Survivor Frustration

“Hey Mrs. Sluiter. Remember how you weren’t here on the first day of school because you were doing chemo and you had a video for us and there was a sub and you were bald?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Because I just remembered that was how the year started. It seems so long ago. I actually forgot about all the cancer stuff. Plus you have hair now and it seems like you always did.”

It’s been a really long, weird year for me.

In April, I passed the year mark from when I found out I had breast cancer. This week is the year mark from when I had it removed.

I’m living in a weird place. I feel weird in the body I’m in–most days I don’t like how I look, particularly where my hair is concerned. But then I feel guilty because at least I’m alive, right? Better to not love how I look and being living, right?

School has been a challenge this year. With so much going on in my personal life, I haven’t been as patient with my students. I know I haven’t been my best teaching self this year. I have long lists of things I would like to improve on for next year and at the top of my list is patience with my students because they deserve that from me.

I’m trying to be kind to myself. If a friend told me she was frustrated with her job performance and her looks, and she had gone through chemo and radiation and a had a child at home with high needs, I would look at her and tell her to be kind to herself. It’s just one school year.

Why can’t I do that for myself?

Why do I tell myself that I should be “over” the cancer treatment? Whenever my brain still feels clouded, or I don’t do as well on an assignment as I thought, or I read critical feedback on a piece, I am so hard on myself. My first reaction is to flip my computer off the table and walk away from all of it. I’m not good enough for grad school or writing for publication. Who do I think I am?

It can’t still be the chemo or radiation, right? That is DONE.

But I am told, there are probably still effects.

That is so frustrating.

Whenever I look in the mirror I get so unreasonably crabby at hair and weight gain. I’m on estrogen blockers that make my previous antidepressant not quite as effective, so I’ve had an additional AD added. I am not the healthiest eater in the world, but even when I try to be, the weight just sticks to me. I feel like a potato with legs and short hair.

(No, I do not want to try your Keto Plexus 30 Days of Sandpaper that you sell. I’m sure it’s great for you, but no thank you).

If one of my friends told me this, I would have a hard time not slapping her into reality. My husband, friends, and even students tell me I am beautiful and look great. Why can I not see that? Why am I suddenly avoiding the camera?

Since the very beginning of all of this, the advice that keeps coming is “be kind to yourself.”

I feel like that has been a fail for me. Others (Cortney) are very good at taking care of me and directing me to sleep, drink water, take a break, but I am not good at doing that for myself. I am not good at being easy on myself when it comes to deadlines and treating my effort with compassion.

I am mean to myself because I am frustrated.

I’m frustrated with my looks. I want my hair to grow faster. I want to have better habits (but I also don’t want to not eat and drink what I love–please don’t give me advice on this).

I am frustrated with my work and school performance. I know I do a good job, but it’s not the job I feel like I can do. I feel like I am just surviving and not thriving.

I’m frustrated with all the commitments. So many appointments for me, for Charlie, and then the regular stuff like dentist appointments for the other kids. There is no time.

I am frustrated with my time management. When I do have time, I just want to take a nap. Even though I have a whole LIST of things I want to do around here.

And because of all of this, I am frustrated with myself for being so frustrated with myself.

I’m not really sure how to un-frustrate myself. I’m hoping that when school ends at the end of the month, I can turn over a new leaf in self-care and self-acceptance. But I don’t really know what that looks like.

About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.


  1. <3 I really hope the summer break helps rejuvenate you! But you know what, feel frustrated, be frustrated, you know this is a phase and you know it will change. I mean, heck you have hair now, right??? 🙂 You got this. One day at a time.

  2. You are human. You can be frustrated. You don’t have to know how not to be right now. Just ride it out….you’re a Wonder Woman.

  3. For what it’s worth, I went through a very different but horribly painful stretch last year. I just came across my bullet journals from that period and NOW I can be compassionate to myself. So this is the slog, and then it gets a bit better, and then hopefully you can look back and say, “Of COURSE I felt like crap about everything. I EARNED that.”

    Also, I just saw a picture of myself with approximately 14 chins, and I completely get the combined feeling of “This is not how I want to look,” and “Eff off with your diet advice.”