One of the hardest parts about cancer thus far (for me, anyway) has been balancing. Things I used to take utterly for granted–being able to drive anywhere anytime, being out after dark, my exhaustion level (whether physical or emotional), my hydration level, even the state of my veins–are now things I must carefully balance against each other when making decisions about how I’m going to spend my day. There is no more assuming that I will have enough resources to do anything I want to do. Some days there are barely the emotional resources to do the things I have to do.

And I’ll be honest–some days there simply aren’t enough resources at all. And I’m not even metastatic.

I’ve noticed that my courage waxes and wanes. Some days I can face phone calls. Some days I can’t. Some days I can face even the most delicate negotiations–like having parenting discussions with my mother-in-law. Then some days I discover partway through said delicate negotiations that I really didn’t have it in me after all. Then I melt down at someone (like my mother-in-law).

Actually, scratch that. It’s not my courage that waxes and wanes. I’m still a courageous person every day. I’m still getting up, doing my job (I’m writing this blog, I’m reading about cancer, I’m making my phone calls and keeping my appointments, I’m exercising, I’m eating right, and most of all, I’m showing up to be a parent/wife/sister/daughter/friend). If that’s not courage (especially in these crazy times), I don’t know what is.

What I’m running out of is “nicey-nice.” I’m running short on my ability to spare other people’s feelings at the expense of my own.

Cancer has been vastly destabilizing to me. In some ways I’m primed like an emotional powder keg. I’m just waiting for the first person to get angry at me over some perceived slight, so I can blow up at them. It sounds weird, doesn’t it? I shouldn’t indulge that primed feeling–it’s a lie anyway, and I know it. When I’m primed like this, I don’t act out. I have fantasies about acting out, but in real life, I get meek and frightened when confrontational crap happens. For example…

When my daughter was little, I was having a bad day. My kid was sick, the house was a disaster, I’d missed taekwondo that day because of my sick kid, and my stress level was so high that my Hashimoto’s was barely under control. I felt physically drained, and my face was as red and inflamed as if I’d been bee-stung–and not in the right places, either. Emotionally, I was primed for a fight. I’d had the opportunity for fights all day, with no emotional or mental release to offset them. Even I realized that I desperately needed to calm down. So, the second my husband got home from work, I packed up my laptop and sprinted for Starbucks to get some writing time. I chose a table, turned the computer on, and got in line to order a coffee and a snack. (My laptop at the time took forever to boot.) As we inched toward the cashier, the man in front of me stole a glance at me over his shoulder. I thought, He must think he recognizes me. Then he stole another glance, and I thought (with a mental eye-roll), Oh God, he’s not that much older than me. He’d better not deliver some half-assed pickup line. I’m wearing my wedding ring, for God’s sake.

The man suddenly turned around in line to face me and demanded in a loud voice, “How many drinks do you have a day?!”

In my primed state, you’d think I would’ve been ready to launch into him at volume. It was in no way his business what I drank, even if I drank a fifth of vodka every night! Instead–and even worse–I have permanent broken blood vessels all over my face just because I’m breathing. Rosacea is a common symptom of Hashimoto’s, and it can be alarming-looking, especially if I’m upset or working hard. When I mow the lawn or weed in the summer, total strangers have stopped to ask if I’m okay, and if they need to call 911 for me. I’d spent much of that particular day in varying stages of upset and unable to express it; I should’ve been ready for some half-assed comment about my face.

Instead, I was so flabbergasted, so emotionally beaten up from the day, that all I could do was blink and say quietly, “None. I have an autoimmune disease.”

He snarled at me. Snarled! Then he stomped out of the store without saying another word…or even ordering anything. I was so floored that I just stood there, shaking, not moving. Luckily for me, there was no one in line behind me…and the younger man behind the counter had seen and heard everything.

He looked shocked. “What an asshole!” he gasped.

I was so grateful for the barista’s natural response. The tension and the shakes began to bleed out of me with big breaths. I don’t even remember what the hell I said next, but the barista declared that drinking had to be that man’s damage, and it was in no way any of his business if it was mine, too.

“You see that a lot in recovery, though,” the barista continued. “People quit drinking and they get mean to everyone around them.”

I must have looked surprised, because he gave me a wry, guarded sort of look. Then he said, “I’m five years sober myself.”

I was already so grateful for his honest response to the jackass, that when the barista shared his sobriety with me–a total stranger!–I was filled with even more admiration for him. I stuck my hand out to shake and declared, “Good for you!”

He shook my hand, seeming genuinely pleased with my response, and we chatted amiably for a while about the primary job of writers and baristas everywhere: people-watching. Then a wave of customers came in, I bid him good luck, and I went back to my table feeling a little like I’d been saved from a speeding truck by a well-meaning (and well-timed) yank from a passerby. I certainly hadn’t saved myself.

So when I’m primed like this…when I feel like I’m “spoiling for a fight”…I have to remind myself that I suck at confrontation. I drove myself to a black belt in taekwondo because I’m no good at fighting. Cancer is not a disease that can be tackled and beaten down in one fierce exchange. It’s not a sprint, or a sudden smackdown in the bleachers at a football game. It’s a war of attrition. It’s a marathon of emotional, physical, and spiritual damage that lasts a lifetime…no matter how short or long that life is.

So I can’t go around primed for a fight. I have to remain balanced…and that means I have to balance other people’s damage and fear against my own. Sometimes it’s my balance that will tip. Sometimes it’s theirs. I will have to remind myself that that’s okay. It’s to be expected sometimes. But letting mine slip too far out of balance isn’t okay. I have to balance the arguments with my mother-in-law against our combined better behavior later; I have to balance the nurse who lectures me about “the real world” of cancer treatment against her later doing her job well. It’s all about balancing.

It’s a good thing I’ve mostly got the feeling in my feet back. I’m going to need it. 😉

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