Cancer and letting go

Sorry for the delay in the update – i’ve had very good news for those not following along at home (ie, FB or Twitter) and i’ve got the go-ahead for surgery from my oncologist, because the tumours have shrunk significantly! i’ve been nothing other than elated about this, but it’s put me in a mindset of needing to mentally get ready for surgery that is going to be life changing, and body changing.  it’s the next step – a great step that i feel extremely lucky to be able to have – and a very big one. one that’s much larger for me than chemo, due to how well i have handled it. i have my appointment with Mr Liver Surgeon on thursday in Sydney – after that i have my next stage in my timeline. how many chemo treatments left, what drugs, what time off i get to go to melbourne etc.  i’m allowed Christmas off treatment if i want, or an altered regime to make it a bit more pleasant – the only real effects i have is a significant lowering of appetite on chemo-days, and a need to ensure i get at least 10 hours sleep on those days.

in chemo news, the last three treatments have been almost effortless. i’m now at the point where i can manage to get out of the house and go for a walk even on the days i am hooked up – i take it easy on the infusion day, but otherwise, i’m feeling almost completely fine. so i’m walking a lot. a LOT. i am trying to lazily get fit – i should really contact my amazing personal trainer (side note – if anyone in the ACT needs a trainer, get onto me – the guy i saw is incredibly good) – but once i talk to the surgeon, i am going to earnestly try and make sure i’m in the best shape possible before they get a hacking.

i’ve been reading about the surgery, in order to feel a bit more empowered. it’s major – very major – but the survival rates of it are very high.  pain management is the key thing – and it seems that i’ll likely have an epidural for the first few days to deal with it.  which, well, as long as my pain is manageable, and being managed, i’m ok with. i respond eagerly to pain killers, so more likely than not, i’ll have no memory or awareness of the whole business anyway.  i can barely remember having my port-a-cath put in, and that was seriously minor, almost painless surgery.

BUT: on letting go. this is a big thing for me. i hoard. i hoard objects, clothes, memories. i hoard parts of my past, and fibre for spinning, and jackets that don’t fit me.  i have almost 600 facebook friends – many of these people who are not in my life anymore but remain there, ‘just in case’ like that old jacket.

one of my Cancer Awareness Live Like I Want To things is how i dress. this sounds pretty trivial, but it’s a big-ish thing for me.  for years, i’ve always had a sort of ‘look’ i’ve dreamed of.  mostly black, grey, brown – semi casual, with well fitting jeans and singlets/tshirts, and draping asymmetrical Things – jackets, dresses, coats – over the top, hanging below my knees, with plain shoes and boots.  but i’ve always worried i was too young for it.  or too thin. or too tattooed. or.. or… so i’ve collected and hoarded heaps of various items of clothes; serviceable things i wear in bright colours, fitted, short dresses – pin up clothes that never quite sat right because i don’t wear make up.  recently, though, i’ve just embraced it. i bought nice jeans. i felt comfortable wearing tshirt. i got some really good quality items which are flexible and i feel powerful in.  they match the shaved head, and they make sense with the tattoos.  i feel good. the stuff i buy has been primarily from designers i know and follow, and though it costs a bit more, it’s supporting businesses i like and respect.

so, i need to seriously cull my existing clothes.  in an intense, focussed way. i do not need those things. i do not want those things. and i struggle so hard to let go. it’s summed up for me in one jacket.  i bought it when i was 19, with matching pants – during a brief and beautiful time when striped corduroy was everywhere.  it’s various shades of red and brown, and i loved it dearly for years.  the pants have long gone – my 19 year old weight of 49kg had long gone up, but i kept the jacket.  but i have this vivid memory of the outfit.  it was in my first year at my current workplace, when i was a graduate.  i was going through a rough, rough time – i had a very bad, embarrassing break-up with another staff member, and for various reasons, i felt a great deal of people judged me on the poor decisions of a lonely 24 year old.  i felt like there was a scarlet A on me, and there were a few people who were openly hostile.  there was a training course i attended, and i wore my happy pants and jacket combination.  one of the people in the training course, in a discussion part of the day, made an open point of the fact that i was an attention seeker, which was evident because of how i dressed.  i felt absolutely guttered.

