Sometimes it takes being just a little better to realize how crumby you had been feeling before. Self-awareness is funny like that. Everything is relative to our perspective, and our perspective is ever-shifting. As a lung cancer patient going through endless cycles of treatment — as it must be with anyone who lives with a chronic health condition — it can be easy to lose track of how awful I am feeling because the routine becomes normalized.
When I was on chemotherapy, in spite of the three-week cycle of needle pokes, blood draws and infusions and shots, I settled into an acceptance of my life, grateful for what it offered me, happy to see more sunrises and sunsets. I took my steroids with minimal complaints, in spite of the increased irritability factor they provided. I walked on swollen feet, ignoring the discomfort, because I could still move about. I pushed through my days in spite of my fatigue. I sat down to write in spite of my ever-present chemo brain.
Hindsight is 20/20
It was all “in spite of.” But I didn’t see it that way, I didn’t focus on what was holding me back or might have been preventing me from going forward. Maybe I didn’t even realize what those things were.
Until I switched therapies and suddenly found myself saying things like, “wow, I haven’t felt this good in years!” and “I feel almost like I did six months before my diagnosis!”
I don’t know if I actually feel the way I felt six months prior to going in for my first biopsy, but I do know that by the time I watched the surgeon drill into my hip, I had no energy to spare and my body reminded me of a wet sandbag that had been scuttled down a rocky hillside. I felt ravaged and worn and every incremental step toward improvement was a welcome sign, a banner to wave, even if I still felt ravaged and worn, only slightly less so.
By the time I sit up in bed, thinking to myself how dry my fingertips feel and how that little crack in the skin of my thumb is bothering me, quite a lot has changed. I blink hard, squeezing moisture back into my eyes and stretch, wondering how long it will take to work out that pain in my left tricep. Something dawns on me in that moment, pondering a pain that feels so pronounced right then: I must have felt really awful before. Because I am celebrating this pain and discomfort, the rash on my skin, the dryness of my body. Just the fact that I can acknowledge these smaller issues shows me how much they would have been overshadowed before. It’s no wonder I have been in such a good mood for the past few weeks.
Recalibrating My Sense of Normal
Adjusting to this new way of feeling, this lesser level of discomfort, threatens to also recalibrate my sense of “normal” physical wellbeing. I don’t want to lose the sense of how terrific I am feeling now, weird phantom ankle pain and all. But I also don’t want to hold onto the past and focus on how I had been feeling. It is all relative, after all; relative to the moment and our perception of it just as it is relative to the environment we are in and the weights both literal and metaphorical upon our shoulders.
Better or worse, come what may, I mostly just want to be able to hold onto one thing: my ability to appreciate the upside. That is to say, I know this journey has peaks and valleys, but there is always the sky to see when you tilt your chin up. And while we might be lower than we realize deep in the valley, something we can only really know when looking down from a peak, focusing on the sky above, well, that looks good from pretty much anywhere along the path.