Dealing with cancer as a fiercely independent introvert (Part 2)

I wrote this post about being an introvert with cancer over a year ago and realized that I never gave you a part 2. Maybe because I knew that I couldn’t fully write about my independent spirit until this week.

My parents will tell you that I was born independent. Even as a baby I didn’t want people to help me with things. I wanted to figure them out on my own. My mom tells a story about me playing with a toy that required finding the correct hole for different shaped blocks. Circle to circle. Square to square. She apparently tried to help me figure it out and I would turn my head and pretend that I wasn’t interested. But the moment I was left alone I was trying it on my own. (I hope my mom and dad knew they were in trouble at that point. 🙂 )

I operate this way in most areas of my life and cancer is no different. It is hard for me to let ask for helppeople help me. Often times it is even hard for me to know what I need. I am stubborn. I wont let cancer win. I wont let it take my life from me. But whether I want it to or not it has changed me. Some ways for the better: My faith has been fortified in the fire. I am more able to live in the moment and enjoy life. I don’t feel the need to control as much as I used to. I now have absolute confidence I can overcome everything. Some ways for the worse: I am afraid every bruise/pain in my body is the cancer coming back. My mind is still foggy from the chemo/Tamoxifen. It can be harder to relate to people.

I heard from many cancer patients that, often, the hardest season is after you have finished treatment. I am finding that to be true for me. During treatment my job is defined. I need to show up, tolerate the chemo/radiation and then let the side effects roll. It’s not pleasant but you don’t have to think too hard. After the heavy treatment is over I no longer have the security of doctors and nurses looking after me or daily/weekly check ups. I am left to figure out my “new normal” in life with no guide book. People I encounter ask me “Aren’t you glad the treatment is done?” or “Doesn’t it feel good to have cancer behind you?” without realizing that it will never be fully behind me and I am now in a more difficult phase than I was a year ago. You see…everyone thinks I’m moving on and moving forward but I’m still catching my breath and figuring out what “moving forward” even means. I am still taking medicine (maybe for the next 5 years) that affects my sleeping, attention, cognitive function and gives me wicked hot flashes. I am operating in my margins while trying to figure out what normal is.

I have been profoundly changed this year and it is difficult to just reintegrate back into life. I was a square block in a square hole…now I am a round block trying to fit back into a square hole. It doesn’t work. And after several months of trying to force myself back into the same role…becoming more exhausted and stressed out. I admitted that I need help figuring out where I fit and it was freeing to finally say that I can’t do it on my own. I need help and that’s OK.



Dealing with cancer as a fiercely independent introvert (Part 1)

Someone told me a joke once: “What is the difference between an introverted engineer and an extroverted engineer?” Answer: an introverted engineer stares at his shoes while talking to you and an extroverted engineer stares as your shoes. Hardy har har. Hilarious. 🙂 While this joke pokes fun at the (sometimes accurate, mostly inaccurate) stereotype of the socially awkward, pocket protector wearing engineer it also misrepresents the difference between introversion and extroversion.

 I am an introvert. It comes out in every personality test I take. When I tell people this they are sometimes quite surprised because they see me as a friendly, outgoing, social person…which is also true. The two are not mutually exclusive. The difference between introversion and extroversion isn’t measured by how social you are but by where you get your energy.  I love being with people but it costs me energy to do it and I need to recharge by myself after.  Extroverts will gain energy when they are with people and spend more energy to be alone. (Side note: I think personalities are fascinating)

 Being a “social” introvert with cancer has created quite a dilemma. We have collected friends here in the Netherlands and around the world, who care for us dearly and who are concerned about how we are doing.  But processing through and dealing with everything we have to face leaves my energy reserves low. So at a time when people are reaching out to us more than ever my ability to respond to it has never been lower. See: Dilemma. I still go out in social settings now but I have to check myself first to see if I have the capacity for it and I have to mentally prepare for it. I have to prepare myself to answer the same questions over and over (seriously, it’s like sorority rush cancer edition) because friends want to know how I am feeling and how we are doing.  But honestly, if you are here reading this you should have a pretty good idea.  We have intentionally set this up and share our feelings/thoughts in a way to help people feel included in our process. This is our way of addressing the dilemma.

Friends have mentioned to me that they wish they could do more to support us personally. I have to say that sending a care package, e-mail, card, comment on the blog, text message, or reaching out on Facebook is the PERFECT way to support right now. Honestly. We read them all, it lets us know you’re thinking about us but gives me the freedom to respond when I feel up for it. If you call me out of the blue, I’m sorry but I will most likely ignore it, because 1. I don’t like talking on the phone and 2. I haven’t had a chance to mentally prepare. It’s just the way life is right now. Jonathan, does not appear to have the same problem I do so if you feel the need to call…call him. 🙂

Update: Things after the first treatment have continued to be quite OK. I have my tired days but in general feel pretty good.  The only major side effect is that my taste buds have gone haywire and my mouth has a constant metallic taste. It’s not pleasant but it will be manageable for the next 4.5 months. It was Queen’s Day yesterday and the weather was beautiful so we wandered into town to check out the markets and music. I decided to try out a blonde look as I toasted the Queen with the rest of Groningen.  What do you think?  It was a fun day but I can tell today that I spent too much energy yesterday and will be on the couch most of the day recovering. But, it was worth it.