, do you by any chance have a minute?"  I proceeded to tell him in as few words as possible that I had been in the hospital pretty much once a week for the past month and a half, and I was actually quite sick and basically, I am so sorry, but I hadn't finished his essay and there was pretty much no way I was going to have it in on time.

Of course.  Of course, he was Completely Fine with it.  He told me to "take as long as you need; don't worry about it; I hope you feel better soon!"  And that was it.  I thanked him profusely, probably saying too many times that this is highly unusual for me, and I really appreciate his understanding.  I walked into the hall, up the stairs, out the door and promptly started crying.  Pretty much hyperventilating.  It was not a big deal to anyone but myself, but to me, it was a huge deal.  I was taking care of myself first, and others were helping.  Long story shortened: I did finish the essay.  It wasn't my best work, but I got an A- on it...  And I am certainly not asking any questions about that grade.  My face tumor melted away; I graduated on time with my friends and a solid GPA.  I came out on the other side of cancer-based college stronger for having gone through it and much more willing to take care of myself, to occasionally ask for help.

Life is funny, sometimes.  You go through all these little experiences every day, and you have no idea if or how any of them will affect you.  The big, life-changing events you can't know in the present tense how they will affect you down the road.  That's for self-reflection and retrospection months and years later after you've hit the bottom and slowly, haltingly and painfully allowed yourself to regrow and discover who you are meant to be.

Long post, I know.  Basically, I've been sick this past week, and it's lame, but I have worked hard not to overdo it.  It is still a relatively new concept for me, that whole "take care of yourself" thing.  People will understand, and the marathon is still 152 long days away.  Allowing myself to fully heal, to embrace myself and drink as many liquids as possible, will only benefit me in the long run.  Only good things can come from acknowledging your temporary limitations and working with them to come out stronger, healthier and ready to go.  Thank you for reading and bearing with me.  Happy Tuesday, sad toad.  Life will necessarily get better, and if it's great, I hope it stays that way long enough for you to enjoy it.  Here we go.


  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences. You are a brave and courageous soul; an inspiration for the rest of us.

  2. Hey Caroline, great post. I'm glad to hear you've been kicking ass in Colorado, but sorry to hear you've been sick. Glad that you're still writing though, so keep up the great work. Good luck with the marathon training and yes, take care of yourself please.