For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been feeling pretty well. I’ve had my moments of feeling down or worn out and experienced some minor side effects, but by and large, I could honestly answer “I’m good” when asked how I was doing with treatments. This week, it’s like someone flipped a switch. The radiation has taken a toll—there’s an aching and burning almost all the time, sharp pains make me wince when I move certain ways, and my skin is an irritated mess. Each day seems worse than the previous. The physical toll is catching up to what has thus far been largely psychological.
I’m also feeling increasingly tired. But more than that, I fear I am becoming tiresome. This week, when asked how I’m doing, I have found myself responding with “I’m hanging in there” or “I’m OK [insert shrug].” I suppose I could fib, and maybe I should. Because that’s easier for the inquirer. When we ask someone how they’re doing, let’s be honest, we secretly want them to say, “I’m doing fine, thanks.” That lets us off the hook—we’ve shown that we care by asking, but then we can move on with our day. And even if we ask the question out of heart-felt caring and are prepared for an honest answer, don’t we, deep down, want to hear that our friends and loved ones are doing well?
Any other response leaves us in the position of either coming up with a quick word of encouragement before we go on our way, or asking follow-up questions and settling in to a longer conversation. If we choose the latter path, we then enter, at least temporarily, into the other person’s space of trial, pain, uncertainty, or grief. I don’t like being the person residing in that space and opening the door for others to enter. (Yet, it’s hard to remain behind that door alone.) I don’t like being “that” person—the one who, if you ask how I’m doing, might just tell you.
I also know that this time of treatment is a drag for my colleagues. Everyone is very gracious and helpful. They all say that I need to put my health first, the work will get done somehow, not to worry. And I know that they mean that, at least for the most part. But, I’ve been in their shoes—the one to pick up someone’s slack because they’re ill or facing some other personal issue that results in frequent time away. Although I’d never grumble in those situations, if I’m honest, in the darkest corners of my heart, there is a little nugget of frustration when I have to finish someone else’s task, or that person has to cancel a meeting for the third time because of a doctor’s appointment. I know that my being out of the office some of each day, and needing to take the occasional day or afternoon off makes me less reliable right now, and in some instances results in work being moved from my plate to a colleague’s. And that feels terrible.
Many have told me not to worry about any of this stuff. That right now I need to be selfish, to worry only about me and getting through radiation and onto healing. If I need to talk about it, talk. If I need to take time off, take it. But that’s hard to do. My whole life, I’ve been taught to consider others’ feelings, to even put others’ needs ahead of my own. And I was raised to “do a job you can be proud of.” Showing my woes or leaning on others because I feel bad or tired makes me feel like a burden.