On Mondays we focus on the charities, organizations and philanthropic endeavors of our guests. But we haven’t yet highlighted a person who singularly personifies what Monday Motivation is all about, really. Until now. Meet Dena Smith, also known on Instagram as Leo With Cancer, because she is, in fact, astrologically a Leo with a rising sign in Cancer, but she also has Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer, for which there is no cure. Don't pity her, though: Dena is real-life superhero, a woman who undergoes chemotherapy treatments every three weeks yet still manages to find the humor in the horrific. She chronicles these treatments, and her life with cancer in her very real, very raw blog, Chemo Fantasy Photo Diary and we’re thrilled to be able to share an excerpt from it with you here.
I am not sure I can remember the last time I felt this drained. I am tired. Not normal tired - all I do is sleep. The kind of tired that feels like some evil sadistic serial killer snuck into my bedroom and injected my bones with lead. So heavy. Muscles in my chest and back ache constantly. Not enough to justify a pain pill, just enough that when my husband squeezes me it hurts a little, but I don't want him to stop. I'm pretty sure my blood pressure is low again, but I feel like all I do is drink water. I have also decided I would rather have a new sweater than a blood pressure cuff, but I don't want to go into the chemo center unless I have to. So, I've waited because I knew I had to go in any way for my therapy (yes, again) and they would just fix me with a bag of fluid then.
Which is a very long way of saying I have not been taking good care of myself.
I'm ashamed of it. Taking care of myself is essentially one of my jobs. Possibly one of my most important jobs.
The problem is in the "yes, again." If you read my blog regularly (I post every week, barring catastrophe) then you may have noticed just how often this chemo comes along.
A sick and twisted part of me misses the violently ill early days. Then it was so easy to focus on just surviving. Now, I'm in a slog. There is none of the adrenaline, the acute sense of impending doom or victory. I have won, and yet I am still losing. My life is too good, my hair is too good, for me to feel this bad about myself.
That's my secret - my dirty shame - I am not this positive, badass, cancer-fighting inspiration that I feel like I should be. I am more Larry David than Lenny Letter. I feel like such a fraud.
I have never had any interest in running a marathon, and yet, here I am. My life is a marathon. There is no finish line in sight. No goal to achieve. No light at the end because the tunnel stretches out into infinity. All I see in front of me is murky, unflattering winking fluorescent.
My old mantra was, "You can do anything for a minute." It was borne back in my early twenties when I first got into working out. It was borne from planking. It was a quick and pithy reminder that if I can survive anything for a minute, why not five? Why not an hour? Why not a few days? But it stops working when you start counting in years. Five years is not five minutes. There are lots of things you can't do for five years.
I am not blameless. I feel like I should just be “better” by now. Have a baby. Have a career, maybe a book deal? Create some kind of revolutionary cosmetic product. I have been putting pressure on myself to achieve these goals - as if the gains I have made are cumulative. As if the glorious life I have isn't good enough.
I am the sand on the beach, and sometimes the water brings me more sand, and sometimes it takes it away. It's a constant ebb and flow. I need new goals. I need a win. But maybe it doesn't have to be such a big win.
I need a new mantra. But until that comes to me, I've decided to give myself new goals. Not a 26-inch waist, or a baby, or a house, or a company, or a book deal. Something I can actually accomplish.
Taking it back to the basics here.
So, are you ready for my new goals?
1) I will wash my face every morning. I know this seems like an insane goal for someone who can happily give herself a three-hour facial, but the truth is I have been slacking on the basics. Maybe if I wash my face every day, I won't need a three-hour facial. Plus, I've discovered micellar water, so I don't even need to get out of bed to do it.
2) I will stop letting myself compete with other women. I will stop comparing myself to all my friends who are super successful in their careers, who have the babies I desperately want, who are young and gorgeous and living in the cities I kind of wish I was living in. Every time I find myself comparing myself to other people, and lacking, I will think of something amazing in my life I am grateful for. I am reconnecting with my gratitude.
These new goals seem both impossibly daunting and ridiculously simple.
I wish I had some super positive and uplifting message to end this post. Here is the best I’ve got:
1. I am having a really great hair day. This is something I will never stop being grateful for after losing it all to my first round of chemo.
2. The two tiny pimples on my face (stress-related, obvi) have receded from the onslaught of my precision care. I have thwarted them. I am a beauty witch. I love it.
Those are today's victory. Tiny victories but good enough to make me stop writing this and go wash my face.