Relinquishing Control Due to Breast Cancer
Since having cancer, I’ve developed a whole new group of friends – fellow survivors (or fellow conquerors, as I like to think of ourselves. Survive is much too passive a verb for the battle we fought and won.) I’ll often ask these women, my new sisters, what the hardest part of treatment was for them.
Was it the devastation of chemo, the need to alter body image after a lumpectomy or mastectomy, the fear of radiation doing more harm than good? Everyone has one specific part of treatment that they champion as “the worst.”
But when I ask them to take a broader, less specific view, and ask them how their life changed during treatment, they’ll almost universally come up with the same answer: “I wasn’t in control anymore.”
Why do we, as women, feel such a need to be in control? Perhaps it’s mere habit; most of us run a household, and work, and raise the kids, and take care of aging parents, and and and… possibly with help from a spouse, but mostly we’re in charge.
It takes a fair amount of organizational skill to make sure the machinery of everyday life runs smoothly; our time is planned, our plans are executed, and if at the end of the day we’ve managed to feed everyone, put clean clothes in the bureau drawers, and have successfully completed our duties at work, we can sit back and relax–for the 5 minutes or so before we drop off to sleep.
This kind of regimentation calls for a general, for someone in control. It calls for you and me.
So what happened when cancer threw its big old monkey wrench into my works? My carefully crafted system fell apart. The diagnostic process disrupted my schedule, surgery took me away from work, and treatment unraveled my whole life.
I ran faster and faster, trying to keep up with work/family/community responsibilities even as I had less and less time, and felt increasingly sick. I was at a low ebb, both emotionally and physically, just at the time when I needed increased energy to fit in this critical new responsibility: the responsibility for beating back cancer, for keeping myself alive. I felt edgy, discouraged, and angry.
What happened? I’d lost control.
We all finally reach this point, when we realize we’re no longer in control. In my case, the health care professionals determined my daily schedule, which revolved around treatment rather than family/job. Family members and friends picked up the pieces of day-to-day life that eluded me, as I sweated out bouts of nausea in bed, or spent endless hours driving to and from radiation.
My co-workers pitched in and divvied up my workload. I was helpless: that is to say, I couldn’t help myself.
But looked at another way, “help-less” is the exact wrong word: I was actually surrounded by help, by colleagues who wrote my newsletters, a child who stepped up and did chores without being asked, and a husband who shouldered not only the burdens of laundry and cooking, but the huge emotional burden of fearing my death.
I was no longer in control… and that was a good thing.
I discovered I needed to relinquish all those outside responsibilities, and concentrate on one thing: healing, both physically and emotionally. Only by letting go of the day-to-day worries, the framework of duties that shaped my life before cancer, was I able to find the energy to concentrate on getting well.
I gave up control of everything around and outside of me, in order to gain control of the most important thing of all: me. My health. My life. And in the long run, that was WAY more important than doing another load of laundry.