A collage of turtles in different states of fatigue. One main turtle looking back over its shoulder.

Reaching Back to My Newly Diagnosed Self

Sitting in the emergency department. Ebb and flow of patient care flowing around me. Dramas big and small. Doctors in hushed tones sharing results and recovery directions. Nurses doing the heavy work of patient care with looks of genuine concern or smiles in response to the patient’s emotional state.

The center of my maelstrom today? Not me! I’m fine. I’m the caregiver, the advocate for patient and family.

Once upon a time, it was me though. As I watch the dramas unfold around me I wish that I could reach back in time and tell my newly diagnosed self that there will be better days.

Finding myself today

Of late, I’ve been advocating on behalf of two more lung cancer patients and I see bits and pieces of myself in each. Watching them brings memories of treatment long forgotten. Memories lost to time and distance float up.

The me that sits here today wants to reach back to that scared woman who had just been diagnosed. There are lessons I would want to share.

What I needed to know

There will be fatigue, profound and debilitating. The best way you will overcome that is with exercise. No slacking. Exercise builds both strength and stamina.

There will be weakness like you’ve never known before. Again, exercise, keep moving, keep pushing. The steroids you will be given will sap your strength but without them chemotherapy is hell.

Scarring -- it can’t be avoided. Chemotherapy and radiation destroy cancer and leave scars in its place. Scars can’t absorb oxygen so your breath will not be what it once was. This will also cause fatigue. Take breaks, take naps, you will recover.

Pay attention to your body, you will learn how far you can push yourself and still recover. You will learn that some things are worth pushing through despite that the fact you will need days rather than hours to recover. You will learn to plan daily activities based on the energy you know you have.

Keep looking forward

Set goals for yourself. They help motivate you forward. If you can’t make a deadline don’t beat yourself up over it. Just push it back. Goals may be great or small. Some days walking from the couch to the table is a barely surmountable goal, others you will finish a 5K.

You will grow and you will change. Things will never be what they were, they can be better. Make a commitment to living your best possible life whether it’s measured in months or years.

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