Life Defined by Cancer

For the last week or so, I have woken up during the night with hiccups. I have no idea why. Last night was particularly bad, though, as I woke up every hour or so. But during one of those ‘awake’ moments, I had a realization; for the past four months, my life has been defined by my cancer.

Most of my waking moments have been spent dealing with things having to do with cancer; insurance companies, appointments, chemotherapy, chemo side effects, and on and on. Fatigue and other side effects have severely curtailed the activities I thought I would be enjoying in my retirement. I spend time reading blogs of other cancer patients; reading research papers; looking for more promising research. And I have decided that I’m sick of allowing cancer to define my life. I feel as if I’m waking up from a dazed existence that began with those fateful words, ‘you have cancer’, and have continued ever since. No more. I’m taking back my life – I should have done this a while ago but needed the realization of what’s happening to be able to redefine myself.

Cancer isn’t disappearing from my life any time soon. It will always be there in some form, even when I show no evidence of disease. Cancer is insidious and can reappear at any time, or spread somewhere else. What matters now is that I intend to enjoy life more and put cancer on the back burner for now. I will deal with it as I have to, but I no longer want it to define me; I will define it. I have to make some allowances for fatigue, chemo brain, nausea, etc., but I will no longer make them my focus. They are there and will be there for a while. My focus is now on me and my life and my activities. I’m outlining my days based on what I wanted to do for my retirement regardless of what else is going on. I will write. I will go out and take pictures. I will play with our dogs. I will spend time with my partner. I will work in the yard and enjoy my flowers – when I have them. I will define my own life.

 

What price life

I can understand why some people decide to stop chemo and let cancer take its course. Chemo can be brutal, even the ones with lesser and fewer side effects. After a while, the routine gets in the way of life. Problems arise that throw off the chemo schedule – low blood counts, problems with veins, issues with power ports. All of this can make one irritated and tired of dealing with it. Then there’s all the financial issues associated with chemo and cancer – will I be able to work? If I can, will my boss make allowances for my frequent absences? If I can’t work, how will I pay my bills? Side effects get progressively more intense the longer one is on chemo; it’s cumulative.

I am not going to stop chemo. I’m just saying I understand why people do. My tumors are shrinking, so the chemo is working, and it’s worth it. But for some people, the chemo doesn’t work, or it stops working after awhile, and they eventually run out of options. Or the side effects are worse than the cancer. Or their insurance doesn’t cover the cost – or there is no insurance. There is palliative care, which merely controls the pain, nausea, and whatever other symptoms caused by the cancer. This isn’t hospice but just a way to make the patient comfortable.

I feel so fortunate and blessed that I have insurance, and it’s paying for all of my care, and the chemo is working, and there are ways to deal with my side effects.There is still that depression and hopelessness that kicks in every once in a while. It makes me human. I can’t help but wonder what the future will hold, especially after a day that’s more grueling than usual. How long can I keep this up? How long before the chemo stops working? Cancer tumors are like the Borg – they adapt. So I will just keep envisioning those photon torpedoes attaching the tumors; and the light shining into the dark centers and dissolving them. I will be like Thomas the Tank Engine and keep telling myself: “I think I can; I think I can…”

 

Whining, and other nasty habits

We all know them; those people who are always whining about something. Or talking about how unlucky they are. Or extolling the virtues of having nothing good happen to them. I have a friend or two like that. They wear me down if I listen to them too long. And, I’ll admit it, there are times I want to slap the whine right out of them. I want to rant and jump up and down on their heads and tell them how good they have it compared to some other people I know. I don’t know what makes some people so negative while others are always positive no matter what happens.

I have to think about my own life and how negative I used to be. When I hear my friends whining about inconsequential things, I think back to when I was younger – was a a whiner like that? And the answer is, yes, I probably was. I felt so beaten down by my life that I couldn’t see anything positive. I did manage to change how I thought, and I try to help others to become more positive. But I forgot that in order for someone to change, s/he has to first realize there is a reason to change, and then has to want to change. There are people who are perfectly happy being miserable – my mother was one of those. So they are not going to change.

I have one friend, I’ll call her Karen, who is going through a difficult time right now. She has cancer, no job, and no health insurance. She could so easily fall into the pity pot and whine and cry; but she didn’t. She set out to find how she could get her life saving surgery and gathered up an impressive support network. I know she will be fine.

I have another friend, I’ll call her Kathy, who has a wonderful life. She has a good job, a strong family connection, and friends all over the world. But she is constantly whining about how she can’t find a good man; about how the only luck she ever has is bad luck; and how some of these bad things ‘could only happen’ to her. She doesn’t really believe she has any worth, and she will continue to attract negative events and people to her.

