Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Rudderless in a sea of uncertainty

Tomorrow brings a follow-up appointment with the oncologist. These appointments are important because as a cancer survivor, I live with heightened risks. But the last place I want to be is the Oncology Department. It's like returning to the scene of the crime. So the night before said appointments my mind begins to race and my anxiety ramps up. Crazy thoughts run rampant. Unfortunately, fear of recurrence is an unwanted yet inescapable reality. It has been described as sort of like having Muzak playing ever so softly in your head all the time. After a while you get used to it, but you never forget it's there. One of the first thing a cancer survivor realizes is that cancer is a chronic condition. Remission doesn't come with a money back guarantee and cancer hates to lose. Just when you think you've won the fight, it can rear its ugly head again. I worry about having to go through treatment again, suffering the side effects of chemo and putting my life on hold for the second time. Wherever will the strength and willpower to go through it all over again come from? Can I outwit death yet again?

The most frustrating aspect of the fear of recurrence is that it can overshadow my view of the future. Sometimes I feel rudderless in a sea of uncertainty. Cancer has lit the wick on my sense of mortality. If I'm living on borrowed time, investing in the future is futile. But approaching it that way means cancer wins and I cannot accept that. Cancer has managed to rearrange my priorities, screw with my career, and shift my outlook on life. But since I'm not very adept at "playing the victim", I guess I'll just have to play the hand I've been dealt. I'm just not exactly sure how life should look. After my ex-husband's recent death, I want to make sure my life counts. But then again, will it really matter 100 years from now?

And today's tarot card was the Five of Pentacles. This card represents the dark night of the soul, when you must stumble around in the darkness because you can no longer see the light shining within you. Often, during times like this, salvation is not far away, but being so preoccupied with your material problems means you cannot see it. But it also suggests that my power today lies in defiance. I am willing to reject the sure thing or accept excommunication to try to make it on my own rather than endure the status quo or submit to conditions that assume I am invisible. I will accept responsibility for the difficulties ahead and will not seek pity for having chosen against the grain. I am empowered by mutual support and my assets are self-worth, hope, and pride. (See, not a victim!)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Obsessing About Death

I'm feeling a little out of sorts tonight. Ever since I learned of my ex-husband's passing, I've been contemplating death a lot. (I'm pretty obsessed with it anyway and Paul's death certainly didn't lessen that obsession!) So I wonder, why do some terminally ill patients furiously fight to live even in the face of poor survival odds, trading whatever quality of time they may have left for painful or even risky treatments that have a high probability of failure? And why do others view death as a very gentle and normal life process? I suppose the answers are as numerous as the individual patients themselves. Researchers say that a person’s age, religious belief and life experiences all contribute to how well that patient copes with a terminal diagnosis and can even determine the will to survive. Knowing how freaked out people get when I talk or write about death, I recognize that we live in a culture where nobody talks about dying, so patients have a sense that the reason nurses and doctors won’t talk about it is that dying must be too horrible to even think about. Am I determined to try to live no matter how terrible my suffering may become? Abso-fu**ing-lutely! I will not go quietly into that goodnight!!! It is about surviving.

Leaving my family and friends with positive memories of how I conducted my battle against breast cancer is a big concern. At times during my treatment, I was in pain and fairly sure I was dying. All my life I’ve tried to protect my family from harm. I found it more painful for me to watch them watch me than the actual pain I felt from treatment. Should I lose this battle, I want them to remember me as a fighter, not a quitter. That is exactly why roller derby entered my life. I wasn't ready to give up and I had to find a way to make myself stronger. Having cancer has given me courage and freedom to speak my mind; I don’t mince words. If I feel something, I say it because I might not get a second chance to say what I need to say. If I die tomorrow, I hope I’m not leaving anything unsaid or undone.

Last week I wrote "I hope to be a whole person, one who loves, accepts, serves, rejoices and opens up to others honestly and without hesitation. Then I might be someone worth knowing. That will be a life well-lived. That's really all I want." Despite my cancer, I consider myself lucky. I think I've lived a good life—the best I know how. But I am not ready for that final journey. And as the 2012 roller derby season is set to begin, I will remain strong and continue to beat cancer!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Death of an ex

Today I learned that my ex-husband had died. An email from my friend Karen informed me of this fact. It said: "I am very sorry to hear about Paul's death. I know this must be a difficult time for you, even though you have been divorced for many years. He was still a part of your life. Anyway, I'm here for you." My first thought, WTF? I didn't see his obituary in the paper and I read those religiously (It's a weird obsession I have). I then checked our hometown paper - still nothing. So, I googled him and up it popped - an obituary from Duffy-Baier-Snedecor Funeral Home in Odell. It says he died at home in Urbana, after an extended illness. So why no obituary? No matter what our history, I think he at least deserves an obituary. I'm not sure what I am supposed to feel or what I am supposed to do. We've been divorced for 22 years, after only being married 18 months. Yet I found myself staring at his obituary, near tears, wondering why it was hitting me so hard. After talking with a few friends, I realized that I am sorry for how his life turned out - no one cared enough to write an obituary. While Paul's death resurrected my fear that no one will miss me when I am gone, I know that I am blessed with good friends who love me and would miss me. I am lucky.

Two years ago I wrote a blog entry about a life well lived and I quote, "
But I remind myself of the profound truth I have discovered -- it's how I live my life that matters. I have spent these past few months with cancer looking for its higher purpose. I don’t profess to have some cosmic understanding of that, but every day I see evidence of the opportunities it opens to me. Sometimes I feel like I'm all dressed up with no where to go. I walk the tightrope between maintaining hope that I will live to a ripe old age and living in the moment. I have every reason to be filled with hope. I am fairly sure that I will be able to face wherever this journey takes me. I hope to be a whole person, one who loves, accepts, serves, rejoices and opens up to others honestly and without hesitation. Then I might be someone worth knowing. That will be a life well-lived." That's really all I want.

I am sorry that there was so much rancor between us at the end of our marriage and long after the divorce. I am sorry that I didn't apologize to him for my part in the downfall of our marriage. I am sorry that I never returned the egg plate he so badly wanted (and was awarded) in our divorce settlement. I am sorry his life didn't turn out the way he had hoped. May he rest in peace.