Hard is good. Good is hard.

Nov 10

Yesterday (note: not actually yesterday, this just took me a few days to write), I had a bit of a tough day.  And I pushed through writing about it because it’s important to record the hard things too.  The warm stories make me smile, but I’m not whole without the hard too.  The best life lessons come the hard way, right?

I’m physically feeling better.  This is fantastic for me, as I’m used to not feeling well.  The best short explanation I’ve found of living with chronic illness for those of you who really want to know what it is like is from Christine Miserandino’s The Spoon Theory (link).  It’s well worth the read, and I keep meaning to get a poster both for myself and some to donate to my oncology office and the girls’ schools.  In this season, I have more ‘spoons’ in my bank, and it is translating to a higher quality of life.  Yay!  (Read the story!  You’ll be glad you did!)  It’s so helpful to have the people around you understand what you are feeling.

To have a bit of a reprieve from the ick brought on by my chemotherapy is like the first warm sunshine of spring.  It’s that wonderful.

As one does when feeling well and whole, I decided to exercise, and was ready to do all the exercise things.  At least, my mind was ready.  When it’s cold, I work out at home in the basement with not much more than a balance ball, hand weights, and bands.  As I descended the steps my soul was applauding with praise that I have had no vertigo or nausea for a few weeks now.  Such freedom!  As I went from lift to lift and movement to movement, I transitioned from frustration to disappointing shock at my weakened physicality.  It’s not surprising, per se, but I was overwhelmed with sadness at my weakness relative to ‘before’.  I’ve always used words like powerful, fierce, and strong to describe myself, and yesterday I felt none of those things.  I seemed to grieve each muscle group in turn from biceps to hamstrings, from grip strength to overhead presses.  I was short of breath, and in pain, and angry.  But I finished the workout albeit with tears streaming down my cheeks.

In my effort to stay positive in my everyday life, I don’t fixate a lot on what I’ve lost.  It’s only in trying to pick up or regain something that I’ve lost that I gain full perspective on what’s happened.  And as I lifted weights on my yoga mat alone in my basement yesterday, I fully experienced this one devastation and was reminded of the field of losses.  It was a poignant moment of grief.

My physical skills were my earliest strengths in life, and it was positive self-talk on the court that translated eventually into the emotional and mental realm of adulthood.  I’m used to falling back on my physicality as a source of comfort, familiarity and strength.  Basically, folks, I miss being a badass who excelled at physical challenges.  I was lucky to have the genes and the privilege to have it in the first place, but golly, I. Miss. It.

Thank goodness for the limited physicality that has helped me my best self in 2017: waterskiing this summer, hiking with my family, throwing my kids in the pool, exploring the neighborhood, and walks with friends.

Two years ago I ran a half-marathon, but it’s not like I was in stellar shape for it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly proud of that season of sustained effort; in my mind I know I barely ran a half-marathon because it was so so SO hard for me to train that summer.  It was gritty, and in many ways that made it better.  I am also proud that I got on the floor for pushups this week, but it is super duper frustrating to find myself in a body that my healthy mind doesn’t recognize.  It’s weird.  And sad.  And, while I’ve grieved many losses over the years, I (apparently) needed to grieve the culmination of losses that have left me here: in a body that is simultaneously miraculous (inducing deep gratitude) and foreign to my healthy mind (inducing grief).

I’m sure everyone can relate to being at the bottom of the workout mountain, whatever that means to you.  Runners who don’t run in the winter know that their first spring runs are going to be miserable but it will be worth it in the powerful hot summer runs.  Weight lifters who take a month off will be working with lower weights and will have to build back up.  I, too, know that yesterday’s series of weaknesses will be the low point (if I do it again today/tomorrow/the next day).  An extra layer of complication is that it is a mind shift: I am very TODAY focused, and I’ve shied away from setting goals for tomorrow — literal or figurative.  After five years, it is outside my comfort zone to focus outside today; I have changed the way I operate because I got so tired of never being able to follow through with the previous day’s ambitious planning.

And what am I to do about this?  First I have to acknowledge the spectacularly unfair crap that is life with cancer, and mourn the losses that accompany it.  And then I do the work:

  • I’m grateful for my body, flawed and scarred as it is.
  • I’m thrilled I’m still alive, and defying the statistics.
  • Any work I do physical or otherwise, will be gains tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.  Do I dare hope?  Yes, I do.  I will always hope.

