The Life in a Day

I looked up at the calendar hanging in my office the other day, and noticed that the Quote of the Month was this:

"One should count each day a separate life." - SENECA
Now, the calendar went on to question the person sitting in front of it. Does this mean that the morning is our youth and the evening our old age? Or does it mean we should get the most out of each day? Maybe both. I guess that would explain why I get so tired at night sometimes. I'm apparently an old lady already.

I was listening to NPR the other day, and Evan Handler was on, discussing his book, It's Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive. His first book was about his illness, this one is about his survival. He was speaking about how felt he had told "Hallmark- type" stories in the most "un-Hallmark" way possible. His latest book, in his words, is about "...the guy who is lucky to be alive but still takes a long time and struggles to find the kind of gratitude and contentment that he believes life should hold for him. And that’s largely because I think there is truth to those stories and I think they have wider application than to just the cancer community because everyone struggles with issues of gratitude and whether they are getting enough out of their life." He went on to say that it might be helpful for other people to read about someone who had his life nearly taken away that still struggles with that stuff.

I suppose it's strangely comforting to know that we all deal with that stuff.

He also said, "I think denial of death is a healthy thing. Human beings are geared and wired to thrive through denying death rather than coming to a clear acceptance of it so it is very difficult to incorporate finality into your every day life. "

Perhaps that's part of what has gotten me through all this. My refusal to accept finality into my every day life. I think that way of thinking is a phenomenon that is fairly unique to Western culture, though.

Anyhow, May has been slow in terms of writing. We've still been running, and so many times, I find myself composing miscellaneous entries in my mind. By the time I actually get home, shower, eat, go to work, plod through the needs of the day, and decide to write something - most of the undoubtedly brilliant thoughts have left my mind. I know I started this as a way to explore and somewhat chronicle my journey, but as I have the current and wonderful hiatus from most things cancer and chemo, save the every-three-weeks blood draw and infusion (yawn), could it be that my usefulness for this site has waned as well? I don't know. I know that sometimes when I'd like to write, or to vent - I need to consider my potential audience. Or, more accurately, I need to consider that this is a public blog and I have no idea who my potential audience might be. Far too often, this leaves me in the position of not writing at all. So it goes.

I've been sucked up into work needs, and visitors' needs, and the upcoming golf tournament for the 3-Day. Not to mention the trip back east in June and all the things to look forward to coupled with all the things that stress me out that go along with it. Add to that my still dripping eyes, traffic school for the unfortunate red light camera incident, and the fact that I find that my body may have changed on me with this menopause thing - who has the time to write. I suppose that time is what you make of it though.

It was an interesting day at Desert Oncology today. I went in, armed with my bottle of water, my Ativan, my book, and yesterday's crossword puzzle. I decided not to look down, for once, in the waiting room, and ended up talking to two other women, both with scarves on their heads. My sheep's-ass-looking hairdo is a dead post-chemo giveaway, so each one of them had asked me about various side effects, and about my experiences. One by one they were called back to the doctor's side, and I waved goodbye and wished them well. Then it was my turn for the chemo suite.

The nurse that brought me back (whose name I have forgotten and I heard her telling someone else that her name tag was probably on the floorboard of her truck) complimented my hair and said I should keep it short. Yeah... it's not my favorite, but beggars can't be choosers and I'll take the mess I've got over having none at all.

As I settled in, I looked over the blood work on my chart. Not a single factor out of range. (silent cheer) I then looked at the ever-present brown sheets that contain the "Progress Reports" dictated by the doctor. Generally, they are pretty similar. "Patient offers no complains, tolerating therapy well." and other pleasantries like that. Today though, I was interested to see what the last notes said. This one I think I'll frame and hang on the wall next to the 2004 print of the Red Sox winning the World Series after 86 years.

A: (which I can assume is for Assessment and not Amazing or Ass) Stage IV Carcinoma of the breast, disease free, doing remarkably well.

Sheer poetry. Disease free. Remarkable.

Wow. Of course I asked the nurse to make me a copy for enlargement and framing purposes. I haven't exactly run it past Greg that I'd like to replace the Kandinsky in the living room with Cavalcant's latest brown paper.

