Two days ago I went to see my physiatrist. He is the doctor who monitors my lymphedema. When I first went to see him when I developed lymphedema, I liked him a lot. I liked how he took a whole body and whole mind approach to my care. He’s the one who helped me start therapy when he could see my distress and depression. He made it happen. He talked about helping me get a healthier lifestyle to help with cancer prevention. But the last few times I saw him, I felt like he had an unrealistic view of my life and how I can fit lymphedema care and a healthy lifestyle into my every day.
To my young or youngish survivor friends, I don’t know if this happens to you as well but I have found that throughout my cancer journey there has been a lack of understanding of what it’s like to have cancer and be a working mother. I know that the majority of patients that are seen are in their 50s, 60s, 70s and older. 50s and 60s is not old in my mind but these women are often at a different point in their lives. They don’t (usually) have very young children. They are not (always) building their careers. To raise a small child and still try to define myself professionally and creatively while having cancer and lymphedema has been my greatest challenge. I succeed sometimes but feel that I fail a lot. That’s because I have way too many priorities. I’ve written about this before. What do I prioritize? My health? My finances? My career? My son? My mental health? My emotional health? My relationships? My free time to be me? I’m often overwhelmed by these questions.
Nevertheless, because I have gained a considerable amount of weight in the last few months, I have chosen to put my health front and center. I’m unhappy looking in the mirror and unhappy with the way I feel. I wrote two blog posts ago that I’m having a lot of difficulty losing the weight despite exercising 4-6 times a week and eating a plant based diet (not vegetarian, not vegan just way more veggies and fruits).
The last time I saw the “never enough doctor,” I was told that I needed to exercise more. I couldn’t figure out when to find the time, especially with the work schedule my husband had at the time. I was only weeks out from my DIEP Flap and feeling like hell physically and emotionally. He told me to “call on my community” to help me get it done. What he didn’t understand was that my community is also made up of working mothers who have very little (if any) free time. This pissed me off.
With that being said, in recent months my husband and I have discussed the importance of my health and what sacrifices we could make to help get my health back on track. This means that my husband is not running as much (he loves to run) so that I have time to work out. He has also put on weight because he is not running as much as he did previously. I am also rarely putting my son to bed at night. When he was in preschool only 2 days a week and I spent more time with him, this wasn’t a big deal. But now he is in summer camp 5 days a week and will be starting full day pre-k in the fall. My time with him is getting less and less. With having to exercise at night, I’m sacrificing some of that time. But I’m doing it not so that I have more minutes with him but more years.
I’m also sacrificing some major sleep so I can go out, get my work done, do the dishes, pump my arm and wrap it at night. It’s a lot!
I’m also now seeing a nutritionist. She agreed that my eating habits are healthy and we are monitoring my progress.
I have to say, I think I’m doing a hell of a lot here. But according to the “never enough” doctor, I’m…well…not doing enough.
“How long are you exercising,” he asked me?
“35-40 minutes, 4-6 times a week,” I said,
“What exercise are you doing?”
“I’m run/walking and when I can’t get out, I’m doing a kickboxing video.”
He stopped, turned to me, looked me in the eyes. “You really need to do more.”
“More? More than 4-6 times a week,” I asked?
“No, not more times a week. You really need to do 60 minutes.”
“You need to do more land based activities. Are you exercising in the gym?”
“No, I run outside. I go to the park.”
“You really need to join a gym so that you can monitor your heart rate. It’s more disciplined that way.”
“But,” I said, “I’m having a hard enough time finding the time to do the exercise I’m doing. Back and forth to a gym is 45-1 hour plus an hour of working out, not to mention waiting on line for a machine…we’re talking at least 2 hours 4-6 times a week! When am I going to do that?”
“Well, you do what you want to do but, if you really want to lose weight, this is the way you are going to do it.”
So, I’m finally figuring out a way to get exercise into my life, which is what he asked me to do last time. I’m pumping my arm every night. I’m wrapping most nights. “You’re not wrapping during the day as well?” WTF!!!!!!??????!!!!!!! But instead of trying to find ways to get more exercise into my life (a pedometer to watch my heart rate and this thing called youtube which, I’m sure, has a lot of videos on how to do more effective work outs at home or outside), he just said I need to do the thing I can’t feasibly find the time to do.
It’s not enough. It’s never, ever, ever enough.
His message: You can’t have cancer and lymphedema and still have a life.
What I say: There has to be a balance. I can’t do it all and I can’t live for my condition. What kind of existence is that?
He said that he doesn’t need to see me anymore but I can come back if I ever need anything. I don’t think I would go back anyway. I need to surround myself with people who will help me live with lymphedema and the side effects of cancer treatment, not for it.