It’s so tempting for me to write you a long list of the blessings and gains I’ve had in my life as a result of cancer, of which there are many.  I feel I ought soften today’s writing, to make you feel warm and fuzzy, to absorb it so you don’t have to.

But just as there are many happy points in my life, there are many sad ones too.  I wrestle most of them alone with God because, even among my cancer friends, I don’t really know anyone else who walks this path.  The loneliness I felt as my muscles shook yesterday is a feeling that I stow close to my heart, and it — as a loss — makes the victories that much sweeter.  I need that contrast, and I think we all do.

Hard is good.  Good is hard.

Thank you for reading today.  As always, I’m better now that I wrote it down.

17 comments

  1. Connie L Stahlbusch /

    #youareamazing- and I love reading everything you write.. God Bless you and your family

  2. Oh dear friend, I love you. Rejoicing, grieving, praising and hoping along with you.

  3. You are a gifted writer; your writing always seems so raw and honest while also being carefully edited. I’ve been following your story since Day 1.

    I don’t know if it makes a difference, but there is a group called Every Sweat Matters. Founded by a fitness coach who is also a cancer survivor, it recognizes that not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to workout every day and encourages others to “sweat for those who can’t.”

    In your previous seasons of chemo, when working out was hard, or not possible, there were many, many days that I thought of you while I was exercising. Your health has been my “intention” in more than one yoga class.

    I know that my crunches don’t make your abs stronger, but thinking of your journey inspires me on days that I just don’t want to pick up those weights, and I’m sure you know that on the days that you can pick up the weights (or do the pushups, or whatever), your people are celebrating right along with you.

    Every sweat does matter, and you are always a badass!

  4. Melissa /

    This post is brutiful – filled with the brutal and the beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  5. This was so hard and also good to read, because grief is real. It’s important to name it. Sometimes it’s not all relative; sometimes it’s just totally crappy.

    We continue to hold you close over here in the Northwest. You have never been just a person with a blog of urgency. Rather you remain a writer-pal who remains in our prayers daily. Bless you today.

  6. Leah Chapman /

    Love you, Jen … you are always inspiring in your truth that you share 😚

  7. Praying, Jen.
    Kay

  8. Grieving is important. Just know that, as weak as you see yourself, there are many who see your strength in all of this. ♥

  9. Elisa Dailey /

    You are so amazing Jen!

  10. Rebecca Edwards Newman /

    Wow! This speaks to exactly my situation. Thank you.

  11. Bonnie B Jackson /

    Loss and Grief are interwoven but God’s Grace and Love for us covers it all and more!! He takes it All!! Love you Jen and stand with you daily!! Continue to let Him be your Strength!!

  12. Thank you for sharing Jen! I think you are amazing.

  13. Donna C /

    I’m so glad you wrote this! Facing the griefs and losses associated with living with cancer is a part of our reality. If we only ever write about the positive, outsiders get a false idea of how life is. You are brave and awesome, and part of that bravery is grieving your losses.

  14. Peggy Murriner /

    Love you Jen. Sometimes swapping out 10lb weights for 2lb weights is a small price for extra days and more moments. I’d be crying too….I mean, I wanted to go from 10lb to 12lb.

  15. Jean Fennema Vanderzee /

    Been reflecting on your honesty. Grateful you took the time to grieve. Praying that the tears were cathartic and cleansing. Doing a day well allows time for that. Thank you for not putting a bow on this “hard” – thank you for leaving it for all of us to think about and absorb, and to pray for you with new insight.

  16. So much love and so many prayers to you, Jen. <3

    Though not because of cancer, but an elusive, roaming, rambling, schizophrenic nervous system condition that eludes treatment protocols or cure, my body has taken a similar beating and the grieving process is very real. Living in the now is very real. Not being able to plan for tomorrows because its unclear how many spoons will be available is an interesting and frustrating mine field to navigate. I can't relate to chemo-therapy or cancer, but I can relate to the feelings and the mental process of processing all the new normals of the fall-out of chronic illness. I am standing in the gap with you, dear sister, and want you to know that you are not alone. Though thousands of miles part us, I am sending you warm hugs from over here. Our tears are kindred. <3

  17. "Another Jen" /

    <3 <3 <3