The reason I’ve been able to remain optimistic 80 percent of the time is because I try to focus on only comparing Current Niki with Cancer to Potential Niki with Cancer. For my own sanity, it’s critical to not compare Current Niki with Previously Super Healthy Niki (apologies for the 3rd person reference; I chalk up everything to my increasing chemo brain).
Current Niki has a shoebox boob, no hair, binge sleeps every other weekend, interrupted with teensy crying spells when the very slight nausea hits or when getting ready for work I am unable to dress my head without looking like a 75 year-old woman or a pirate, has regular heartburn from my OJ diet needed to keep the dizziness of anemia away, often works from home and spends her going out money on co-pays. Sounds sucky when I put it like that, but on my off-treatment weeks, I’m usually feeling pretty damn good, cracking myself up over my style challenges and the fact that when Ben sits on my lap, he leans to the right since no one can find comfort on a shoebox.
And when I compare to the Potential Niki with Cancer, I can’t help but be optimistic. Because I know it wasn’t easy for my sweet, sweet cousin Janeen (now rooting me on as a guardian angel with my MawMaw up in heaven) who was diagnosed at a late stage and suffered tremendously, undergoing regular trips for treatments in Houston, hours from her home in Mississippi, had brain surgery, and left a beautiful family behind at way too young of an age. And yet every time I saw a picture or a post, she had her typical beautiful smile and optimism. Or for the poor girl I can’t get out of my head who sat next to me in chemo, not to receive treatment but fluids since the chemo had been so rough on her body, she couldn’t keep anything down. Or knowing my doctor warned me that “chemo is hell.” In comparison to the potential, it’s pretty easy to be optimistic.
But in the spirit of being honest–after all, this is a up and down journey, not a glamour parade–sometimes I can’t help it. I compare. Healthy Niki slept comfortably in positions other than her back, went to the gym and sweated profusely on a regular basis (my last time there was spent raising my left arm up and down over my head to try and break up the scars of mastectomy), had frequent date nights with the hubby, loved her constant go-to wet ponytail look, wanted kids right away and hated people taking care of her. (Last night Mom and Tim collectively took care of the laundry and garbage, fed the animals AND me then cleaned all the dishes. What was I doing? Not a damn thing on the couch. I forgot to take my second steroid and was starting to get depressed that fatigue was setting in two days early until I remembered my pill, just late enough to ensure a sleepless me come 4:30 am.)
Luckily, I get some much needed tough love if I spiral downward from fruitless comparisons too much. And Niki with Cancer gets lots more kisses from her Sis Sis, which is a miraculous improvement from the stingy supply I was allotted before. Plus, as I’ve mentioned, cancer gets the best gifts. Definitely a bonus.
My dad, in all of his infinite wisdom, often reminds me that everything in life–work, relationships, the whole shebang–is 20 percent crap. It just is, always will be. But 80 percent is wonderful. When those percentages get thrown off, when your crap is more than that, it’s time to reassess your situation. What can you do to change it? Because you don’t have to live like that. Even if all you can do is to look at it differently.
And so it is with cancer. Twenty percent is crap when I compare to life before. But 80 percent is wonderful when I compare to how it could be. And I’m grateful for the whole 100 percent. For what I’ve learned, what I’ve lost and what I’ve gained, the renewed friendships and strengthened relationships, the heightened perspective I much needed but never had. This is me, my life, the only shot I get at it. And that’s all I can compare it to.