Archive | June, 2011

What’s wrong with me(n)?

Until July 24

Since poking my head up into the cancer blogosphere, I’ve been looking about a bit, reading blog posts here, there and everywhere. It’s been a grim revelation to see and hear the emotional pain that can accompany cancer.

And, I’m sorry to report, how often men are the wellspring of much of that pain.

No, I’m not saying all men. There are uncountable numbers of men out there who are loving and supportive caregivers all. You can read that in the blogosphere, too: In toting up her cancer blessings, Nicole, larynx cancer, thanked from her heart, Don, my husband — industrial strength, flawless diamond support and escort service for all my treatment needs. My indefatigable rock, he always finds a way to time his jokes when I’m not trying to swallow.

But there is a Guy Thing out there, make no mistake, and I did not set out to find it. I was merely skimming posts, literally just looking out the window while on my cancer journey. And this is what I saw:

A woman with breast cancer, metastasis to her lungs: Don’t know how I’m going to find the strength to do everything I need to do to get rid of this cancer & still work full time which is what my husband seems to think I need to do 😦

A woman with ovarian cancer, in her 40s: Facing a second recurrence, and I am terrified right now. My mother died 18 months ago, after an 11-month bout with OC. Then my father passed away nine months ago of heart failure. So I already had grief and stress in my life, plus my main source of comfort and support is gone. My former husband was not the best of support, but our marriage ended five months before my mother died. So I am crushed at the daunting prospect of going through treatment again.

Another woman with breast cancer: I’m so depressed. I don’t know if it’s my cancer, my new fake breasts, my nasty husband or just life…. I hate my new nipple-less fake breasts, they don’t feel like a part of me and my marriage has fallen apart because my husband refuses to be a part of my cancer afterlife. He won’t touch me, he hates me and wants the old me back.

A woman with stage 4 kidney cancer: My relationship fell apart because of cancer. He couldn’t come to terms with it, and I got tired of the guilt of focussing on my self.

And then I recalled the lady on a Survivor Panel, June 26, 2010, “Moving Beyond Cancer to Wellness” at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center here in Seattle. She had been diagnosed with lymphoma, I believe, and the prognosis had not been good.

“My husband came to me one day and said, ‘I’ll take care of the kids, but I can’t handle your cancer.’” She then explained that there was no way she was going to put her husband, her children and herself through the stresses and pains of divorce only to…die. However justifiable a divorce might have been, she just wasn’t going to cause a family wreck and then leave the scene. (What a classy lady, I thought then, and I think so still.)

She finished her remarks about cancer’s impact on families and then came the Q and A. Someone in the audience finally asked about the elephant in the room: “What became of your marriage?”

“When I realized I was going to live,” she answered, “we separated.”

Today: Cancer 1, Bill 0

When it's nice in Seattle, it's *really* nice.

First off: This is not a complaint. It’s a simple illustration, a sketch — maybe even just a scratchpad doodle — of the ways in which cancer is always a companion, calling attention to its unwanted self. A reminder that cancer is a grift that keeps on grifting.

It’s a warm, sunny day here in Seattle, and I’m inside in bed.

During a routine check-up, my dentist had observed an unusual spot on my tongue and some sun damage on my lower lip. A second cancer? A distant outpost of the first? She wanted someone to look at it all, maybe even do a biopsy. So off to the specialist yesterday for a look-see, and back to him at 7 this a.m. for the biopsy and some laser treatment. Heavy sedation, stitches, pain killers — sleep it off.

I’m judging it was a difficult call for the oral surgeon. The areas in question presented themselves pretty much as non-threatening. He thought in silence and finally began his conclusion: “With your history…”

My cancer. And neither one of us would take a chance: There would be no spin of the cosmic roulette wheel, no hopeful gamble that the ball would drop into a No Cancer pocket. So we’d do the biopsy and the laser, and I’ll heal. But when the biopsy results come back, we’ll know, not hope.

No, I’m not whining or grousing. I’m just still discovering how cancer works. In the larger scheme of cancer and others’ circumstances, a twist like this is No Big Deal. It’s nano-to-micro.

