The Last Straw: On Transitioning From the Old Body Into the New

My body has changed, and I’ve got to learn to accept its changes.

It’s difficult. I used to run 10ks, work full time, whip up recipes from Bon Appetit, shop, garden, plan social events here at home, dance with my husband and daughter, flip pancakes, and generally fill our house with the kind of life I’d always wanted in a home. It wasn’t perfect, but my body was an actively orbiting planet around a warmth I hoped to harbor. I worked hard. Like many of us in our productivity-obsessed culture, I bought into the feelings of self-worth associated with being “on top of it.”

This new body is different. Parts of me are gone. I’ve lost strength, lost mobility, lost stamina. A good friend of mine, a fellow traveler on this road of chronic illness, made an analogy that I come back to often. He said, paraphrased, “You used to have 50 straws in a cup. You held them and you could use them every day. When you woke up, they reappeared.

orange and yellow straw
So much sweetness to savor. 

Now, you may have 25, or 20, or 10 straws. They take longer to come back. And when you select your straw (or task, or thing-to-do) you must make more strategic choices.”

I think of this often. Fewer straws, less energy. Fewer straws, less done. Messier house. Forgetfulness, fatigue, contracting the circle of my hoped-for life.

It’s not that I’m choosing to wallow in grief, although I think it’s essential to our healing that we recognize and allow ourselves to feel our losses fully. It’s not that I’m hanging on to loss. It’s that I feel like I’m in a process of transitioning from an able body into a differently-able body, and what that means is that less gets done. I attend fewer social engagements. I cook less, I attend fewer meetings. I set up fewer social engagements because I’m afraid I’ll have to cancel. I miss my friends.

So, what takes the place of my previous productivity? What do I do with the empty cup space, the space where the straws used to sit?

I rest. I meditate. I go to doctor’s appointments and physical therapy (7 months later, and still going). I write when I can. If I’m able, I’ll do a few chores. I sit and talk with family. Drink coffee or tea. Sometimes I binge watch Netflix shows. I lay down and think. I read.

Sometimes the pain from my surgery and chest scar tissue renders me incapacitated, unable to concentrate on anything but pain relief and sleep. Sometimes the fatigue is so extreme, as it was this past weekend, that I am barely able to rise from bed.

And so I am learning – in the present continuous, as it’s a process – to be compassionate with my new limitations. I am learning to test how far my right arm can reach, how far I can walk (a 1 mile a day workout so far is about my limit). I turn my gaze to the gratitude in small things, to the garden with its blooming borage, ballhead waterleaf, scarlet flax, bachelor’s buttons, poppies, and violets. I think of water, of berries, of the rise and fall of a mockingbird’s tail. I think of spring and summer, my daughter and her laugh, my husband and his deep, true goodness.

This learning is not a straight line.

What keeps you grounded as you transition and think of your new life? Your body’s losses, its gains?

drinking glass with pink beverage and mint leaves
For you. 


5 thoughts on “The Last Straw: On Transitioning From the Old Body Into the New”

  1. Learning how to live with limitations certainly is a process. I still need to remind myself every day to be compassionate with myself and do my best. I try to stay grounded in as much hope and positivity as my needs allow.


  2. JojoB, You sound strong in the way you always have- through your voice. Well, that’s the only way I’ve known you, to be fair, so always is a relative term. Your writing is so strong, teaching reaching us. Thank you for continuing to do so in the face of fatigue and failing body parts.
    Gentle virtual hugs and gratitude for your kind heart girl. It is enough.


  3. Aside from the loss of my breasts (which I think I may never stop grieving), I miss my old energy and strength. I was never super athletic, but I used to have a fair amount of stamina. But today I planted a new purple heuchera, a lungwort, a pineapple sage and each plant I put in the ground felt healing.


  4. Well I feel as though I’m reading my own words, my blog told through slightly different lenses but the same core curriculum of anger, acceptance, retuning, gratitude for being. Simply being has the very root of just enough to grow a garden with more flowers than we knew existed Outside of the busy life we now lead Inside. It’s a life of interiors. Our spaces get smaller. We fear less, but aren’t fearless. We love more fully, taste less well, gain more while eating less – metaphorically and physically.

    I’ve tried to get to all the blogs in Marie’s roundups. It’s hard to get to my own typos at times.

    Reach out of course if you’d like. We here in the cyber cancer community seem to delicately support one another. Even if it’s just a simple “yes!” of commiseration on the other side of the screen.


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