The Eat Pray Love of Cancer

In follow-up to my Mythical Cancer Survivor post, there’s a similar phenomenon that’s not so much mythical as it is rare: the Eat Pray Love Survivor. After treatment and landing in the NED zone, this person trades in her old life for a complete makeover. She quits her soul-sucking job, moves to a beautiful island with occasional world travel to bask in the healing beauty of the region of choice. This lifestyle is spiced with occasional zip lining and bungee jumping to affirm a still-kicking life force and renewed zest for living. I get it. Who wants to survive just to live the same crappy life? If you get a second chance, why not do everything in your power to create happiness?Beach at Topanga 021

The reality for most survivors after treatment is too much fatigue and too little money to make sweeping changes. I’ve often felt I needed a sabbatical. I worked during chemotherapy with some flexibility, but I’m exhausted just thinking about the last several years.

I’m happy for anyone who can chuck it all and live a more fulfilling life. I don’t judge them. I’m somewhat envious and would do it in a heartbeat if I could, but I also understand that the life of the Eat Pray Love Survivor is not on the table for most of us. I tag them with that label because their stories remind me of the book. Several years ago when I read Eat Pray Love, I thought: How in the world can someone who’s newly divorced quit her job and take a year off to eat, pray and love her way through three different continents? Obviously that someone has the money to do so, but most of us don’t have the luxury to find ourselves in that way. Sure, we can find ourselves — after hours.

Most cancer survivors don’t have the means to disengage from their jobs, families and responsibilities to focus solely on healing. We Eat Pray Love in the same old place under the same circumstances as before, but with less finesse and energy.

The pressure to be amazing people living amazing lives, fulfilling and crossing off one Bucket List item after another, is unrealistic for most people. What baffles me  is it seems the pressure to make exotic life changes, even for a short period of time, comes from within the cancer community, but I’m not entirely certain.

Reality being what it is, what’s wrong with life continuing where it left off at diagnosis? Isn’t it amazing in and of itself to get through treatment and manage to engage in the same life circumstances, especially given the alternative? I’m certain anyone with mets would heartily agree.

I actually made a 400-mile move from Southern California to Northern California about a year after I finished treatment. This seemed in my best interest after cancer demolished just about everything a disease could get its hands on. I had support in the Bay Area and I landed a far better job than the one I had in Los Angeles, but even positive changes add new layers of stress. While my body and emotions were healing, I had to develop new friendships, find a new place to live, a new job and acclimate to a new area. And this was only 400 miles away within the same state. Good thing I hadn’t moved to an exotic island.

Sweeping changes are stressful for a healthy person let alone someone plagued with the kind of bone-crushing fatigue one has after chemo. Under that scenario, it’s a miracle to have the wherewithal to work the same crappy job, to have the breath to bitch and moan about it, and to oversleep on Saturdays from extreme exhaustion just to wake and discover you’re still here. Sometimes I wake and think: Wow. How about that? I’m still alive. At least I think. I’ll revisit that thought after coffee.

It’s a further miracle when I have the strength to dance or hike or engage in any number of activities that come under the umbrella of enjoying life. Or being there to see my kids reach the milestone of marriage. This is how most of us Eat Pray Love. Anyone can Eat Pray Love without stepping one foot outside the home or at least venturing through the neighborhood.  For one who’s had cancer, that’s the real miracle and it’s pretty amazing. Just being alive. Just living life in the same way you’d done before.

Comments

  1. Another fabulous post. Ironically, before I was diagnosed I was planning some big life changes. These are now on hold while I have treatment, So, if I put them into action after my treatment, it might look like I am reinventing myself post-cancer but really it was what i was going to do all along!

    • Sally, whether you reinvent yourself or put a life change into action after treatment, I hope you get to do whatever is in your heart. Be patient and get through the treatment. Your plans will wait and are just on hold if you still choose them afterward. I hope you get to do it all.

  2. Reinvention, if it occurs, doesn’t have to be surrounded with dramatic flourish. It may just be a reorganization of priorities that naturally takes you in another direction. If, of course, you can muster the energy!

