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How I made it through another October

October has an unwelcome effect on my energy and my brain function. I keep trying to think of the right metaphor for it. I have not yet succeeded, although writing this is part of my continuing attempt. I guess the October effect on me is so strong that it gets in the way of my ability to describe it, even.

For most of my life, October has been a high point of the year. School, which I have always loved no matter whether I am attending or teaching, is in full swing. Autumn, which might just be my favorite season, is well on its way with the leaves here in the northeast blazing an earth-toned rainbow of colors. My wedding anniversary is in October as are the birthdays and anniversaries of many other people I love.

As I’ve grown older, though, the experiences of the days, weeks, and months of the year have added layer upon layer as time goes by, and particular layers can affect the composition of the whole creation. For example, if I bite through the layers of honeyed nuts and phyllo dough in a piece of baklava, and there is a layer of liverwurst added in there, it might not taste as good as I wanted it to.

That’s where I've gotten to with this month. After spending October 2010 deep in the middle of chemotherapy, the cancer experience layer has been added. Every October since has reinforced that layer with its heavy emphasis on breast cancer through news, publications, marketing, fundraisers, and the ubiquitous color pink.

So I get bottled up, anxious, and fatigued. Even more than usual, when I get to the end of a day, I am so tired that I fall asleep anywhere I sit down. With a computer in my lap. While drinking a cup of coffee (and not even decaf). With a television on or music playing. I’m just that drained out. I sleep for as long as I can, and then I get myself up and going, and go until the battery drains again.

Nearly every day this month I’ve said to myself, I want to write, I need to write, I have so much to talk about and it’s all bouncing around in my head. And I haven’t been able to do it. When I had a rare free moment, my energy supply would have petered out, or sometimes I couldn’t bring myself to even open a Word document. Blinded, perhaps, by pink socks and pink gloves and pink posters and pink shirts. Maybe the reason I can manage it now, on October 31, is that I can see November in my sights.

I can’t even begin, right now, to go into the whole thing about the mammogram recommendations from the American Cancer Society. In regards to that topic, I’m still at the stage where a soup of scalding hot and formless emotions are bubbling in a cauldron. Soon the liquid will cook down and thoughts with recognizable forms will emerge. Keep an eye out for another completely different blog post about that soon.

In the meantime, the only way I seem to be able to make something of October is to go about the daily business of staying alive and breathing and functioning, while also helping other people live and breathe and function. So what have I been doing?

  • Had my semi-annual checkup with my oncologist at St. Barnabas with bloodwork to analyze my counts and hormone levels

  • Referred my oncologist to a friend who is looking for one as she navigates the post-treatment landscape, having tragically lost her oncologist when he died earlier this year

  • Encountered another friend in the Cancer Center waiting room and talked with her about how her chemo is going

  • Wore a pink shirt in support of yet another friend on her first day of chemo

  • Emailed, texted, and FB messaged with four more friends in various stages of breast cancer treatment

  • Made plans to be a part of another friend’s documentary on post-breast-cancer reconstructive surgeries

  • Stared at red, yellow, and orange leaves

  • Sent a note to the husband of a friend who died of breast cancer this summer

  • Managed to take my dose of tamoxifen every day for two weeks straight (full disclosure – I miss a day or so every once in a while, although I’m told by medical professionals that it stays in my system for some time, so I try not to become worried about it)

  • Put the brakes (a little, kind of, here and there) on the “sugar creep” that has worsened my diet since September started

  • Conducted a workshop, as part of St. Barnabas’ Project HOPE series for cancer survivors, on creating a personal guidebook for the post-treatment journey

  • Did yoga, running, and walking when I could (and tried not to judge myself when I couldn’t)

Time to choke down the last bite of liverwurst baklava. October, it’s been real. I do need to thank you for the stunning leaf colors and the warm weather. November, looking forward to finding out what you have to offer.

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