Monday, December 9, 2013

Neither Here Nor There

I find myself in an emotional limbo.

I am no longer a cancer patient.

I am not yet "normal".

(Although I think I do a decent job of faking it.)

The emotional experience of recovery from treatment is interesting.

One aspect is a widening of focus. During diagnosis my focus narrowed rapidly until we got to the specific thing I had to confront. During treatment and early recovery my focus was extremely narrow: coping with side effects.

In recovery my focus has slowly expanded to let in more and more of the "real world". Returning to work was a big step in that process.

But I still feel fairly distant from normal. Even a little bit distant from "life".

It's a nebulous thing. Many aspects of life are back to normal and good. I'm making breakfast for The Progeny most mornings again. We're partly back to our habit of getting out to new and interesting places on the weekends. I do physical things like vacuum and shovel snow.

Wonderful Wife and I are as in love as ever.

Apparently it's common for new cancer survivors to have emotional difficulty after treatment. One study said 1/3 of cancer patients suffer from PTSD, even as long as 10 years after diagnosis. Up to a quarter of cancer patients experience depression.

Even without serious emotional problems like PTSD or depression, one has been so focused on the goal of living that one can feel lost when that goal doesn't require as much attention. Normal life feels less vivid after the drama of the cancer experience.

Reading the lists of symptoms of PTSD and depression, I don't suffer from either one.

One of the main specific difficulties I am having pertains to concentration. I've never been diagnosed with ADHD but I definitely have it to some degree. When I was a kid it was just called being hyperactive and I was definitely that (I still am!). So I've always had some trouble staying focused on a task (while also having the ability to sometimes hyper-focus). But lately my tendency to get distracted is in overdrive.

Today I had a physical therapy appointment in the early afternoon. I got home about 3:00. I intended to sit at my personal computer for a few minutes and check email, then get on my work computer and work for a couple of hours. I finally got up from my personal computer at about 6:30. During that time I had flitted from one topic to another with no plan or direction. Fortunately at least some of it was work-related; reading about technologies that I can use at work.

When I go to work I feel energized because it feels good to be out in the world and to be social and to have professional intellectual stimulation. I find myself acting more bouyant at work than I actually feel. I worry that my productivity does not match my apparent normalcy.

On days I go to the office I've been going in at normal time lately, but I usually leave by 3:30. I feel pretty tired on the way home and often hit the sofa as soon as I get home. On the weekends I often still feel quite fatigued. This past Sunday, for example, I was extremely tired and spent the entire day on the sofa watching football (something I never do).

I'm curious what the physiological explanation is for that fatigue. It's very common in cancer survivors and can occur sporadically for up to a year. My mom said after her most recent cancer it occurred for two years. It seems like the biological effects of treatment would be gone by now, so why the fatigue?

My sensory issues could definitely be contributing to my sense of disconnectedness. While I'm getting used to the hearing loss, it's still real and it both makes the world sound like it has a blanket over it and also makes it difficult to hear conversations. Sometimes I give up listening. And the taste issues and the conversion of eating from a source of pleasure to an often unpleasant chore impacts a significant way of sensing the world.

None of this is to say that life is terrible. My life is pretty damn good.

It's just a little weird at the moment.


  1. pro tip: Don't wear yourself out at work! wear yourself out at home and recover at work. :)


  2. When I was in recovery from treatment, I was told Capacity to function included the ability to get up and get dressed in the morning, see children off to School (or whatever) perform household tasks like going to the shop for groceries, pick up mail, stay current with newspapers and News reports, lead a social life with Family, friends and neighbors, enjoy a hobby, go to a club or other social Activity and THEN, if any spare capacity remained, I could go to work. [Not sure an employer would necessarily agree, but mine said: "Your first job is to get well, we will manage, and you can pitch in when you feel ready"

    1. I am quite fortunate that my boss said the same thing ("Get well, we'll be here when you're ready."). But I felt like I was abusing the (granted, ambiguous) sick leave policy and I put pressure on myself to get back to work as soon as I felt strong enough.

      That said, if it hasn't been clear I'm not a very effective worker at the moment.