Finding Beauty in the Ordinary
I write this for those who are in the ‘no man’s land’ of recovering from cancer treatment and returning to the world. I write this to share my personal journey and to let you know that I understand, and you aren’t alone.
No one talked about this. I didn’t know and wasn’t prepared for this. ‘This’ is problematic as I am the type of person that if I know what to expect (i.e. ‘this’ is going to be rough), I can mentally prepare myself for the onslaught of occurrences.

Tomorrow, I go for another treatment, which I go for every three weeks for a year, at the Cross Cancer Institute. Surgery, chemo and radiation are done. Since my diagnosis on May 19th, it seems like I’ve been on a whirlwind rollercoaster with appointments, tests, lab work, treatments, recovery from each treatment and their side effects. It is compounded by the fact that I live in rural Alberta and need to travel into Edmonton for all of these sessions. And so, after my last radiation treatment, in the beginning of December, I stepped back and in.

At first I thought is was because I needed rest from the continual movement of my treatment plan, and to recover from the barrage of chemicals and radiation my body had encountered. I knew I was tired as I was dealing with not only my cancer journey, and my ten year’s of dealing with a growth on my spine, but severe reactions to the new cancer medications I received in December. You see, I have learned that one cannot give if they have nothing left, and so, I retreated to recover. But it became more.

All through the hurricane crossing to health I strove to be as well as I could be physically, mentally and emotionally. I ate healthy, did physio, rested as best I could, exercised (even through chemo), and went consistently to (mental health) therapy sessions with a specialized oncologist Social Worker. I thought I was taking care of myself, and I was, so I wasn’t expecting what happened next.

It seems that after the whirlwind of treatment, there is a ‘picking up the pieces’ time. This is a time when one’s world, body and life seems foreign. And so ‘this’ happened: nothing and everything. Feeling oneself imploding and exploding. Silent on the outside yet inside one’s heart and mind is screaming. Happy that treatment is done, but filled with an unexpected sadness and fear. Here, but absent. Confused and out of sync with who one is, your relations with others and the life you have lived. ‘This’ is the thing no one talks about after treatment, or the majority of it in my case, is done.

I shared with my oncologist Social Worker what I was feeling and thinking. She informed me that what was happening to me is common. Then I ask, “Why didn’t I know about it?” I have piles of books and pamphlets on what I was to expect for my cancer surgery and its recovery, as well as what to anticipate for chemotherapy and radiation. Then treatment ends, but no one tells you that you will be ‘picking up the pieces’ of their life because the tornado of treatments.

Why aren’t people told about this challenging mental and emotional recovery of after cancer treatment? As I mentioned I have piles of books I used as reference to help me through the treatment phase. It wasn’t until I was in the throes of recovery confusion and pain that I went searching for help (via books) to get me out of the pile of sh*t I found myself under.  I only found two! TWO!!!! And they were both titled “Picking Up the Pieces.”

So, how does one find their way again?  I think the key is to focus on wellness of mind, body and spirit. So here is what I did, and am doing, to recover from the aftermath of the cancer journey carnage.

1. Where and when can I talk (regularly) to a professional? There is a huge stigma towards mental health issues. It needs to end. Sometimes things in the body break and are unwell. For example, I had cancer and so I got treatment to rid it from my body. The surgery removed the tumour, and the chemo, radiation, Herceptin IV and cancer medications focused themselves on the hole that remained. Going to talk therapy, one can deal with the emotional hole left behind.

2. How can I rest to rejuvenate and recharge? Yes, that is sleep, but that is also permission to leave the laundry until tomorrow (or the next day). Take time for yourself. Do things that nurture and support your mind, body and spirit. Read. Watch your favorite shows on TV. Meditate. Have a Reiki session. Go for a massage. Rest is not an option, it is a prerequisite in getting well.

3. What ways can I feed my body well? Yes, have the occasional treat (yum!) and eat for enjoyment, but also fuel your body with nutrient rich foods. Food fuels and repairs your body (and your body has been through so much).

4. How can I fit fitness into my day? I’m not talking about running a marathon, but if you want to, go ahead. Especially at these moments of recovery, when one’s energy is very low, it is still important to move your body. Slowly, gently and according to your body. But please move, because studies have shown it helps one’s mind, emotions and the body in general. (P.S. It really does!!!)

5. What brings me fulfillment? This is a big word, and if you are like me, this cancer journey kinda put things into a tail spin. At this moment, I am relearning how to do things for the sole purpose of my happiness, peace and love. It is unnerving because I thought I knew who I was and where I was going, but it seems I am relooking at my life and finding out what really works for me and what doesn’t. I am beginning to let go of what no longer serves/nurtures me, and focusing on what does.

6. How can I reconnect with the world (i.e. others!)? Often when we go through trying times we can isolate ourselves. This is a natural tendency to ‘lick our wounds’ in privacy. But there comes a time when we need to step out again. I know for me isolation is a wonderful way to rest, recharge and rethink, but to stay too long in this position isn’t healthy. As you can see, it is only now that I am reaching out to the world again. And I intend to do it in baby steps because I know my energy levels, due to treatment, are not where they used to be. And maybe they never will return, but I will do what I can, when I can.

I welcome your comments and i can always learn more and I value what others have to say. Please share your ideas and/or you may help someone. 
Light and Love to all...

Barbara Burns Chemo hair growth
While wearing a Christmas Snowflake Crown, artist & teacher, Barbara Burns', hair is growing in after chemotherapy. Slow and steady...
Surgery, done! Chemo, done! Radiation, done! I still have an IV treatment every three weeks, for a year, but the majority of treatments are done! After the cancer treatment whirlwind, and it being December, I find myself cocooning at home. 

The picture above was taken last week, on Christmas Day. On Twitter I posted, along with this picture, "#Chemo head getting some hair in time for a 'Snowflake Crown Christmas' photo shoot! #hair!! #Merry Christmas #Happy Holidays"

I still wear my beanie and wigs (a.k.a. baby it's cold outside!!),  but thought I'd share with you my hair progress, visually and status-wise: it is still sparse, but has come in darker and is SO very soft. Ah...progress!