i live overtly.  i am not particularly extroverted, but i struggled to hold myself back for a long time, due to my unmanaged bipolar. i didn’t for a second even think that my fun matching stripy outfit was ‘attention seeking’ – i just thought it was fun, and cool, and looked good on me. i don’t know what i was supposed to be wearing, in order to not seek attention, and i felt two inches tall in front of a group of co-workers, when i was already younger than everyone else, and deeply self conscious about my phenomenally bad life choices that had been the source of much salacious gossip for some time.  i’m not so much an attention seeker, as just very, very bad at moderating my behaviour to a socially acceptable level.  i’ve spent years, and years working on it, and it’s only through medication and therapy that i’ve reached a point of not jutting out as much. but even here – evident through my blog – i don’t hold back. i suck at pretending. i will talk to friends about the fact that this cancer will kill me, and might do so soon, candidly and unapologetically.  i understand too that this makes me someone who not everyone will get along with – especially when i was younger, when i was far more abrasively forward.  and that’s ok. not everyone has to like me – and i see how who i am can be read as attention seeking.

but i didn’t say anything. i held my head up as high as i could, and just let it go over my head, but six years on, i remember the words, i remember the embarrassment, and i remember that jacket. it’s a great jacket. it still fits, and i still wear it sometimes.  i’ve largely let go of the comment, but it still stings a bit, thinking of it – how at a time of deep vulnerability, everything felt sharp and cruel – and a reminder that sometimes, people just don’t like us, and that’s alright as well.   but if it was me, now, being told in front of a group of people more senior than me that i was an attention seeker in a work context – i wouldn’t sit there quietly. i would have questioned it – questioned why my simple decision to wear something i liked was a course of judgement, and why it was necessary to state it to a room full of people.  or i would have just said no, and explained that i like the outfit, and that if it brings me attention, that’s other people’s interest in what i wear, not me. i’m more used to this now, being heavily tattooed.  i never did that for attention either – the tattoos came about through long and interesting stories that are probably not interesting to anyone else. mostly, my poor impulse control.

so, this story is why i can’t throw out that jacket yet, and why i hold on to so many things – they are so close to memories that it’s hard to tease out the difference between the memory and the object. it also reminds me, and makes me feel compassion for my 24 year old self, and the excruciating time i had for the first year and a half in canberra – a city i have come to adore, but which i loathed for some years.  it reminds me of what mental illness does – and how judgement about the mentally ill is more than just about ‘depression’.  when you are bipolar, or have bipolar, your behaviour can be erratic, difficult, extreme, abrasive.  people will judge you for that – view you as attention seeking, aggressive, irritating, selfish.  and a lot of the time, you are those things – but for reasons more complicated than just selfishness. the bad decisions you make, and then let wreck loose on your life, then impact further as people just brush you off as being annoying, or too loud, or too extreme.  i will always have compassion for the brash, the accidental oversharer, the harmlessly offensive, and the lack of impulse controlled people around me.  judging them for behaviour which they probably judge themselves for is needless, and cruel.

but a part of knowing your life is limited is trying to let go. i sort through memories and people from my life like these objects, like those clothes. i think of who i need to tell things to, what stories i want left of me when i go.  i think about what i need to do, for my own sense of resolution about my past, in order to let it drop through my fingers like sand.  the most important one i have done, and if no other past stupidities are resolved, the fact that now, i have peace with this one person from my past, has given me a huge sense of relief.  and cancer or not, my life is limited. cancer or not, i want to let go. cancer or not, it’s important to say unsaid things, and to find a way to resolve behaviour and actions from your past of which you are ashamed, or regret, or that haunt you, like that stupid offhanded comment in a work training session.  writing helps me let go. and hell, maybe it is attention seeking for me to post this – just like the accusation on facebook i saw not long after diagnosis that facebook was a misery competition (which likely was not levelled at me, but it felt pointed).  but i’m not accountable to snide comments when i know this is for me, and for the people that enjoy this blog, and for my past self who would be so happy to know that it all got better – that even though the greatest fear ever of cancer happened, my life was otherwise wonderful.

who ever knew that life could be wonderful with cancer? i am filled with wonder. i am filled with gratitude.

outfit of which i am pleased, and liberated to wear now.

outfit of which i am pleased, and liberated to wear now.



About elizabeth

various things.
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12 Responses to Cancer and letting go

  1. greenspace01 says:

    this is a fantastic post. I am so glad you have much good in your life, despite (maybe in even in some ways because of) the cancer.
    jeez people can be mean and judgemental! I guess that’s their foible, like being abrasive or over-sharing, or over-anxious and controlling (me being the latter for much of my life). but it seems so much more socially acceptable, to put the boot into someone who doesn’t blend in properly, than to be the interesting but awkward person. (or awkward but interesting)
    clothes can mean a lot, can’t they?

