An open letter to the student driver who was in front of me on Wednesday:
Dear Student Driver,
Yes, I wanted to kill you. You were in front of me on the way to my radiation appointment. Perhaps you remember? That was me, tailgating your nervous novice ass. You were going anywhere from 10 to 15 miles per hour, and I was in a rush to get to my radiation appointment, running late again. Of course, it wasn't your fault what happened. You were just doing your best, so I apologize for running you off the road (thank you for finally pulling over. That was a smart driving move on your part! ).
The things is, I'm losing my mind right now. Until recently, I was the woman who, like the cocky little engine that could, would take on a lot. Even if my plate was full, I'd say Bring it On! to one more freelance writing job, or social engagement, or volunteer commitment. And this worked, sort of, up until this past Wednesday, when my little engine finally crashed and burned.
It happened in the nurse's office, after my 13th radiation appointment out of 33 1/2.
Oh what a nice radiation nurse I have! She's so kind and attentive it makes me a little bit uncomfortable, but that's better than the opposite, don't you agree student driver?
She said, "How are you doing?" and I started to tear up just a little and then she said, "Can I hug you?" and in my mind I was shouting "NO NO NO!" (see Blanket of Luv entry to understand my intimacy threshold), but I said, OK and she hugged me and I was a puddle.
"What going on?" She asked.
"I'm completely overwhelmed," I managed to get out, between sobs."I can't manage my life anymore. I can't get my work done, and get here on time every day and take care of the kids. I have no time to work out, or take care of myself. I can't remember things like I used to; I completely spaced on an important work call this morning and didn't even think to look at my calendar. I tried to break into my neighbors car recently while she was in there, and on my way here, I ran a woman off the road (that's you!). I think I'm falling apart."
My nice nurse explained that this happens to a lot of high-functioning women who do radiation after chemo. "You're overwhelmed and you're also likely experiencing some symptoms of chemo brain right now but you're still trying to do everything you could do before. You need to find ways to compensate."
I nodded. Yep. I'd heard this before from my dear friend Dr. Robin, a radiation oncologist. In those 3 weeks between my chemo treatments, Robin and I took many walks together. She'd told me about the high-functioning women she saw in her practice who fell apart mentally during radiation because they continued to work at full speed ahead through their entire breast cancer treatment. I remember thinking then, "That won't happen to me. I only work part time. I am not an idiot like those women!"
Turns out, I am totally that idiot.
I work a demanding part-time job on top of my already demanding full time job as a parent, not to mention other things like mentor and teach creative writing students. Do you have kids and a job, student driver? Let's say you do. Now imagine losing your multi-tasking mojo. You'd be feeling frustrated and aggressive too, possibly enough to run someone off the road, maybe?
Anyway, the nurse and I talked about ways I could compensate for my losses, such as writing things down, which I do anyway, but writing things down everywhere on sticky notes so if I forget to look at what I've written down it's right there in front of my face. We talked about the importance of taking daily walks to clear my head and not sitting down to work at my computer first thing in the morning (which i'm doing right now. Bad Amy). We talked about asking for help, again. We also changed my radiation appointment time to 9am every day instead of 11:30am, so I would have the rest of the morning and early afternoon without interruption until I had to pick my kids up from school.
Then she said, "I want to get something for you," and left the room. She returned with a little laminated card in her hand.
"I want to read you a poem," she said.
In my mind I again shouted, "NO! NO! Please NO!" but my always-so-polite head nodded "OK cool," and she read me a poem called "I am a Cancer Survivor" and I wanted to barf. I didn't know how to respond so I said, " Oh, Wow."
Then she handed the poem to me. I didn't want it, but I put in my pocket and brought it home with me. One line reads, "And although I may get down and worried at times, I forge ahead each day and take better care of myself." That's the part I've gotta remember; the part I would underline if the card wasn't friggin laminated. Oh, and I suppose the part about being a breast cancer survivor is important, too. But right now I still feel more a cancer patient than a survivor. And I'm not sure I'm mentally ready to belong to the breast cancer survivor club - although I've apparently already paid the dues.
Are you still with me, student driver? Because there's just a little more. After the nurse finished her job of triggering my nervous breakdown, I heard the sound of high heels coming down the radiation hallway and I knew what that meant: my doc had arrived! My radiation oncologist is brilliant and barbie-doll beautiful, always dressed and coiffed to the nines, which can be a bit hard on a cancer patient who comes in sweats and whose hair currently looks like Curly's from the Three Stooges, but I digress.
|My radiation oncologist|
She examined my boob and then mentioned that the nurse had filled her in on my cognitive difficulties. "Can you give me an example of one of these time you felt very confused?" So I shared with her the story of trying to break into my neighbor's car with my neighbor in it. How in some sort of mental fog I didn't recognize the car as my neighbor's car and convinced myself it was my friend's car from which I was going to retrieve a diaper bag, and that I had accidentally turned on said car with the keys in my hand (all of this seems ridiculous to me now), and I went so far as to try to put the key in the lock without noticing that my neighbor was in there, talking on her cell phone.
It's a funny story, really, kind of, or so I previously thought.
"Well, we could do a brain scan just to rule out anything serious going on up there." she said.
Yikes. I shook my head. "No more scans please."
I told her I'd rather just see how I do with the positive changes I was about to implement. She agreed and I left feeling a little bit lighter than when I'd arrived (although I was now slightly worried about a brain tumor...)
Anyway, thanks for reading all this, student driver. I do believe in karma and I think your brief presence in my life last Wednesday was a sign for me-- you were trying to tell me to slow down. I get it now. You are a wise, wise woman.
P.S. One request: please, if you can avoid driving on route 3 from Arlington to Burlington between the hours of 8am and 9am on Mondays through Friday mornings, that would be awesome. Many thanks in advance!