Caught in an identity crisis...

I am now 6 rounds of chemotherapy in, 2 rounds of chemotherapy to go. For now....

I'm tired guys, just tired. I didn't think I would be doing this many rounds of chemo, and maybe that's a good thing. Knowing you've got 8 rounds in front of you can be daunting, sometimes taking it one step at a time is the better option. The side effects come and go, some days my energy is boundless! Most days it is the opposite, heading to the refrigerator for a glass of water can seem like a huge task. Some side effects are cumulative, like the pretty little brown curls that keep falling out of my head. What began as a small amount of shedding has resulted in a George Castanza bald spot on my head. I keep saying I'm Kosmo Kramer in the front George Castanza in the back. Like a reverse mullet, if you will. I can't say I'm thrilled about it, but it is what it is. My health is more important.

As I've experienced these side effects, and believe me the hair is the least of it, I've started to think about my identity within all of this. I have started to feel like my life is a culmination of side effects from treatment/disease/conditions/allergies. To the point that I feel like they are my entire identity....

Jenny Pagliaro 33 F
Breast Cancer
Hot flashes
Alopecia caused by chemotherapy
Benign tumor on pituitary gland
Thryoid problem.....


and on and on and on.....

I feel like these are the things that define me now. When every question coming at you is about your health, or "what the doctors said" or how I'm "feeling after treatment." It feels as if I have become breast cancer. That cancer has become the driving force in my life. Keeping it at bay and dealing with its side effects. Dealing with the ripple effect that the two little words-breast cancer, have had on my life. Two little words with such  BIG effect. When that lady called to tell me I had cancer did she know the road I had ahead of me? Cause I sure as hell didn't. I thought I could go through this and on the other side go back to normal. Turns out THIS is my normal. My new normal.

Does this new normal mean that I am just a culmination of my side effects?

Oh dear GOD, I hope NOT. I think that may be my decision though. I don't get a decision on whether I still have this cancer or not, but I do get to decide every single day that I wake up how I'm going to manage it and all it's side effects. Some days I handle it beautifully, some days I just don't feel like handling it all that well. Some days I want to be grumpy about it, I can't be happy all the time. I hate the days I'm grumpy about it, so then I get grumpy about being grumpy too. And that's a hard place to be in with an incurable disease. There is no definitive answer, there is no "you're cured" conversation coming my way, EVER. So do I let my entire identity be cancer?

At some point during the past 14 years I've practiced yoga a teacher said something along the lines of "are we our injuries and our past? Does that story define who we are?" That concept hit me during that class so hard because I was associating my identity with my physical pain. Time does a number on the body. Do we let what happens to our bodies during this time define us or are they just a natural consequence of time? Are the physical scars a representation of a life well (or poorly) lived? Or are they just reminders of a life LIVED.  "Oh this ankle is messed up because my feet were strong and I'd break my pointe shoes in ballet" "My back goes out because I was gardening and a floating rib popped out!" Are these the things that make up my entire identity?

I have Stage IV Breast Cancer, is THAT my entire identity? Is that my story? I don't think it is but sometimes it's hard to feel like your life can be about anything else. Most of my life has been changed because of this disease. I have lost friends, become closer with other ones, learned a lot about myself and life. Honestly I wouldn't change any of my experiences, but I do want to find a way to just be Jenny again. Not Jenny with cancer. Maybe some days it'd just be Jenny the human, or Jenny the yoga teacher, or Jenny the songwriter, or Jenny the singer. I will ALWAYS have the cancer, my hope is that SOON they will have something for me so I can say I HAD cancer not HAVE. In the meantime does that mean every time I introduce myself to a new friend, or let's make it more complicated-a potential romantic interest, that I have to say "Hi, I'm Jenny. I have Stage IV Breast Cancer, yes it's incurable, no I'm not dying tomorrow but I have an incurable disease, just FYI." "What's your name?" I know that seems crazy but it can feel that way to me, I made a joke about the 18 embarrassing things that happen to me daily (my friend Julie would like this to be a blog, I'll need tequila first)  and we all had a good laugh, but it's funny because it's TRUE. Do these embarassing things make me less worthy of anything? No, not at all. But I'd be lying if I said they didn't make me feel that way or that they had no affect on me whatsoever.

I remind myself daily that the side effects are worth it. That living IS worth it. That doesn't mean that I don't need to give myself the space to be irritated that this is my reality. Or be irritated that all of these things combined have felt to me like a gettting brand new identity. Or like they've taken my old one away from me. It is my choice how I proceed, whether I become the disease or let the disease just be one part of me. It's not up to me if other people want to perceive me that way. If other people see me and cancer as synonymous that's their choice. They aren't wrong, but I do believe I am more than this disease. Some days I don't feel that way, but I do believe it. And belief can be the hardest thing to grasp on to....

XOXO,

Jenny


Comments

  1. ❤️❤️❤️ Your are amazing and brave.

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  2. IMHO you are a talented and charasmatic singer and friend who happens to have cancer. <3 Eleanor

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  3. Don't stop believing. (You're singing that in your head, aren't you?)

    Okay. Seriously, I can't imagine what you're feeling, but you will always be Little J to me. Soooo much more than cancer.

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  4. Those who love you, are proud to know who Jenny is. 👌

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  5. Jenny Pagliaro 33 F
    Inspiration
    Rockstar (really)
    Warrior
    Gifted artist with stories to share

    Some people live their whole lives with "incurable" diseases like being rude a-holes, being selfish, abusive, unkind to others. Those people live pretty miserable lives spending time being angry and grouchy and mad at the world because they struggle with their identity, who they really are, or other issues they should have gotten therapy for ;) you can't cure those
    But YOU Jenny... your core identity is so strong and powerful and genuine that you will never be defined by any disease, cancer stage or name, side effects. Hi I'm Jenny and 2 years ago someone gave me some big ass sour lemons. And now I'm making lemonade bitches. Your story has just begun :) and everyone is waiting to read it! ♡ I agree with Julie. Get the tequila and write a blog.
    Love your new friend Becca from NH ♡

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  6. hey bella, to me you'll always be the coolest girl from my yoga tt. sending love xx

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  7. You're also a great writer. And philosher at this point!

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