    • veritas says:

      i honestly think the person had a bit of foot in mouth – but they also didn’t like me. which is a fair cop – i’m cool with the fact that at the time, i was pretty darn unlikable a lot of the time. i think for me was just the whole context of it – a work setting, perhaps isn’t the best place for that kind of comment….

      i don’t think i ever knew how great life was until cancer. life is very strange. mindfulness was forced on me, and i swear i’ve got the best mental health i’ve had in my life right now.

  2. Mani Kais says:

    Beautifully written/said, Elizabeth. Those wankers you worked with were an obvious poor fit for someone who has the sense and courage to just “be herself”. You weren’t attention-seeking. But you got attention and that pissed them off. Others could just as easily accuse them of trying to hide in the blend of conformity. Why should they care what another person wears? How does it have any effect on them? People like that are the ones with the problem and they are out there, every day, striving to make the world a shittier place. And then there are people like you, being you, minding your own business, daring to express yourself. How they hate when that gets noticed. How they despise your colour and complexity for showing them as bland. What you share is not part of a misery contest either. It’s an experience that most of us have not had, and you are sharing the insights you’ve encountered as a BENEFIT of that experience, so other people can know and learn, without having gone through it. How little of those people at work to try to make YOU feel as small as they are on the inside. If you’re wondering if it is even the tiniest bit justified to try to shame you like that, ask yourself, would you have done it? No. You wouldn’t. You’re better than that. Better than any drab grey suit is going to make any dull mean-spirited bitch. (I apply that term to both male and female. Maybe I shouldn’t. I like dogs, and why should the female dog be singled out?)

    • veritas says:

      ❤ – it was actually just the one person who made the comment – i'm lucky that my workplace is overwhelmingly wonderful and supportive of eccentricities and variations. i think if someone said that to me now, i would just laugh. like when a man on the street yelled abuse at me about my tattoos and how it was disgusting (he was covered in tattoos…) – i pointed at him, and doubled over in laughter. he walked away fast, muttering and glaring.

  3. Wozka says:

    Its ironic that someone publicly points out an ‘attention seeker’, which makes the one pointing the thing out an attention seeker themselves. Or they are so desperate to not be examined that they make sure that somebody else IS.
    I think you look good, and want to see the stripey jacket. 🙂
    And FYI I once wore a red pleated tartan skirt, dark green tights, and a button up leopard print ‘old lady’ polyester shirt to dinner with my parents. Yes, it was Redlands Sporting Club, who cares? But I felt awesome, and like I was being myself. These days? Not on your nellie. I want to blend in and get left the hell alone.I want to sneak past people and have them not notice, but my bright red gigantic pram full of beautiful twin toddlers is a drawcard especially in a small semi-rural city. I feel older than I should, a bit rumpled, and just not myself some days.
    Probably just as well I ignored the urge to dye my hair a pastel purple. It’s a safe, boring brown with too much of a red tint in it for my liking, but at least it’s not grey anymore.

    Wonderful news about your health improvements, I think your plan to get as healthy as possible before surgery is a great idea, and a fantastic mindset.

    • veritas says:

      that sounds like the most rad outfit ever. i think that’s the thing with small towns – it’s often almost impossible to blend in. canberra, for all its glory, is at heart a small town.

      my desire for outlandish dress has dropped right back in the last few years – mostly due to just not caring as much. but i still love insane jackets more than i should really admit.

      pre-surgery health a-go! i have to still try and pack on the weight – if i can get slightly overweight before hand, it’s the best possibly scenario because i’m set to lose at least 15% of my body weight.

  4. lachlan says:

    Fuck I love that jacket. People are arseholes.

    • veritas says:

      i know right. i just wish the pants didn’t have to go to be with Jesus/an op shop some time ago. holy FUCK i was small. i have no idea how i ever fitted into them. the day i had to get rid of that amazing brown velvet skirt because i don’t think it would have even fitted around one thigh was a sad one.
      Brown Jacket Forever. (also, all my other jackets forever).

  5. Nine says:

    This is a drive-by comment (again) because I’ve had to read this post in installments because my entire life is work right now, but this was beautifully written, and I’m so glad you are well.

  6. vivzilla says:

    Bit of a nerd question, but who are the designers you like/follow and how did you get to doing that? I dunno I think about clothes a bit more now but I don’t even know where to begin finding smaller independent stores/labels.

  7. Julie says:

    You have such grace.

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