Perhaps you remember the story about the frog and the beaker (I always hope it is apocryphal, but sadly suspect it is not.) The story goes something like this: the scientist places the frog in the beaker (I always picture a bright green cartoon-like frog in my mind). The frog has the ability to jump out at any time. The scientist slowly increases the heat on the beaker but the frog never jumps out until it is too late. The small changes in heat were too subtle for the frog to notice until the cumulative effect of the changes completely overwhelmed the frog.
I feel like that frog. I started my cancer journey filled with determination and positive thinking. I would get through this. I would do everything and anything I could. I would stay positive. I would be the best darn cancer patient ever. And slowly my strength and confidence chipped away little by little. Repeating my story and trying to connect with endless different clinicians, facing obstacles to testing – not from my insurance company at all, but from the provider systems I was working with – chipped away at some. Facing overwhelmed staff who often treated me like a series of boxes they had to check off and not a real person, chipped away at more. Facing the side effects of treatment: the exhaustion, sleeplessness, the GI issues, the uncertainty chipped away at a lot more.
Slowly bit by bit, my mental health symptoms started creeping in. Slowly, so slowly, my ability to cope deteriorated, my patience and positivity left and was replaced by frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed. So slowly that it was hard for me to see the changes until my frustration and negativity had damaged relationships, and harmed my efforts in my job. It wasn’t until suicidal thoughts started intruding that I realized I was deeply back into my depression. For all of my work as an advocate, my escalating symptoms in this instance came on so slowly that I did not see them and did not use my own strategies for emotional health.
I also think that part of the cumulative effect of dealing with these kinds of chronic physical and mental health issues is the feeling of “being sick of being sick.” After a time I was so tired of having no energy. I was so frustrated that I could not work at the pace I normally did. I was in tears as I had yet another sleepless night even using every strategy I knew to use to help. I was tired of trying so hard. I was tired of trying to be cheerful. I was tired of trying to be brave.
What did not help me at all were my cancer practitioners telling me “just hold on, your chemo will be done in a month.” That did not help me to deal with what I was going through in the moment. What I needed, and eventually reminded myself of, was to work my wellness through those small daily things I could do to get through that day and that hour.