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Author | Photos Ashley Senja

How Living With Cancer Affects My Mind

It has been almost two years since my first cancer surgery. It seems in those last two years it is the only thing I can write about. Everything else is blocked. I have my apprehensions to continue to write about one subject. There is a part of me (most of me) that wishes I could move on already; then there is my audience who, even when I bring it up in a joking way, get uncomfortable or feel I have gone on with it for too long and think it is time to stop bringing attention to it.

How do I stop?

When I was a kid, my sister and I were in the crawl space looking for items to sell at our garage sale. While we were in there, we heard strange music playing. After searching for where it was coming from, we found it was an old handheld video game, a race car game. It was playing on its own. We turned it around and looked at the back and saw the batteries were completely melted. We blamed this on a ghost of a good family friend who loved race cars and had passed away and maybe he was trying to say hi. If not, then the question is, how was this game playing on its own with batteries that were completely drained? And how do you stop it? This is my problem. Everything I could have ever felt about what happened has been felt over and over again, so much so that I am completely drained of all power, yet I cannot stop reliving it over and over.

It might be because my anniversary is coming up. It might be because stacks of big tests are coming up. But everything is worse right now. I’m obsessed with death. I don’t talk about it. I don’t even like to think about it. But when I brush my teeth, I see visions of my family sorting through my things and wondering what to do with it all. I get mad thinking about all the amazing items I have that they would just throw away. How do they know about this amazing, hand-embroidered, Chinese silk blouse that was given to me by a woman who used to own one of the great clothing stores in Yorkville at the height of the hippie era? And when they find it, will they see it has significance and sell it on eBay? Or worse, will they give it to my brother for his store?

Then I start to think how I could make life easier for them if I end up in the hospital again. I must write down my passwords to all my important websites. I think about this all the time like it is an item on my to-do list that keeps getting put off. I think about how much easier it would be to close my bank account if they have the password to my online banking.

Then there is the memory loss that is very sneaky when it starts. I didn’t know this until my therapist and doctor mentioned PTSD to me, but memory loss is associated with trauma. When I start getting bad, one of the first things to go is my short-term memory and vocabulary. Words don’t come to me as easily as they used to. I think to myself I would like a glass of water then notice I already poured myself a glass. At the age of thirty, this is something I never thought I would experience so soon. It isn’t always this way; it just comes around when everything starts to spiral a bit. It comes when the flashbacks start.

Sometimes when I’m lying in bed, I try to remember what it felt like when I was really unwell. I could feel my tumours. I didn’t know what those large bumps were at that time, but now I know and, for whatever reason, I want to remember. If I sweat in the night, it brings me back to when my infection was bad and my fever would break every night. If I have heartburn, I remember always needing Tums to get through the day. If some hair comes out in the shower, I try to figure out if it is a normal amount or if it is like the chunks that fell out when I was sick. When I’m in the grocery store and I see Jell-O, I get a pain in my jaw and remember my family trying to force me to eat Jell-O in the hospital because I was so malnourished, but it just hurt my teeth so much that I refused to touch it.

All of this plays in my head every day at some moment. Not all days are the same; some are tolerable and some make even something seemingly easy–like learning to drive standard–an incredible feat because every nerve feels shaken. On the bad days, I snap at the ones I love and on the good days I can be a normal functioning human who is learning to live with some sadness.

Is it possible to change batteries that have been melted inside a game, or is the game just stuck playing the same course over and over? Can you start a new game with melted batteries and if so, will the game play the same as it did before? I do hope one day my batteries will be recharged, my mind will get out of this Groundhog Day mode it is stuck in, and I can move forward in my new decade of being thirty-something. Somewhere under all of this black tar, there is something that I have been wanting to show to the world. I want to get back to my life and do what I know I have it in me to do. I just don’t know when the fuck that will be and part of me fears that when I do get there, I will miss the comfort I have found in being so down.

Read more from Shelby here.

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