So, the physio this morning spent ten minutes making me sweat with pain as she massaged my injured torso.
I am so determined to be fully functioning again, I give gorge walking a bash, as you saw in my earlier blog – and get out of the water early and walk along the path once the nerve pain and tingling in my hands becomes an issue. Never mind. I still did it. I still got to join in with other adventurous women. I still got to feel like I once used to. I couldn’t sustain it but am so glad I did it anyway. Inside I am an adventurous woman. In my head. The body’s been a bit bashed about is all. I knew I had my appointment this morning if anything desperate happened and I stopped whirling and floating in the water early to protect myself.
My physiotherapist, lovely Sally, took to the massage oil almost as soon as I arrived. She demonstrated the pressure she was using by massaging my good side. No pain. Touch my right side and I break out in a sweat. My glasses steam up! The pain is bad. In my last mammogram, I was taken out of the machine just as I was about to faint with the pain. But Sally says if I massage through the pain – three times a day for ten minutes each time – I will desensitise my nerves which are telling me I’m in pain when, really, I’m not – it’s safe – and we have to get those pesky nerves used to the pain so they stop acting up! Lots of sweating about to happen in this house then. The body is a strange thing.
Since my cancer operations and subsequent radiotherapy, in late 2013 and early 2014, I’ve been in constant pain in my chest, side, neck, shoulder and down my arm. My mouth used to be so dry I drank water all the time and nothing lubricated. My eyes are now so dry, I need daily gel to moisturise them. I even get up in the middle of the night and put more gel in the left one, as it sticks shut and wakes me up. I have weak muscles, tingling thumbs and fingers. My jaw and cheek hurt as I tense myself to protect my body from pain. It’s been a waiting game – three and a half years.
I am so glad to finally see a physiotherapist who knows just what I need and says it is a common problem for breast cancer patients. I just hope she proves to be right. She is sending me off to an MSK physiotherapist for my knees which play up since taking Letrozole. It isn’t cancer I’m recovering from, it’s the treatment for cancer: surgery, radiotherapy, drugs.
But along with my physical pain, there are multiple other issues. I’ve taken early retirement through ill health because I simply cannot sustain school teaching while my body is tiring so much. It becomes prone to viral infections which lay me low. It isn’t fair on pupils or colleagues to repeatedly be absent and I cannot thank my school, Galashiels Academy, enough for all the support and patience they have shown me. But no job equals no money. I’m too young for a state pension. My own pension doesn’t even pay my council tax. I still have a mortgage. My house has been on the market for six months and no sale. I need to get the equity out of it to invest for a small income. I’m trying to reduce my stress so my body doesn’t succumb to viral infections from being tired and, unfortunately, my circumstances are stressing me!
Being single and being a woman are both tricky financially. I’m not complaining. I’m a woman, after all, we are resourceful, but sometimes, just occasionally, it gets me down that I have a degree, I’m bright, I’m committed, I’m experienced and I’m still powerless because money is power, power is control and I don’t have much of either. I’m no different to so many women and, no doubt, a lot of men. But a degree and a profession are meant to protect from financial insecurity. Staying home to look after children punctures that equation good and proper.
Yet, I still maintain that those years where I prioritised my children helped them grow in resilience. Teenage years chucked a lot their way and they didn’t escape unscathed, but as life settled down they returned to the strong and caring individuals they are, secure in the knowledge they are loved. But the irony is, I have always worked, freelance or part-time from home. I just squeezed it in around my family. And my efforts to keep my finger in, to do a little freelance work, did nothing to give me financial security in the long-term.
So, now, because I value work, I am struggling with not working. I feel like I should be working. I apply for jobs. I plan self-employment projects. But the reality is, my body still needs time to properly heal. I am going through the benefits process and even that is hard in terms of it being done at a distance. There’s little leeway to hold a conversation and ask questions when all you’re doing is filling out a form with boxes; following a designated path through the bureaucracy. Life feels inhuman at times like that.
I must go now that I’ve explained my circumstances. I’ve excused myself for looking well yet hope you understand I am not fit enough to work and support myself like I once did. It is hard having to re-evaluate who and what you are. I would like to still be the girl pictured at the top of this story working at the University of Illinois; the girl who cycled to work in London, fearless of the traffic; the woman who held down a full-time job and established a respected community theatre group at the same time. The mental transition to being me but a less dynamic me is difficult.
I’m going now to lie down for ten minutes and create a sweat with some olive oil. If you’ll excuse me … Ouch!