"Some women are lost in the fire. Some women are built from it."
—Michelle K.
The Fire Within Blog
Breathless: My Anger at a Failing Body

Once upon a time, life was easy. Breathing was a breeze, lungs filled with promise and hope.

Then I got sick. Really sick. Of late, when I look back at the last forty years, I’m uncharacteristically angry that my Complex Regional Pain Syndrome stole my life, taking that breath away.

I’m spitting mad that my body keeps failing me. It’s seemingly giving me the finger for having a positive attitude and taking care of myself, as all I get is sicker and sicker. I’m tired of being the good sport, forever the one with “super human strength” who flashes a smile no matter what.

I hate 2022, as it’s trending to be my most miserable year yet. If it ain’t one thing, it’s another. To start, I had a monster of a virus all of January, most of March, and my symptoms are here again in mid-April. I can’t shake this ever-revolving bug that perplexes my doctors.

They can’t figure out my debilitating fatigue, laryngitis and diarrhea, all complimented by vertigo and, yes, difficulty breathing. Even my once heavenly swims have turned into an exercise of wheezing and gasping.

I recently got a work-up including labs and chest x-ray, but everything came out normal. A friend mentioned her concern that I might have symptoms of an impending heart attack. Yeah, wouldn’t be surprised.

I’m also mad as hell because COVID never ends. At least not for me. When we were all in this together, the isolation was do-able. In fact, it was comforting because, for once, I wasn’t the only one alone.

But now I’m left behind because being immuno-compromised with an assembly of autoimmune conditions puts me at high risk for long COVID. I feel lonelier than ever watching the world reconnect, while hearing of new variants and upcoming surges.

To top it off, my vaccines and boosters are hell. With each dose, I’m left reeling with intense fibro flares, hives and many of my previous chemotherapy side-effects. Oh, did I mention I fought Triple Negative Breast Cancer in 2020, the WORST thing I’ve ever been through?

Breathe, Cynthia. Breathe.

And then there’s this. During the rare times I escape the condo, N95 dutifully strapped on, I resent the never-ending pity looks and pointing because I use a wheelchair. Folks, it’s been FOUR DECADES of this transportation humiliation. I feel like I’m going to lose it the next time someone looks beyond me to ask my partner John what my name is. Or gives me the classic, “It’s so good that people like you get out.”

I find myself staring in awe at people who can walk without a thought. They’re free and don’t even know it. I must admit, these days I resent them for it. When I’m outside, seems it’s always just me and some little old man who are in this wheeled imprisonment. I even resent the old man, cuz he got his turn at life.

This post wouldn’t be complete without exhaling a potentially catastrophic cliff-hanger. Yeah, I’m talking about the aforementioned “Big C.” Since remission, I live in constant fear that it will recur much more aggressively in the first two years, what Triple-Negative is masterful at!

A few days ago, I went in for my periodic breast exam, a ritual that keeps me from hyperventilating during my MRIs. The exams have always been clear which helps me get through the maelstrom of “scanxiety.”

I felt oddly confident this go-around, even enjoying small talk with my oncologist. After all, this was the lead up to my two-year MRI. I was almost home free when the energy in the room shifted. Completely. My doctor found an enlarged lymph node under my arm that he thinks is a recurrence. Or, better yet, a whole new cancer.

I’m suffocating.

While I await my imaging results, I’m short-tempered and yell a lot. The cats run under the bed. Fearing the worst, I wonder if my body can fight aggressive cancer again. Let’s face it, I won’t have a good shot the second time around.

Also, in my darkest moments, I’m not certain I have a life worth fighting for. I love myself deeply, but am struggling these days to find gratitude in a world that feels devoid of grace.

I don’t get it. I swear, I’ve been a good person my whole life. I’ve played by the rules, worked hard and always helped the less fortunate.

People tell me to be positive, but I’m just angry. Maybe my rage will turn back to strength and unflagging perseverance. Maybe not. All I know is that I can’t catch my breath.