August 26, 2010


It's been one hell of a bumpy night -- almost twelve months since I went to Dr. Training Bra, aka Baby Doc, aka the doc-in-a-box to ask for a Nicotrol prescription. First time I ever met a so-called doctor (I think her M.D. came from the kind of school that used to advertise on matchbook covers.) who didn't jump all over the chance to stop a patient from smoking.

I thought I had a smoker's cough. Not so much. More like cancer. Lymphoma: two surgeries, one splitting my breastbone in two, followed by six rounds of "aggressive" chemotherapy, and now, well, now this -- this limbo, this sense that I am not who I was but I don't know who I will become.

It's a scary place to be. People congratulate me on having gone through chemo with flying colors, and physically, maybe I did. Mentally? Did I have any time or energy to think about what I was doing? Oh, all that is hitting me as I write. Months of mental processes ignored, shelved to make room for what was medically necessary.

Post-traumatic stress disorder: another item on the you've-got-cancer list that I did not find out about until I reached that stage, which is now. NOW. It's like a bad record playing over and over in my head. I went through something huge and awful, and while I'm technically on the other side of it, now is when it feels horrible in a way I couldn't have exposed myself while I was spending seven hours a week tied to an IV drip.

That tether was, in fact, my lifeline. Now I'm free of it, yet I don't quite feel that way. One major casualty of my dance with cancer was my relationship with the Artist, for which I am very sorry. My emotional plate far too full for so long that only my longstanding -- 20+ years -- friends have been able to make it through, to varying degrees, with me.

I get nervous and scared and shaky in an instant. The only comparable emotion in my repertoire is grief. The solution on which I am living is, take extra Xanax. Make phone calls, even in tears. I'm going to need help finding my feet, much less getting back on them.

When you are grieving, you alternate between different states of being, subject to change without notice. Some days are fine; some days, you are bereft. You don't know what to make of anything when you are in the throes of grief, and that is as close as I can get to describing how I feel.

Which end is up?


Blogger the only daughter said...

It's a scary place to be. People congratulate me on having gone through chemo with flying colors, and physically, maybe I did. Mentally? Did I have any time or energy to think about what I was doing?

Pondering, more like haunted, by this point especially as relates to what my mother endures and how it affects her thought processes.

Recovery wears many different skins.


4:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Alice,

What you are feeling is a common reaction, though it's not often a topic of open discussion. As you've experienced, most people who have never gone through such a thing do not want to talk about it once what they perceive as the worst is past.

Recovery is not only physical, though many people see it that way. They often want to run away from talking about it any further because it taps into their fears about their own mortality.

My suggestion to you would be to first find a support group that focuses on the positive aspects of this experience (such as gratitude for being alive, the help and support you received, and so on), and then on how to rebuild one's life, find out who you are now on the other side.

Allow yourself to grieve for that "other you," but do not wallow in it. That will serve no purpose. Stay away from any groups, or persons, who promote this state of mind.

It will only bring you down, keep you down, and it will suppress your immune system.

If you did not feel you were a changed a person after this, I would be surprised, and not a little concerned.

In addition to the support group (or, a good therapist, if you can't find a group--or start a group of your own), I would recommend performing random acts of kindness.

This may seem a stretch, but it will help. At best, these acts should be anonymous, but most importantly they should be done with the single intent of helping someone else, with not one iota of a thought of what you get out of it.

Having gone through a similar experience, and continuing to cope with it on a daily basis years after the "worst," I can tell you it will make a difference.

Finding your footing now will probably not happen overnight, so be patient.

My personal take on things is that any day where I wake up is a good day. Everything after that is icing on the cake.

2:46 PM  

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