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Friday, January 29, 2010

"I wouldn't trade it for anything...."

Erm, yeh. That's what a breast cancer "survivor" encouraged me with recently.

Let me pause and warn you that I will be using profanity heavily in this entry.
First of all, I could probably write an entire entry on the term "survivor." People--clearly not enough--survived concentration camps, and odds were with them that they would never go back to one. People survive serious car accidents and rarely plan on having others. Sure, they happen, but it's not expected. People survive natural disasters, and if they are able to and concerned enough, might choose to relocate so as to eliminate the risk of that particular disaster affecting them again. For instance, if I were worried about hurricanes, I'd probably move to Michigan if I could. Yes, certainly, a blizzard or tornado might get me, but I'd be safe from hurricanes.
However, to "survive" cancer is something different. Or at least with many of the more serious cancers it is. Surviving simply means "it hasn't killed me yet" and "I made it through that treatment." I'm not saying cancer is the death sentence it once was, or at least many cancers aren't. Mine certainly isn't. But I also can't move to Michigan. Once you've had cancer, you might be able to move from New Orleans to Tampa, but either place has been hit more than once by hurricanes. You still have to pack in water, pack up your paper valuables into waterproof containers, and keep an eye on the weather. Thank god for weather reporters. No, seriously, once you've had cancer, your weather reporters are those blood tests, check ups, medications, scans, MRIs, xrays...all of those let you know if something is brewing in the Gulf, and then you keep an eye on it, batten down the hatches, check your insurance policies, suck it up, and say, "If necessary, we can rebuild...."
Aw, hell. I am writing an entire entry on the word survivor.
But here's what I really wanted to discuss: the bonus of cancer.
Which I think is pure, utter bullshit.
This woman was encouraging me by telling me she "wouldn't change it for anything." Cancer was a wonderful thing in her life. It blah blah blah blah blah....
Certainly, everyone's experience is different. Nonetheless, there is a premium on finding this experience beneficial. And today, I think I figured out why so many of us fall into the "oh my gosh, my life positively sucked until I had cancer" trap.
Because, during treatment, you can either find something good or life sucks even worse. And if you talk too much about the suck, you sound whiny, even when there probably isn't much good to talk about.
For instance, today, I, in general, felt pretty good. I had good energy (crazy some people might think since I was organizing closets). I only had fleeting moments of nausea. I even sat in a different spot on the couch than the one I've been camped out on for nearly 6 months. All in all, a good day. And that's what I'd tell people.
Except, along with feeling good, there were those moments of nausea. There was the time when I realized I really just couldn't stand any more and I had to sit down. There's the constant neuropathy, which may or may not go away in the future. Or it may or may not get worse in the future. There's the fact that these tissue expanders are a wonder of science and medicine, and at the same time feel like I'm wearing a bra 24/7. I have always hated wearing a bra. I've especially always hated those times I've had to sleep in a bra. Yippee!!!! Maybe only 6 months of bra sleeping ahead of me.....seriously, what the hell? Need I even talk about the chemo brain, which I know I bitch about way too much as it is.
So, it's either talk about the benefits of cancer....good friends, love, support, personal growth, spiritual growth (how do those two things differ, anyway?), physical changes, dietary changes, blah blah blah blah....
But cut me a fucking break...I'd fucking trade cancer for just about anything. Never experience cancer or never eat chocolate brainer. Cancer vs. home. Home is where the heart is, baby. Since I'll be exposing my heart to high levels of radiation in a few weeks and am currently exposing it to cardiotoxic drugs, that seems like a no-brainer, too. Cancer vs. Family? That's a little tougher. I can't wish away what I already have, in that case. I mean, how would I choose (JUST KIDDING!!!!!). But cancer is doing a trip on my family anyway. I'd love to say we'll be better, tighter, closer, more loving when this is all over. If we don't kill each other or end up on the psych rolls in the meanwhile. Cancer v. money. Wish it were that easy. We'd just started crawling out of a financial hole, and now, slam our standard of living has dropped dramatically, and probably will not rebound from this. Cancer v. stability? I can't even imagine what a "stable" life would mean at this point. It's gone. We will live in fear of me losing my job until I do. We will live in fear of losing our health insurance for ever. So, stability isn't even something I could trade on if I wanted to. I'd take instability any day and no cancer. I'm used to instability and uncertainty.
I know I've harped on this many times before, and I don't know why the happy-face attitude gets under my skin. I'm certainly a pro at it, myself. And that's the attitude we all have to have to get through each day, each treatment, each moment of feeling like shit.
But I really don't think I'll ever be better off because of cancer. And I'm sure I'll return to this theme numerous times in the next few months. Would I trade the perky boobies I'm sure I'll have some day (perky boobies that move, that is, as opposed to my cement boobies now) for chemo? Erm...probably not. Maybe one session? Easy to say that now because I know I can survive the weeks after one infusion. But certainly not 6 or 10 infusions.
But looking on the bright side (because if I don't, I would then just have to put a plastic bag over my head, huff some glue, and then go to bed)....
Fuck, there really isn't a bright side.
Good things are coming out of this, because people are working so hard to make them happen, and for those, I am eternally grateful.
Otherwise, cancer would really, really suck.


Pancake Goddess said...

what kinds of neuropathy symptoms are you having? It's one of my grandfather's issues - agony for him sometimes.

dawn, I've been thinking a lot about this because you mentioned it to me before. The particular dharma stuff I'm studying right now has a very big component of "join everything (good, shitty and neutral) to the path." In other words, share the joy, use the pain to grow compassion. I find this pretty doable.

The other part I don't do well is having gratitude for suffering because otherwise there's nothing to train with. I don't really do this except in hindsight. But, in the end, either I want to live comfy or I want to evolve, in which case I need some resistance to work with. I'm choosing comfy about 85% of the time, when I get to choose.

I also think I do better when I get pitched one crisis at a time. Multiples seem unfair. Foul.

I really hope I'm not just saying more of what annoys you. Our local friend with breast cancer said the exact same thing in our local paper when she was interviewed. She talked about others who have found their cancer to be a blessing and she said, me, not so much.

oh, here is that article

dawn said...

I'll ponder this and get back to you, Amy. As it stands, I think this is one reason I'm not a buddhist. It's too dang hard.

dawn said...

There are many parallels, Amy, between my treatments and Colbert's (I'm assuming she pronounces the t on the end of her name...that now seems so odd to me).

I sometimes wonder what sad lives some people-- who find the goodness of cancer--must lead. I've been wonderfully blessed, helped, tended to, supported, and encouraged by all of my friends. My family certainly is eating well, people have volunteered to step in and help with medical appointments, I have friends helping with housework, volunteers to help with kids' homework, etc. And I know they've all helped others, too, as have I. And it makes me sad to think of living without such wonderful people in my life.

Pancake Goddess said...

lol, yea, she pronounces the T. You don't strike me as someone who doesn't try things that are hard. Not that I care whether you ever practice Buddhism. Still, it's an ideal, not an expectation. It's your innate potential.

dawn said...

I'mstill mulling this over. There's something to be said about needing the difficult times to learn to rise above and refine oneself. I really do believe that without pain there is no gain, but I also think the expectation that we wil all be giddily happy about all of this is a crock of shit. I see two ends of the "i'm becoming a better person from this" spectrum.

Maybe I'd liken it to if we aren't going to become better by engaging in an activity, then we should probably rethink the activity, and if you have to deal with something you wouldn't choose, you should figure out a way to accept it and grow. But you still don't have to like it. Or be happy about it. And anger about it can also be productive.

I'd love to practice Buddhism. I just suck at practice;)