I’m growing more aware of how much of myself i have to let go of, in order to maximize my chances at beating this cancer.
- EATING HABITS – No sugar. No sugar substitutes (save Stevia, a plant extract). No alcohol. No processed foods. No white bread/pasta/rice. No dairy. No peanuts. No egg yolks. Seemingly everything needs to be raw, and/or plant based, and/or vegan. This has turned eating into a very tedious chore, one that involves an overwhelming time AND financial commitment. When i break the rules, my body screams in protest, and it retaliates by whipping my insides with a switch so strikingly sharp that i feel the lashings for hours (sometimes days) afterwards. Today, for example, i was feeling good – meaning, i could get ready to leave the house and actually run multiple errands, without needing to lie down – so i took an opportunity to treat my best friend to lunch. I ate one poached egg and 1/6 of my double-decker pineapple upside-down pancakes, and i drank a hot chocolate; i barely made it home before i spent the next two hours almost crawling back and forth to the bathroom.
- DIVA STYLE – Getting ready at the beginning of my day used to be a 1.5-hour-long process. Makeup always had to be put on the exact same way. Hair had to be washed, blow-dried, and flat-ironed – even when i was just going to end up putting it back in a bun or ponytail for work anyway. Outfit had to be perfectly color-coordinated, right down to the socks and undergarments that no one really ever actually SAW. Now, i can get ready in 20 minutes – shower included. It’s hard to care about whether the stripes on my knee socks match my undershirt, when i look in my full-length mirror and see a bald-headed, no booty, pale, scarred up, bra-less, bony shadow of myself.
- INDEPENDENCE – I literally cannot make it through parts of this cancer treatment process without leaning on others for assistance. There are times i cannot drive myself home from a surgery, or lift groceries out of my shopping cart, or take myself to my weekly doctor appointments, or get myself washed/dressed, or feed myself, or get out of bed to address the pets’ needs, or clean my own bedroom. I – tarah muthafuckin ausburn, A.K.A. Instructor Ausburn, A.K.A. Princess Tarah, A.K.A. Gladiator Olivia Pope – had to come to terms with how much i now need people to help me on a regular basis … and i don’t like it.
- REGIMENTED FITNESS – I never actually *enjoyed* exercising. Some people love it. Not me. It gets me all sweaty and smelly, and in the back of my mind i worry about whether i will repeat that one occasion where i got so worked up during my 5th racquetball game against Tyler that i actually had an asthma attack – and i don’t actually *have* asthma. Regardless of how i felt about exercising, though, it was a weekly requirement. Hiking. Racquetball. Elliptical. Push-ups. Stair climber. Weight machines. I had weekly goals of how much time and distance i had to spend exercising. I grumbled almost every step of the way, but i appreciated the effect it had on both my outer appearance and my stress level. Now, that’s gone. Sure, i have been medically cleared to work out now, after 2 months … but chemo drugs have hijacked my muscle mass and my energy level. I once ran a half marathon on the elliptical, at a moderate-to-intense resistance level; now, i can barely do cardio for 30 minutes, and afterward, i go home and take a nap. Racquetball is out of the question; so are weight machines that target my upper body. I complained for all these years about working out, and now i would give my third breast (ha, ha – that’s a joke) for another opportunity to have an asthma attack on the racquetball court.
- INSTRUCTOR AUSBURN – Anyone who has ever dated me knows that work comes first. I’ve calmed down a lot over the years (yes, ADJC folk, i am actually *serious*), but even in my less intense work state i still consider it normal to work on the weekends, check my work email multiple times at night, and spend my sick days and holidays lying in my bed searching online for resources that i can incorporate into my curriculum. Being “Instructor Ausburn” has often taken priority over being “tarah” … and while i can’t say i miss the nonsense of my workplace, i do miss being a teacher. I’ve been out of work for two months, and i still have 3-4 weeks to go. Even then, even if/when i am allowed to return, i won’t be able to teach in the capacity that i did before. I may not be physically capable of teaching at all – not until chemo and radiation are over.
- HEALTH – Admittedly, i both took this for granted and exaggerated its extent. Vegetarian = healthy. Physically fit = healthy. Hot fudge sundae binging = extra time at the gym tomorrow = everything A-okay. ‘Nuff said … except that wasn’t true at all, was it? And after having to admit that i was wrong about that, i have had to quickly adjust to a world where every ache and pain is a possible indication that there is a larger problem at hand. I’m only 1/3 of the way through treatment, and i suddenly find myself with cavities (first time in 12 years), a UTI (first time ever), a bacteria infection (okay, those are a common issue for me), and a daily burning sensation in my chest that might actually be an ulcer.
They all seem like such little things, things that should not really be what defines who i am as a person … but cumulatively, when i am having to change virtually all of my habits, it feels like i am breaking down me as a PERSON. And as i am doing this – as i am breaking down all the little pieces that create my psychological self, the chemo drugs are rampaging my insides to break down all the little components that create my physiological self. I can’t help but wonder: Who will i be after all of this is over?