Cancer and the nesting instinct
In his New York Times column about the experience of recovering from prostate cancer, writer, Dana Jennings, commented on his desire to “nest” following treatment:
More than ever these days, I want to shrink the world to the couple of rooms in my house where I’m most comfortable. I’ve been declining requests for my time, and the social whirl is less compelling than it ever was…this was something I needed to do. It was part of the healing process, of coming to grips with my new vulnerability.
This nesting instinct is something which will be familiar to many of us both during treatment and in the immediate aftermath. I certainly found it to be an introspective time and I still find myself from time to time, slipping back into that impulse to take time out from the hustle and bustle of life and just “be” quietly with myself and my thoughts.
However, Jennings also sees something inherently “dangerous” in this impulse, as he struggles with that other familiar fellow feeling of post-treatment depression. ” It is a thin line between the womb of healing and cutting yourself off from the world.” he cautions.
Even so, that nesting impulse remains strong in us. Jennings has a beautiful phrase for the reason why this is so, because it is not just our bodies that are healing, but our spirits too are “convalescing”. “I’m still reinterpreting myself in the face of cancer, and that takes time and quiet. It can’t be rushed, and I can’t do it successfully if I’m caught up in our huckster culture’s unrelenting ruckus”, he writes.
Debbie Woodbury ran a series on her blog dedicated to “feathering your nest” through cancer treatment and beyond. She wrote:
Who deserves to feather their nest more than the cancer survivor? During the diagnostic and treatment phases, there is no time or energy left for anything other than dealing with cancer. But little by little, you get stronger and stronger and yearn to reclaim your most intimate places from the intruder. Nesting re-establishes security, scrubs away sickness and reclaims the sanctuary which is your home.
Do you share this desire to nest following cancer treatment? Or did you feel a desire to get out there and reclaim your life again, throw yourself right back into the fray?
I thought I needed to run back in to the fray after primary treatment of chemo, radiation, and surgeries. I coped as best as I could, but knew things were different. The side effects were everywhere. When it returned locally (so still Stage II), there was no turning back from countless surgeries, fear of recurrence and major side effects that continue to plague me. The most recent is intercostal nerve damage from breast surgeries and/or radiation from recostruction of a radiated breast. Hard to find solution, avoiding certain meds because they don’t work and they make me feel funny, and hard to find treatment or anyone capable of specialized injections that can work won’t take my super expensive insurance. I’m not complaining as so many friends have to constantly continue treatment forever because of mets. Yet the nesting goes with many aspects of this disease at all stages.
Thanks for your comment Susan – I still feel the pull of nesting. In fact as I type this, I’ve made a little nest for myself with a blanket and cushions on my sofa 😉
My inclination at first was also to get right back on the horse. And then I was slammed with fatigue, forced to cut my work hours way back, and eventually crawled back to the 30 hours a week I now work. I think you have to constantly juggle things to find balance. Fatigue forced me to curtail so much activity, even while I was struggling to work those 30 hours a week, I’ve tried very hard to reclaim some of my social life. But my job is intense, yet I need to pay the bills, and apart from a few weeks off here and there, it’s hard to catch a break. What I’ve had to do to compensate is to limit my social media time, and my blogging time, so I can spend more time doing things that are completely unattached from cancer, like gardening, drawing, etc. to keep my sanity. I try to do a little nesting every day, which helps. Great post, Marie. xo, Kathi
Such good advice Kathi. We can learn so much from each other’s heard-earned wisdom x
I so relate!
I relate to this a lot. I talk about how some people have failed me post cancer, but in a way, I’ve changed too. I’ve distanced myself and there’s a reason for it. I am recharging my spirit in order to reclaim my life back. I am still at it, after 5 years. Wonder if I’ve let myself sank into this reality I am facing. Maybe I like it this way and that has to be OK. I think for me it has more to do with recreating a new environment for myself and not welcoming things I used to, because I am mentally and physically too tired to deal with it all. It’s another layer of burden.
Hi Rebecca, I love that phrase you use of recharging my spirit in order to reclaim my life back – I wonder if we ever really do reclaim that life back? For me it’s been over ten years since my diagnosis – can’t quite believe it’s been that long – and there are aspects of that old life that are gone forever. Take good care of yourself x
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I loved this article. I totally get the wanting to hide away. But I think I’m a combination of both ways of thinking. I’d love to just sit on my couch all day and recover alone. But, at the same time, I’m eager to take control over my life and make changes happen. But I can’t do both. But I’m starting to try to think about what I want the rest of my life to look like. I’m thinking about projects I can do. Lessons I want to take. I don’t know if I can make it all happen, though. At the same time, I’d like to just run away from everything.
Does this rambling make sense?
I can relate to the nesting, but at the same time want to create a bucket list of essential things I’d like to do in the relatively short time I have remaining. It is a balancing act in the end, for sure..
Jan, it’s so lovely to see you here again and thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic – you are right, it’s a balancing act for sure.
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