This past week+ since my last chemo treatment have been a bit of a struggle for me, I have to admit, and not a physical one. I was born in 1973, the Year of the Ox, and if there is anyone who closely resembles that animal it is me. I can put my head down and plod through physical challenges, I enjoy monotonous hard work...I was able to make myself into a decent runner in my high school days despite the fact that I am way too big for that, and I made myself into a pretty good rower despite the fact that I was maybe not quite big enough (back then) - it's the Ox in me. Anyway, specific to chemo, my bloodwork was great, my immune system had come back with flying colors, I had no nausea, took no nausea meds again (after the 3 given to me on Thursday before my infusion - Aloxi, Decadron, and Emend). I barely felt any bone pain. I walked like a maniac that weekend - 9.5 miles on chemo Thursday, 3.5 on the bad Friday, and was almost done with 13 miles on my bad Saturday when the real struggle began.
Bill called me when I was a little less than a mile from the end of our Saturday walk with the news that one of my pet rabbits had passed away - Emma had found her cold, dead body when she went to the basement to feed our smaller pets. I was able to talk Emma out of her intense distress, I was able to talk to Katie and ascertain that her emotions were intact, and I was able to drive home feeling that I could competently handle the situation that was in front of me. After all, I was a veterinary assistant, I saw lots of dead animals - recently dead, maggot-filled dead, frozen-dead. I've also had a number of pets in my day and I've been with them in their last moments, buried them, and mourned them. I knew what to do and I was going to go put my family back together and help them through the sadness that is the death of a pet.
Maybe it was the chemicals still in my body from chemo, or maybe it was the exhaustion from having walked so far on my "bad day", maybe it was the shock that this rabbit died (It wasn't the 10.5+ year old rabbit who is practically lame, losing his vision, lost his litterbox skills, who is wasting away slowly; it was his big, giant, soft, shy rabbit girlfriend who seemed the picture of health), maybe it was the fact that I really do love all of my pets even if some of them are only rabbits - but something in me broke when I saw my bunny, cold and hard with all the life gone out of her. And when that part of me broke I was suddenly not only unable to cope with the loss of my rabbit, but I was also no longer able to cope with breast cancer, with surgeries, with my own mortality, and with everything that has happened to my family in the past 6 months. I pulled it together enough to have a little rabbit funeral, to tend to the lonely, old, lame rabbit who was left, and then I went into bed and did not leave it for the rest of the weekend.
I am not an Ox when it comes to emotional challenges, let's just say that. What could be the opposite of an Ox? Because I am that when it comes to emotional challenges, usually, and I've been dealing with my lack of emotional strength for a long, long time. The funny part of all of this is, I honestly thought I was doing a pretty good job of handling the emotional challenge of the breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, but if the death of a little (or big, in her case) pet rabbit could throw me to the edge I thought I probably was not. More likely, I've been concentrating so much on the physical challenge of getting through chemotherapy that I have neglected the emotional challenge that cancer presents. Once the door which hid the emotional challenge was opened, it all came spilling out on me again, raw and scary.
I suppose I should thank God or the universe for the loss of my bunny, for opening up the door so that I could tame those demons before they became even larger. I'm going to be living with the idea of my own mortality, and living with cancer, for the rest of my life. Other survivors have told me that it never goes away - each ache and pain brings to mind the question "Is my cancer back?" On top of that, cancer isn't the only challenge I'm going to face - my pets are going to die, loved ones are going to have problems with their health, there are so many unknowns and so many different kinds of sufferings that come with the joys in life. It's not going to be enough to just put my head down and plod through my hard days; there is always some sort of struggle ahead and I could end up plodding until my final day. It's time to live larger, love stronger, fear less, and I forgot that when I was so busy plodding forward through chemo.
So anyway, it's taken me about 8 days to get to this point where I could talk about my broken spirit. I'm trying to pick up these little pieces and put myself back together, emotionally...I'm trying to look at the reality that life is pretty scary because when you love something so much, it hurts to lose it (doesn't really matter much, whether that thing you love is a plump pet bunny you had for 4.5 good years, or your life and hopes for your future). Wish me luck as I try to build up an emotional strength to rival my otherwise Oxen nature.