So, Debbie found a happy vein in one stick, I took my Tylenol, got my book out, accepted a blanket, and settled in for the next couple of hours. Until a woman came in and sat in the chair next to me. She was smiling and joking and while Debbie started her IV, and was asking her some questions, she was talking about how she felt like a caged animal. That she had all this energy and restlessness that she didn't know what to do with. And then she started crying. She said that she was OK until she got into that room, and then she got so scared all the time. So very scared. She said she was always the strong one. That people had always looked to her for strength, and that she's never allowed her husband to come with her to any of the treatments. That she has tried to keep on keeping on, without giving herself a chance to feel very much. As I listened to her, I politely (yes, really) butted in and said, "It's OK. Believe it or not, you're normal." I told her a little about my experiences and that one of the biggest lessons I had learned from my first go-round is that I needed to give myself the time to feel. And to mourn. And to heal. She said how she felt that things were going so well that she felt that she wasn't entitled to feel the things she was feeling, and I told her, whether or not it made a difference, that not only was she entitled, but that if she didn't allow herself to feel these things, they'd catch up with her later. I told her that it IS a big scary thing, no matter how smoothly the treatments go. It's real, and it's scary, and it's yours. It also doesn't mean that it's not going to be OK. We talked for a little while - mostly I let her talk - and she thanked me, more than once, for listening. Before she left, she had also called her counsellor to make an appointment, and spoke to the nurses about increasing her anti-depressant dosage a little. And she thanked me, again. I don't know. Maybe it was one of those instances that I was supposed to be in that place to provide a bit of comfort to someone who had the same feelings I have experienced. I don't know if I'll ever know if my being there helped, but I reminded her that just because she is always optimistic, doesn't mean she can't be scared. It's been a hard lesson to learn....

I'm still learning.

Stan and Darlene also showed up today. He was missing some more hair, but it had been replaced by some of his old spunk. He was laughing and joking and giving people a hard time - more so than he had in a while. She told me that last scan showed that things were stable, and had even shrunk a bit. Battle on, Stan. Battle on.

I always want things to make sense, when often times, they simply don't. I want to know the why and there wherefore of too many things. However, in all this randomness, I think the moral of the story is that there is no moral, just life.

For however long we have it.


    "for however long we have it"

    you know...yeah.

    i've kind of battled telling you this story because i know that you're really a private person, but i decided to tell you anyway.

    so. I was talking to this girl (another artist) who I've known for about a year, and who sometimes shows art too, and she asked how the breast cancer walk went. And I told her how it went, and how and why I got involved with it, and about you, and about how you're doing, and how it sucked that it happened to you so young, and it being Stage IV, and etc.

    And when I was done and she said goodbye, I remembered that this girl (now 30 and she shares the same birthday as me) has Cystic Fibrosis, and is "lucky" to still be alive at 30, and that she's battled knowing her days are going to come to an end at a younger age than an older one, and then it made me realize (again, for the gazillionth time) that yeah, life is always tenuous. For all of us. Whether we've been diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, or were born with Cystic Fibrosis, or had the misfortune of living in Myanmar or China right about now.

    And it makes me really grateful for the now that I have.

    and um...

    hi. I lost my train of thought. see? chemo brain can happen to even non chemo brained people.

    anyway? i love you. and i'm glad you're part of my life.

    Hey Voo, one thing I've learned throughout this process is that if my story or my experiences can help someone else or help spread awareness, I'm all for it, private or not. That's one of the greatest things I've learned from that husband of mine throughout this process - that I have something to share and that there are people that need to hear it. And in case I haven't mentioned it lately, I'm very glad you are a part of my life, too.

    HOWEVER, you can't claim chemo brain, just old age. AND, I'm still not convinced that my days are going to come to an end at a younger age than an older one. :) xo

    Am blog surfing for other breast cancer/ chemo patient blogs and came across yours- loved the comments on this post too. Hope you are well.

    On May 18, 2008 at 5:47 PM lisa said...

    Can I just say that you have yet to post on this blog that it doesn't move me........

    I love you!

    I'm doing our local breast cancer walk on June 1st with your name on my back.