So, I was forced to take an extended vacation from MMF, but wanted to write a little bit about what’s been going on in my life for all of you readers, it may be a good release...
This past July I went to a concert with a coworker a few hours away from home. I had a headache for most of the night which was only exacerbated by our heavy drinking and loud music. By the next morning I felt worse, and due to the insistence of my colleague, I visited the doctor that afternoon. He said that he thought I had a bad cold/sinus infection, which seemed perfectly legit given my symptoms---the prescription: lots of fluids and lots of rest. So began my summer, the cold turned to a pneumonia which required hospitalization, then the news that it wasn’t pneumonia but a rare bacterial infection that was attacking my heart and lungs. I’ve seen my doctor on a weekly basis since then for check-ups, blood counts, and PICC line maintenance which was placed to administer the antibiotics to combat the infection.
About 2 months ago, I arrived at the doctor’s office for the biweekly visit. We chatted for a brief period about his children, my work. But the conversation grew serious when he explained that he was referring my care to another physician. An oncologist. My most recent blood work had indicated a severe drop in my red blood cell count, and the scans had confirmed that I had cancerous lesions in my cervix. Many appointments, opinions, and scans later, I learned that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, and have been prepared for the possibility of a radical hysterectomy and mastectomy. It’s amazing how life can change so drastically in one second.
I find my telling of this series of events to be very matter of fact, but that’s how it happened. At that time it was too soon to digest the information, too soon to process the potential repercussions. I have read many personal accounts of people’s reactions to hearing that they had cancer, and I have been present when doctors have broken the devastating news to the parents of my young patients. I have witnessed families crumble, fall into a heap on the floor when they receive the news. The C-word immediately brings forth to the mind images of pain, of suffering, of potential death. I have seen families immediately turn from rational individuals to those on a tirade, an angry outrage. They are mad at the doctors for breaking the news, mad at themselves for not recognizing the invisible symptoms. My reaction was quite different, nothing like I would have expected it to be. I was actually relieved. After spending months in and out of the hospital, with the number of potential diagnoses matching the number of hospital stays, I was relieved to finally know what it was that was attacking my body.
That’s not to say that the anger, the sadness, and the questions didn’t come later, because they did, and they did so in a hurry. And in a way, I feel like there was some array of grief there as well. We tend to think of grief as pertaining to a great loss, particularly the loss or perceived loss of a person. But the difference between grief and sadness is that there’s nowhere to hide from grief. There’s no stepping around it, no one person can take you out of it, and it’s impossible to divert one’s attention from it. Any attempts to fill the space with meaningless tasks of daily living are only thwarted by this overwhelming feeling of stagnancy. The world keeps zip zipping along while you can’t unravel your mind from that source of grief long enough to do the dishes, let alone participate in any opportunities to experience joy.
With all that said, I am grieving for my loss of control, for the way that this disease dictates my life. I see 2-3 doctors a week, one to manage my blood transfusions, one to manage my cancer, another to manage my sanity. My work schedule is dependent upon my energy level, which is for the most part depleted from toxic medications.
I am grieving for the complete loss of control over my body. My hair may fall out, eyelashes and eyebrows too. I may be faced with the decision of whether or not to have my breasts removed, my uterus. I’m scared for the day when I look in the mirror and see no resemblance of myself, and furthermore, no resemblance of a woman. There is something growing in me, I can feel it, I can even see it on scans, and I can’t stop it.
I am grieving the loss of the person I was before cancer, and am aware that there will forever be an invisible line separating B.C. and A.C.--- before cancer and after cancer. That line has transformed once easy conversations into something unnatural. It has turned my relationships with others into something unnatural as well. Friends now look at me with weepy eyes, people ask with urgency if I’m O.K. after I cough.
The best analogy I can make to this feeling is encompassed in a quote from Grey’s Anatomy (I know it’s trash but it’s my guilty pleasure). For those of you who watch, it is from the episode after Denny dies when Izzy is explaining her feelings to Meredith in the bathroom: “there’s all this pressure cause everyone’s hovering around me waiting for me to do something or say something or flip out, or yell or cry some more, and I’m happy to play my part. I’m happy to say the lines and do whatever it is that I’m suppose to be doing if it will make everyone feel more comfortable. But I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to be this person; I don’t know who this person is.”
It has been 2 months since my doctor first told me that I have cancer. I expected that the shock of the news would wear off by now, but then again, I had expected that things would have resolved themselves by now. The initial “relief” that I experienced has long since passed. I continually look for some meaning in all of this, but find none. I have no more clarity than I did then; the uncertainty is still just as overwhelming. But I am committed to this fight. I will do whatever it takes. I will survive this. I have doubts about many things in my life, but I have no doubt about that.
Friday, November 03, 2006