But that’s how cancer works: Its affects on life come in all sizes.

Sticky Note #1

Throughout my cancer journey, I’ve made mental and physical notes to myself about cancer, about people with cancer, about my cancer. They’re random, casual and brief — almost all would fit on a sticky note. This is my first sticky note.

Early on after my cancer diagnosis, Kristina, a friend then in a courageous contest with breast cancer, advised, “Don’t get caught in the Calendar Game” — that bell curve of statistics that seeks to bracket the X and Y of years of probable longevity. “Those numbers include all kinds of people,” Kristina said. “Focus on your disease, your treatment and your health.” I’ve always thought that was sound advice: There are people in those numbers with multiple health problems, people who never took care of themselves, people who don’t follow their doc’s advice, and on and on. They become part of the odds, and probabilities, and chances. It’s about all, not about you. Or me.

Focus on your disease, your treatment and your health.

The HAY Question

It happened again.

A very close friend asked, “How are you?”

“I’m fine.”

“No,” he said. “How are you.” Oh, my cancer.

And a cousin wrote, “I signed up for your blog, and it’s very informative, but sometimes I can’t get a real sense of how you are doing.” They’re certainly not the first to ask, and I doubt they’ll be the last. So here goes.

I’ve been open (blatantly so) that I’m Stage 4, and that there is no Stage 5. But within my staging, there’s a cancer continuum that arcs from where I am all the way out and beyond the horizon to hospice. I’m classified Stage 4 because of lymph node involvement, a tiny tumor in each of two lymph nodes (out of 13) sampled at surgery. Regional metastasis, I believe it’s called. It’s that serious, and it’s that simple.

Physically, I’m fine. I’m active, and I feel great — no aches, no pains, no masses burgeoning within me to make life uncomfortable. When my calendar’s not full, it’s busy. On any given day, I feel like a healthy 67-year-old who goes to the gym for a vigorous workout. I take no meds related to cancer, and I live a ‘normal’ life, traveling hither and yon, unimpeded by my cancer. I’m soon off to Peru and then Sri Lanka.

Life goes on even as more hormone therapy and radiation await. They’re in queue not because I’m in dire straits but because I’m being aggressive — early and often — in kicking cancer’s ass. Prostate cancer has an affinity for bone when it metastasizes, and my April 27 bone scan came back clean. But, like about 99.9 per cent of cancer fighters, I get fatigued — not so bad now as when I was on hormone therapy. Back then, somewhere around 4 each afternoon, I’d fall off a cliff. Fatigue just comes with the territory, whether the territory is cancer or cancer treatment.

Bottom line: To be with me day in, day out, you’d never react, OMG, Bill’s ill! I make plans, sometimes quite far out, and I buy green bananas, sometimes quite green.

Mentally, I think my head’s screwed on straight. I accept the fact I have cancer — I’d rather not have it, but I accept that it’s my new normal, and I don’t waste time/energy/life being angry about it or wishing it weren’t so. It is so. I had two best buddies, Al and Bill, both killed in their 20s, and I’ve often thought they’d love to be my age and have a good case of prostate cancer. That gives me perspective on life and puts my cancer in its place.

I try to focus on enjoying life, enjoying my family and friends and doing all I can to counter the cancer within me. Oh, and getting as much good out of my cancer experience as I can (and there is good to be had, make no mistake).

I confess to three really bad head days — all of which occurred while I was on hormone therapy: From out of the blue came black. I just fell into a black hole, and that’s the only way I can describe it. A black hole. How, why — who knows? Each time, I spent about a day in the black hole. Twice I climbed out by watching the movie “Rocky” (see the Yo, Adrian post below), and once, I just had to have a little talk with Bill.

Bottom line: It is what it is, and I’m dealing with it as best I can, given who I am. There’s no training or preparation for cancer. One day, someone just hands it to you, and you begin the process of figuring out how you’re going to handle it — the where and how it fits into your life and into your mind. Stoically, I’ve never even been tempted to ask, Why me?

Although I have mused, Why not me?