I truly believe we teach people who to treat us by how we treat ourselves. Karen has friends who would do anything for her; Kathy has friends who will continue to use and abuse her. The only difference between these two people is their attitude about life and their expectations about how life will treat them.

Managing anger

I saw a segment on TV this morning that started my train of thought going. The segment was on the fact that those who express their anger live, on average, two years longer than those who bottle it up. I know that bottling up anger is bad for your heart, and for your health in general. I also know that years of suppressing anger can lead to a person exploding – i.e. ‘going postal’ as it was termed. That explosion can be catastrophic for not only the person exploding, but also those around him/her.

I was taught from an early age that expressing anger is not okay. We, as women, are supposed to just go along with whatever happens because it isn’t ‘ladylike’ to get angry. So we bottle up the anger and suddenly, sooner or later, we find ourselves depressed, or unhappy with our lives, or suicidal. Men are taught that expressing anger isn’t okay because expressing any emotion is not ‘manly’. So men bottle up their anger until they also find themselves unhappy, depressed, or attacking their loved ones or strangers.

I wonder if this is why we have mass shootings. Do these people just explode from bottling everything up for so long? Have they been bullied? Do they not know how to express what they are feeling? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that we all should learn how to express our feelings in a constructive way.

I don’t get angry very often; I’m an easygoing kind of person. But when I do get angry, I tend to spew words all over the place. I don’t yell; I don’t even raise my voice. The words are preceeded by a deadly calm quiet. My ex and my kids never knew when I would reach my limit, and it happens maybe once in ten or so years, so they never learned the warning signs.

Other people I know tend to rant and rave and jump up and down for hours when they get angry. And some people I know don’t express it at all. We need to teach our kids that expressing emotions is healthy and necessary, because if we don’t tell people how we feel, how are they supposed to know? I’m not advocating that we begin emoting all over the place, but to learn what and when it is appropriate to express ourselves and when it is necessary to just walk away.

A beautifully written piece about the young woman in India who was gang-raped and died from her injuries.

Olio talk by Suchitra Kaushiva

 

So then, what is it about this 23 year-old girl who raised the conscience of India on December 16, 2012?

Was it the barbaric way in which she met her end?

Was she the last straw that broke the back of an overladen camel?

Was it her young age, her thwarted ambitions and aspirations, or her
parents’ unfulfilled hopes, dreams and expectations?

Was it her last wish, to be able to survive and make it out of her nightmarish ordeal?

All the above perhaps, and maybe just something more.

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Comparisons

One of the bloggers I follow just posted a thoughtful piece about writing, and comparing ourselves with other bloggers. You can read it here: http://thegreenstudy.com/2012/12/09/deflating-the-ego/

So that made me think about how often we compare ourselves to others, and wrongfully I might add. It’s like comparing apples and oranges; both have their place but one is not necessarily better than the other. We can aspire to be as good as someone else, but we should never compare ourselves to that ‘someone else’ because we are not them. I used to do that with my writing. I would read someone’s story or poem, then read mine, and feel totally depressed because my writing wasn’t as good as the other person’s. But then one day I had an epiphany; my writing was just as good as anyone else’s, just different! And the same goes for blogging. I write now because I want to write; I enjoy writing. I’m not trying to impress anyone; I’m not trying to write the next Great American Novel (of course, if that happens, I’ll be thrilled!!). I am writing for me.

Granted, I do get a little twinge of prideful happiness when someone tells me s/he likes my work, but in the end, that isn’t why I’m writing is it? I do enjoy getting kudos or pats on the back for my work, who doesn’t? But sometimes I have to remind myself that just because nobody has viewed/liked/commented on that particular post doesn’t mean it isn’t any good. It just means it didn’t resonate with that particular person(s) and it will with someone else.

I don’t really have a ‘theme’ for my writing on this blog (my other two blogs do have themes), I write about whatever I want to write about. Sometimes my posts are inspired by something I’ve read, like this post; sometimes it’s something that pops into my head; or it can be triggered by something I see or hear; I never know what will inspire me. People who are well-known authors often describe how they go about writing, figure out plots, and all those other mundane parts of writing. But just because that works for them does not mean it will work for everyone else. I can no more write an outline for a story and stick with it than I can fly to the moon; I know, I’ve tried it. Same goes for blogs; I can write about something that moves me in some way. If I try to write about something just to be writing, it sounds forced, and isn’t very good.

Just last week, I found this quote that I think is quite appropriate here:

Yet we always envy others, comparing our shadows to their sunlit sides. ― Margaret George

So my advice to me is to write when I want to write, about something that means something to me, whether it’s my blog or my fiction. And if other people like it, that’s just lagniappe.

