I often feel like I have three full time jobs; teaching artist, mother and cancer patient. All three take up all of my time. All three are a priority. I have been feeling overwhelmed with all of these jobs for quite some time but recently, the stress to do it all has gotten to be too much. I think many women feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of being both a parent and a professional. That’s not unique. But when you add illness into the mix, it can be all consuming.
I have to admit, I have an amazing support system. My parents have been incredible when it comes to helping to take care of Oliver. They have taken on the bulk of the childcare, especially during cancer treatments and doctors appointments. But cancer has not stopped me from wanting to give Oliver all of the opportunities I can afford and all of my love and time. The same goes for my work. I work for amazing organizations who have supported me through treatment and been very flexible with my schedule and special needs. But I have a difficult time saying no to things and often overbook myself. I love what I do and I never want to say no to an opportunity that can provide professional growth and be a creative outlet.
When I was going through chemotherapy, treatment became a priority and work took a backseat, although I tried to work as much as possible. Mothering Oliver was still a number one priority for me over everything else. But since treatment has ended, I have desperately wanted to get my life back. So although my cancer experience is not over, I have tried to move on. But the thing about cancer, even when you are technically “cancer free” is that it follows you everywhere. You can’t run. You can’t hide. It’s like a newborn baby. It needs your constant care and attention. Maybe you get a break but sooner than you’d like, it’s calling out for you, demanding your attention and time.
I recently had a appointment with my physiatrist for my quarterly visit to check on my lymphedema. The last time I went to see him, I was struggling with survivorship and life after cancer. He ended up scheduling me for therapy which I am so grateful for. But since I’ve seen him, my lymphedema had not resolved. Actually, it has gotten worse.
“Are you doing your bandaging,” he asked? I was supposed to be doing it each night.
“I do it a couple of nights a week. It takes me a long time to do the bandages and sometimes I just fall asleep without doing them. Also, I can’t sleep with them on. They’re uncomfortable and trap in heat when I get a hot flash.”
He didn’t seem too sympathetic and insisted that I do it each night.
“Are you doing your lymphatic massage,” he asked?
“I try to do at least something each day,” I said. “This also takes a really long time. Sometimes I do it in the morning but my son is usually crawling on top of me (literally) while I’m doing it. I don’t know how effective I’m doing it. And I try to do it at night if I don’t have too much work to do.”
“You really need to be doing it each night,” he said. “How is your exercise?”
“I was doing great this summer but then work started up again, so I can’t go out in the mornings. My husband has been working late every night, getting home after 11:00, so I can’t go out then. So, that hasn’t been happening. It’s just not possible.”
This is where he seemed to draw the line. He began to tell me all of the things I already know, that recurrence of cancer can be prevented by routine exercise and healthy eating. I could stand to lose 20-30 pounds and that can help both my lymphedema and help with cancer prevention. I know this. But there are only so many hours in a day. If most of them are taken up by work and being a mom, when am I supposed to have time for the rest? I explained this all to him.
He then turned away from his computer and looked at me. “You need to gather your community around you. People want to help. You just need to ask for it. Ask people to help you so you can go to the gym or go out for a run.”
So, I’m supposed to gather my community…my friends who have children of their own, to come and watch my son so I can go out for a little jog? I’m supposed to ask them to support my exercise needs when they are so busy with work and parenting that they don’t have time to do this very thing for themselves? Is he kidding?
He wasn’t. And I knew that he didn’t understand. He didn’t understand what it’s like to be a mother and how it can take up every moment; the cooking healthy meals, art projects, answering questions, changing diapers, potty training (oh, the FUCKING POTTY TRAINING!!!!!), the cuddles, the bedtime stories, the temper tantrums, the cuddles, the trips to the museum, the trips to the doctor, the late night wake-ups, the nap-time delay tactics…it takes up all of my thoughts and all of my time. I love it. I wouldn’t change it for the world. But between all of this and my work, which sometimes I’m doing until midnight, especially if I have a hard time putting Oliver to bed, when am I supposed to exercise, do my lymphatic massage and bandage my arm? I’d literally be up until 3am every day!!!
I know these sound like a bunch of excuses. I promise they’re not. It’s just that I haven’t been able to figure out how to prioritize the three priorities in my life. Also, please notice, that I didn’t state my marriage or personal time as a priority. That’s a problem.
I left that appointment crying. I tried to explain that I was having difficulty managing everything and the doctor basically just wanted me to magically figure it out. But there is no magic here. There is no way I can add extra hours to a day or more days in a week. I can’t choose between my son, my job and my health. I need all three. But managing all of them has become too much. I just don’t know how to do it all.
How do you balance work, parenting and health?
Do you feel like your doctors are understanding of the unique issues of being a young cancer patient?