Restitution for chemotherapy’s criminal tendencies

imagesChemotherapy stole my concentration, compassion, and creativity. I came home from chemo treatment to find my brain ransacked. Neurons scattered everywhere. My orderly mental filing cabinet of memories ripped apart and discarded in a jumble of fragments. My professional identity as a Conflict Manager strewn about my skull. Emotional reserves looted. It felt like being asleep and awake at the same time. The awake part of me saw things. The asleep part didn’t react to what the awake part observed. With hindsight, I understand the impacts:

inventorySneaky chemo so impaired me I wasn’t aware my complement of thoughts and feelings had gone. It took two years to inventory the personal and professional resources chemo stole.

Cat+Pillow+Ekorn+GraphicsFairyAt home, I stared at nothing in middle space like a cat on a pillow. Two years – poof – evaporated. Try having conversations in the absence of thought and reaction. Can I repair relationships?

Professionally, my tank was empty. When someone complained about a sore back while I was locked in chemo-induced acute pain syndrome, I said: “Would you like to trade problems?” Snap. Next, I disrespected a support group of bald women. “They cut out body parts, saved your lives, and you’re moaning about hair?” Harsh. Empathy and tact, basic to Conflict Managers, went missing. Is it too late to express kindness?

I need a new inventory. Recapturing lost opportunities and misspoken words in’t possible, but restarting is. Gains are incremental, requiring patience.

A win – I read again although v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y. The delightful days I once spent with books are now a delightful hour. That’s an hour more focus than I had a year ago. I prowled our bookcases for skinny books, judging only by their number of pages, and stumbled upon three classics long buried in our bookcase. I give each discovery 5 out of 5. They are:


Ali and Nino – pray the movie in production does justice to this gem.

The Paper Men -profound and funny.

A Single Pebble – a world in a river trip.

A win – I returned to my dream job as Ombudsman’s Adviser and Conflict Manager for West and North Canada at Parks Canada, which I love. I have the privilege of working with Rebecca in Ottawa, Pierre (Spike) in Halifax, and be well managed by Parks’ Ombuds, Luc.

logo beaver

Yet, I’ve resigned and leave in two weeks. To quit was an agonizing decision. Chemo also sucker-punched my stamina, as long as I work full time, I’m exhausted every minute. Another win – work part time as a Conflict Management Consultant and finish revising my novel.

I like to believe I lived a mindful life before the diagnosis. I like to think my adaptive and resiliency skills made dealing with the treatment/side effects easier. I like to show that being so fit and living a healthy lifestyle before, during and after the treatment has some bearing on whether or not my life is long.

I like to think and believe and show all that, but ultimately, Triple Negative Breast Cancer is a randomized crapshoot. So, what gives meaning to life is what I have left. Pining over the losses of what used to be, wishing for what can’t be anymore, isn’t part of my conflict competence. If I can write a bit again, then writing is going to be my new job.

That’s a permanent win for me. If my novel is ever good enough, maybe it will be a win in other ways.


  1. Deborah – greetings from an old stranger – I’m sending blessings and hopes that you find joys in new ways and imagine dimensions of playfulness induced by the craziness of treatments and healing…..know that you are thought of fondly and with a big smile from afar….ride the waves and keep us informed of the lessons learned through words, whispers, screams, visions, doodles, music….you are living life on your terms and that seems to be rare these days for many people…..peace be with you, with love, appreciation and aloha, Tom


  2. Congratulations on finding a way to continue your calling as a conflict manager while picking up time to exercise your gifts as a writer. I will be in line to read your novel, Deborah!




  3. Deborah, while you are at a disadvantage now and have been for some time. Please remember the alternative of not having chemo. I personally am happy you are still with us. Perhaps misdirected on occasion, but so what.
    You are here and that counts for something! Mazel Tov, your friend Dan


  4. Thanks Renee, I appreciate the encouragement.

    Next agonizing decision: self publish my novel or try to find a traditional publisher? I go back and forth on this one. The good news is I’m capable of thinking through the options again. I’m so relieved and grateful to be out of that deep hole.


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