Body Image

We women have bodies in every size and shape. The range of hair color is amazing. Eye color, too. So why are we never satisfied with what we have, with the way our bodies look? We are short and tall, thin and not-so-thin, have hair that is blonde, brunette, black, red; that’s wavy, curly, or straight. Our eyes are brown, blue, hazel, green, violet, black. Whatever we have we want something different. If we’re short, we wish we were tall; if we have straight hair, we wish it was curly; if we have curly hair, we wish it was straight. Some of these things we can change; colored contact lenses, perms, straighteners, hair dyes. But our bodies are something different. We can’t be what we are not, even though there are those out there who tell us we can.

And I’m not totally blameless here, either. I’m short and wished I were taller. I’ve never, ever, had a perfectly flat belly. I’ve fought my weight since puberty. Then somewhere around the age of 50, I began to truly understand that I would never have the body I thought I wanted. My body is determined to stay the shape it is and nothing I can do will change that.

I came of age in the 60s, when Twiggy was the latest thing in fashion. Her boyish body made all of us feel fat, even if we weren’t. Fashion model figures are unobtainable for almost all of us, so why do we still try? The few top fashion models are fortunate that they have the body shape and bone structure to look the way they do. And they have to work hard at maintaining that famined look. I was happy to see there is an 80 something fashion model who is still working; that there are more models out there with curves instead of sharp angles; and there are now plus-sized models who are well-known.

Change comes slowly to society, and it has to be demanded by the majority, and it has to be sold as absolutely necessary. I often ponder some of the things we women are expected to do and be. Who decided that hair on women’s legs and underarms was a bad thing and should be removed? Who decided that women wearing dresses or skirts had to wear stockings or pantyhose, or tights? And who decided that women’s breasts had to be confined and constrained in corsets and bras? Who came up with the idea that women had to wear makeup to look good? Many of us have bought into these ideas and now can’t imagine not doing some of these things. We were raised to think these were good; not doing them was bad. I admire the women with enough courage to break the mold. They are the women we should appreciate as good role models.

I have learned to love my body. It is the only one I will have in this life and still works wonderfully well considering how old it is. It isn’t perfect by society’s standards, but it’s perfect for me, and that’s what’s important. I have come to terms with the fact that I will never have a model’s body; that I will never be tall; that clothes never fit quite right. But I can also alter clothes so they do fit well; I can carry myself with good posture and grace; I can continue to eat healthy foods and exercise with the goal of being fit. I have this one body, this one life, and feel blessed to have it.

The path not taken

Do you ever wonder what would have happened if you had made different choices in your life? I do. I think about what would have happened if I had married my first love; if I had not married the man I married; if I had turned left instead of right the night I got lost; who I would have met if I hadn’t taken that job where I met my current partner. It’s sometimes fun to think about or imagine what my life would have been like if I had made different choices.

I’m not unhappy with my life now, I just have a vivid and active imagination and enjoy thinking about different scenarios of what might have happened. I also think about what might have happened if my parents hadn’t moved around so much when I was growing up; if my ex and I hadn’t moved so much when my kids were growing up. Would I still be living in the town where I was raised? Would I have met and married someone else? Would I have kids? Grandkids? Who would they be instead of the kids and grandkids I have now?

I also think about the effects my choices have had on others as well as on me. If I hadn’t been paying attention when the driver in front of me braked for no reason; if I hadn’t been at the park the day the dog was lost; if I hadn’t seen the guy hitting his kid at the mall; what would have happened? I may never know what effect my choices have had; but I’m glad I’m where I am; that I have the friends I have; the family I have; the job I have; the life I have now.

Life is good.

Choice

We always have choices. We may not like what they are, but they are our choices regardless. Sometimes, it’s a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, but it’s still a choice. I hear people moaning about how they had no choice, and I want to shake them and tell them to wake up. Here’s an example:

Suppose I hate my job. I would love to quit but think I have no choice but to keep working. But that is wrong. I can choose to keep working at this job because it means I can eat and have a roof over my head; I can quit my job and perhaps lose my home; I can find another job that I like better (or hate less!) There are probably other options besides these three.

We make choices every day; what to eat, what to wear, whether or not to respond to an email or voice mail and how to respond. Some are conscious decisions; others we make without thinking about it. Doing nothing at all is also a choice. Sometimes we feel so paralyzed by the options available that we choose to do nothing.

Joyce Sequichie Hifler said:  “If we don’t choose what we want in our lives, then life will decide for us.” It is up to us whether we will just roll with whatever comes our way or fight for what we want out of life. We don’t have to agree with everything we see and hear; we must think and act for ourselves, for what we want out of life. There is always a choice.