Last week, I got some frightening news. A new drug that I started taking to keep my cancer markers in check had failed. My blood work was wonky. And I had a total meltdown. I sat in my oncologist’s office looking shell-shocked as we discussed Plan B– a new drug cocktail.
And that is my life since discovering that I had multiple myeloma in January 2012, a blood cancer. I am always on some sort of treatment combo and the side effects can range from almost nothing to intense fatigue and everything in between. I’ve always stayed positive (yes, pretty much ALWAYS, with very few exceptions) in this battle. I will win it. I will not succumb. My treatments might suck at times, I need a lot of patience, but I’ll be ok.
Except Monday. I wasn’t feeling anything positive. In fact, what I did feel was total panic and fear. And for the first time since that pivotal diagnosis, I started taking anti-anxiety medications. I started out with one Xanax. And then two. And then I moved on to Ativan, and then another, and another. By the time the day was nearly over, I was in a stupor. Because without those pills, I could not overcome one wave of massive anxiety after the next. I felt like I was having a heart attack. I wanted to RUN. But where would I go? And what would that change? I needed to confront my situation and somehow … survive it.
I thought about all the articles I’ve written about combatting stress and anxiety. Baths with Epsom salts. Essential oils. Massage. A hike up a beautiful canyon. A lunch with my girlfriends… NONE of those would have worked and, honestly, at that moment, I felt so arrogant and stupid. How could I tell anyone to stay off medications and take a bath instead? How innocent and un-relatable I must have sounded to those in the throws of true depression or suffering from PTSD.
This was a huge learning experience, I will tell you that. And it came the hard way.
For the next week, I woke up in the morning and reached for my trusty pill bottles. I called my doctor’s office and asked for refills. They referred me to a therapist who could find better drugs to take. I wanted to scream: “I DO NOT WANT A THERAPIST. I WANT TO BE SOMEONE ELSE. AND I WANT DRUGS.” For the first time, I think I can truly relate to the alcoholic or drug addict because I wanted to join them. I wanted to create my own alternate universe where nothing was “real” and the world looked hazy. Where I could close my eyes and sleep and calm my head and the thoughts that would not SHUT UP.
And that is what bottoming out looked like for me. My husband was alarmed. He had been in Seattle and rushed home. And the next day, he bought me boxing gloves. “It’s time to start fighting back,” he said.
Red boxing gloves. A sign of strength, overcoming, pressing forward. FIGHTING. Because…
-Taking the pills was doing nothing good for me
-I needed to have my head on straight to make big decisions on new medications and treatments. I have many options, I need to pick one (and I need to do it sober)
-Life is actually fun and joyful much of the time, and if I’m in a pill-induced stupor, I can enjoy none of it
-What is the alternative?
I will tell you that after a massive pity party (and we are certainly allowed them), we (at least I) must get up and get moving. Our children depend on us. So do our friends, parents, employers.
So… fighting, combative, sassy Lizzy is back. Game on, cancer. Game on, life. I am ready to fight, make decisions, and join the world of the living again.
And in addition to those boxing gloves that I take everywhere with me as a sign of strength and the fighting spirit, I…
-bought a new sundress
-got a pedicure
-colored my hair
…And I think I will schedule that much-needed massage. Because a massage sounds lovely right now.