When To Stop Fixing Ourselves

You know how irritating it is when others try to help with their quick-fix solutions to our complex medical problems? What a shock when I realized I incessantly try to fix myself. Of course I want to feel well and improve quality of life, but when is it time to stop fixing?

When I finished treatment, I was so overcome with the after-effects that I could hardly wait to get my old self back. Aside from waiting for my hair to grow, I figured a few months and I’d be back to being me again. My oncologist warned, “For every month you’re in treatment, from the point of diagnosis to the last date of treatment, that’s how long it takes to get yourself back.” I was glad he gave me that dose of reality because it allowed me to be more patient with myself, knowing that a year later, I’d be my old self again.

The year had come and gone, and while I was much improved, I was far from my old self again. I felt plagued by debilitating fatigue, headaches, neuropathy, and chemo brain. The chemo brain mostly dissipated over time, although it took 2-3 years and I wouldn’t say there aren’t residuals in that department. The headaches mostly stopped after a few years, but on occasion I still feel like my head is squeezed in a vise. On those days, you’ll find me sprawled on the couch with ice packs on my head, praying for relief or death, whichever comes first.

Before cancer, I often used herbal remedies for my ailments. I’m not into the “woo” but I frequently experience side effects from prescription medications, which has led me down an herbal path simply because I tolerate it better. After treatment, I continued to eat a healthy diet. I hiked, danced, and walked my way back to health. At least that was my intention. I treated with a naturopath and felt better when I followed her regimen, but came to understand that anything I was doing was NOT A CURE. The exercise and remedies helped me regain stamina and have clearer cognitive function, but never to the point of my pre-cancer self. My self-care practices had limits.

The fatigue lessened … and then it got worse. Blood tests confirmed I had an active, elevated Epstein-Barr virus. My doctor asked if I’d had traumatic events in my recent past. He believed traumatic stress often triggers a dormant Epstein-Barr virus. Well, yeah… He said there was nothing he could do for me medically, but warned, “You’ve got to get the stress out of your life.” My naturopath said, “I can keep giving you remedies. They keep you from completely drowning, but you also haven’t been able to climb out from where you are. If you want to improve and not just keep from drowning, you’ve got to change your circumstances. What worked before doesn’t work for you now.”

My naturopath and medical doctor both echoed the same message — change your outer circumstances to be in sync with your body.

As many of you know, I moved to Hawaii last April, where my son, his wife and my new grandson live. That was motivation enough, but it was also about changing my lifestyle. I’ve written before about Eat Pray Love Survivors, and how it was unrealistic for most of us to make drastic life changes; yet, by some twist of fate, it happened for me. By no means was it an overnight process, but finally it seemed I had a big green light and all fell into place.

Now I work from home, no longer commuting, and I mostly make my own hours, which accounts for a huge reduction of stress. I had assumed I’d feel great with this new arrangement, but the truth is, I don’t always. Please don’t misunderstand. Many days I feel perfectly normal. Other days, not so much. I still contend with fatigue to greater or lesser degrees. The difference is I’m not stressing my body when it needs me to slow down.

In short, I’ve created an environment that works with who I am now.

I’d written before about accepting my body’s limits in Does This Illness Make Me Look Broken? but when I moved to Hawaii, I expected I’d feel amazing after fixing my lifestyle and work situation. I again placed great expectations on my body that weren’t always attainable. I wondered:

Is it time to stop fixing myself?

I believe the time to halt the fix-it attempts has arrived. I’ve exhausted everything in my repertoire and the attempts themselves are exhausting. I’ve hit a ceiling for far too long despite my grand attempts. Instead, all I can do is ease up on myself. Let it be.

It’s time to wake each day and be comfortable living in the unfixed, imperfect moment.

Any major illness leaves you feeling betrayed by your own body, but at this point, my body may feel betrayed by me. Maybe it asks for more compassion if by chance I will accept it as it is now. Love it unconditionally instead of barraging it with disappointment in light of unmet expectations. I still support my body in the ways I know make a difference, but I’ve stopped believing in the magic bullet. There’s a time to fix and a time to accept that some things just are.


  1. Smart and insightful as ever. Some of that healing hangover is probably blurring into ageing and nothing fixes that.

    • I so agree with you about the aging thing. I turned 70 this year. I’ve made peace with the fact that I’ll never look as thin, unwrinkled or unaffected by the forces of gravity as I once did. I love doing Zumba but have cut back to once a week and try not to beat myself up when I can’t do the fancy stuff that makes me hurt the next day. Switched to swimming three times a week which makes me feel loose and relaxed. I am trying to listen to what my body is saying to me instead of me forcing some unrealistic agenda on it. It is hard to give up the expectations, though. I think society has ingrained that in us. You know, the old “pull yourself up by your boot-straps” thing or “mind over matter.” But if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. 🙂

    • Amy, yes, blur happens!

  2. You really hit the nail on the head, Eileen! Great insight! Great read!

  3. Whether it’s cancer or something else, we all need to learn when to push and when not to. I have no magic answers, but I think there is enormous wisdom in realizing that life simply IS sometimes, and it may not be “fixable”. But its still good and enjoyable on many levels.

    Life in Hawaii is still on my bucket list. I’ve gotten waylaid by life! Just got back from Ireland and heading to FL and Central America! If the cancer doesn’t get me, the exhaustion from all this travel may! Life is short. Carpe diem.

    Let’s catch up!

    Be well!

  4. Well said. We all spend too much time trying to fix ourselves, rather than accepting ourselves in whatever state we are.

  5. Spot ON, Eileen; thank you!


  6. Great great post! Agree with you 100%. And am working towards the end of the fixing goal myself, although it’s taking me a while longer…… xx

    • Kimberly, it does take a while. I know it has for me too and I’m not sure I’m done. I think there’s some grieving of what was lost and can’t be reclaimed. xo

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