  3. I enjoyed this read. What you say is so true. People expect cancer patients to be reborn and live life to the fullest. Like you, I wish I had that option. I am still doing my old life and I am OK with that. I am kinder to myself and that allows me not to feel pressured by anyone. I know eventually I will have to make some changes but the reason wouldn’t necessarily be because of my illness (hopefully!). Like Pat mentioned, we go through changes in life because of different circumstances and priorities do change. I am just glad I am alive.

  4. AWESOME post! Thank you so much!

  5. I enjoyed your post. When I read Eat Pray Love, I was struck by the idea that it is important to be honest with yourself and make changes if your life is false in some way. The author was not living the life she wanted and had the opportunity to travel and discover herself. You are right that her trip around the world is not reality for most of us. When I read your post, I got the impression that you do know yourself, that you listen to your inner voice, and chart your own course without worrying too much about how others think you should live. Keep on walking, may your life be long and meaningful.

    • Cynthia, I think you assessed me pretty well, and Eat Pray Love, the book. It was a wonderful blessing for the author and changed her life in a beautiful way. Thank you for your well wishes. You’re very sweet. My very best wishes to you!

  6. So very true and so very well said. Loved reading this!

    • Thanks, Kimberly. Thanks for reading. I hope you’re getting settled as you’ve just made a big change. Going back home after being several states away is huge. I wish you every good thing.

      • Thanks so much! We’re getting there. Slowly. But yeah, this post definitely resonated with me & what we just did. I think I was trying to EPL with thinking I needed to be back on the East Coast. xx

  7. nancyspoint says:

    Hi Eileen,
    I am pretty weary of that notion that after a cancer diagnosis a person is supposed to morph into some new and improved version of her former self and/or do profound things. Just getting back to living your life, regardless of your stage at diagnosis, is a huge deal and more than enough to take on. And I am not even trying to pick up where I left off. I’m just trying to catch up and at least be visible in the rear view mirror. Great take on another important topic. And btw, I have not read the book or seen the movie. Don’t think I’ll bother…

    • Nancy, I love what you said about just trying to be visible in the rear-view mirror. True. Picking up where we left off is miles down the road. As for the EPL book, don’t bother is right, for so many reasons!

  8. So glad you have identified this challenge Eileen because like you I would love to reinvent myself as an island-hopping, sun worshipping, free-as-a-bird cancer survivor but the reality is my family is still totally dependent on me, there are bills to pay and though the job isnt all its cracked up to be at least I’m getting by. “Too much fatigue and too little money to make sweeping changes”… Too true!

    • Tracy, yes, reality is as it is. I’m beginning to find amusement and entertainment in the expectations put on cancer patients. It just boggles the mind.

  9. I have often grappled with this notion that now that I have finished with cancer, I’m supposed to do something extraordinary with my time. Like drop everything and go travel the world. Well, maybe if I didn’t have a husband and child I could pack a backpack and teach. Why not? But, reality is, I have a life and I can’t stop that life just because it would be the inspirational (and book-selling) thing to do. That’s not reality at all.

    • Carrie, the key thing, as you said, is that you have a life. I think people who make those foundational changes are those who needed to change those things. For people like you, it’s enough and a wonderful thing that you’re still here and still there for your husband and son.

  10. As you can tell, I’m playing catch-up with your fabulous blog. This post is truly excellent. You’re right: if one is lucky enough to have a post-cancer life, then he/she is dealing with all sorts of stresses, even those caused by positive life changes. I was one of those people for whom cancer was a wake-up call. In a horrible marriage and terrible job when cancer came my way, I decided that after treatment, I didn’t fight so hard to live to have a poor quality of life. I changed jobs, divorced, and moved. Three stressors in addition to being a cancer survivor.

    That gave me a one-way ticket into therapy because all those changes were great but took a toll on my mental health.

  11. I’ve seen you use this acronym a couple of times — what is NED zone?

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