“Come on, Sam. Remember what Bilbo used to say: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
– Frodo, Lord of the Rings
I was miserable. On the surface, everything seemed fine. Treatment was finished, and I was in remission. My return to work – a step toward reclaiming my life- should have been a celebration. A tired triumph, perhaps, with the cloying fatigue of cancer recovery. Instead, I struggled to get through each day.
I was so excited to return to work following treatment for breast cancer, that I ignored my misgivings. Yes, my body endured a plethora of symptoms – tingling in my hands and feet, electric shocks and stabbing pains, and the worst of it being a deep bone ache that radiated up my arms and legs. But it was all manageable. I’d show up on the job, with the pain in tow like an unruly child: I could tease and cajole and bribe my way through each day.
Until the pain shrieked like a banshee, and then I’d disappear for a few minutes to sit, or stretch, or pop a pill. I’d be back again, shoving aside the internal cues my body gave until I either dealt with them, or fell down. When I arrived home, I popped more pills in order to obliterate the agony, and collapsed into bed.
And the alarm would go off the next morning, as the cycle began again. Wash, rinse, repeat. My medical team observed the stubborn pain, evidence of a frayed nervous system. Each would smile reassuringly, reminding me that healing was a matter of time and patience. And then out came the prescription pad, jacking up the volume of medication with each visit.
But I could not sustain this process. With each passing month, the pain crept up. The unruly child evolved into a riotous monkey on my back. I wanted to pile drive the beast into the floor and get on with my life. But eventually the symptoms morphed into King Kong, holding me haplessly in its grip.
The week before I was forced off on medical leave, I had bouts of dizziness and weakness that made standing up a challenge. My heart raced, my head pounded, and I kept dropping things. Finally my doctor said “Enough. You’re done.”
Sweet relief flooded me, from head to toe, and I left with two instructions: Get control of the pain. Triple the medication. In a few months’ time, I figured I would be rested enough that I could return to the pre-cancer world of employment, financial security and professional achievement.
I should have taken note of Frodo’s hobbit wisdom: I ignored my feet at my own peril, until I was carried along a path not of my choosing. No one had any inkling that my life had just been swept away into a new season of loss and grief that would prove much more difficult to navigate than facing down cancer.