Monday, October 22, 2007

Warning: This post contains references to intestines. Yes, intestines.

Many years ago I went to see Stanley Kubrick's film "Full Metal Jacket" (Yes, I was that much of a film geek, even at 15.) If you've never seen it, it may be one of the most graphic depictions of war ever put on film. Stuff you really don't want to see. Of the many ultra violent images, one has always stuck with me. I may be getting the details fuzzy (I haven't seen the movie since it came out) but there's a scene where one soldier gets his guts blown out. The horror is that he's still alive and he's scrambling to pick up his intestines and stuff them back in while his friends watch, unable to help.

That visual hit me hard. It showed up in my nightmares while I slept, my angsty teen poetry, my images of what I imagined my worst fate could be.

Today I realized why that image has such a profound hold on me. It's about control. Or really, it's about lack of control. The feeling of my slimy intestines in my hands, slipping through my fingers, and there's nothing I can do. As soon as I get a hold of one section, another I had been holding fast slips out of my hand. And another. And another. Nothing I do to try to get things back under control -- speed, planning, panic, calm -- nothing will stop the feeling of my slimy guts slipping out of my control.

And that's what cancer does. No matter how much I felt like I had my life in control, no matter how much I felt that I had built myself a safe place with friends and love and a home, it didn't matter. It all slipped through my fingers the instant I met cancer. Cancer blew my guts out, literally and figuratively.

Since I stopped chemo I've been on a quest. I feel compelled to get order back, logic back, get control of my life back. If I could feel in control, somehow it would make everything better. When everything is out of control, you try to control whatever you can.

So I made grand plans. I'm going to apply to grad school for next fall. Take the GRE, write essays, take prerequisites, fill out applications, go for interviews. I'm going to go to Japan next month. I'm going to write articles and a book. I'm going to invent a new card game. I'm going to be a pillar for the young girl I met who just lost her mom to cancer. I'm going to learn new things, buy new things, be new things. go go go go Go GO!

Enough. Rewind. Back the fuck up.


I can't control my cancer. It may be gone and it may not. I may have 50 years left or only five. I don't know and, really, it doesn't matter. Whatever happens, it's not up to me. And no matter how much I scramble, how much I plan, how much I try to make it perfect, it's not. It's messy and loud and weird and unfair and the best thing ever and the worst thing ever. It's chaos. If you've never really experienced chaos, let me tell you, it's seamlessly both infuriating and beautiful.

And don't you think it's ironic that I got colon cancer? One of the images that haunts me my whole life is my guts spilling out and what happens? My guts spill out. Maybe I should take comfort in that. My guts spilled out and I'm still here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Don't skunk me, bro!

Poor Murphy met his first skunk.

Scout was performing last night (he sings so purty!) and as we approached the front door Scout said, "it smells like skunk." I opened the door, walked back to the kitchen and wham! Skunk-tastic. Murphy smelled like burning tires, his eyes were all bloodshot and encrusted in mud. (My best guess is that he tried to root around in the mud to get the burning sensation to go away.)

I searched the internet for de-skunking recipes and we piled back in the car to the 24-hour drugstore to get hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. Murphy went straight into the tub where we lathered him up and let him marinate for 10 minutes. We tried to keep him in the tub while he squirmed and made Chewbacca death screams.

It mostly worked -- his face is still a bit stinky 'cause I didn't want to get the H2O2 near his eyes. Hopefully he won't go chasing those "mean, big, black and white kitties" ever again.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How can I learn to be more needy?

I'm feeling overwhelmed lately. I have many things on my plate that need to get done and I just feel like it's all piling up. Work stuff, grad school application stuff, medical stuff, daily household stuff -- none of it is that huge on its own but in combination with my lingering chemo fatigue, insomnia and recurrent pain from adhesions from my surgery a year ago I'm feeling like I might collapse under the weight.

Here's the thing, though - it doesn't need to be this bad. Yeah, it's a lot, but I've somehow always felt like I need to do it all on my own. I *know* that's not true and that I have lots of loving people who could help me out. Somewhere in my past I convinced myself I am Atlas. That if I don't hold up the world it will all come crashing down.

So what I'm pondering is this: if you know something in your mind, how do you incorporate it into your soul/heart/psyche?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I only teared up a little, tiny bit

When I was in the hospital recovering from my surgery I was on all sorts of funky drugs to speed my wound repair. One of the unintended side effects was that my nose piercing closed up.

I missed it. It had been part of me for so long. My face just looked off when I looked in the mirror. But there was no frickin' way I was going to intentionally cause myself one iota of pain by re-piercing it. Noooooo thank you. I had my fair share of pain from the surgery and the neropathy from the chemo. I was *done* with pain.

Until today.

Scout looked at me this morning and said, "we're going down to Haight street and you are getting your nose pierced again." And he was right. And we did. It hurt a little, but was so minor compared to, say, having a hemotoma drained. And because they didn't have to do a whole new piercing, it was only $2. Hooray!

The intense, unabated pain. One more thing I can leave behind as I slowly ease back into normality. Or whatever normal is once you've had cancer.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Just as I was justifying my right to be a curmudgeon.

Yesterday I was talking with a good friend about some of my feelings about the last year. I was lamenting that I feel like I have lost some sort of naiveté, lost more of that childlike ability to just do what makes me happy without all the "adult" thoughts of money or consequences or illness or death. I'm in my thirties, so it's not like that process wasn't well underway, but cancer took me through an accelerated version. I feel more like someone who might sit on a porch shaking my cane and yelling at those pesky kids to get off my lawn than someone who would drop everything and move to Australia for a year.

But the universe in its infinite wisdom wasn't going to let me get away with that. Oh no, it had other plans for me.

I went to a show last night -- a band called The Weakerthans. I haven't been out to see music in a good long while. This band has quite a following among the emo kids and the place was filled with twenty-one year olds in their retro eighties togs singing along to every line in every song. As I looked at the crowd my mirror neurons kicked in and I felt that obsessional joy that comes with seeing your favorite band live, that obsessional joy that dissipates somewhere in your late twenties. And I smiled so hard I almost cried. (Which in and of itself is very emo and so therefore appropriate.)

I've noticed that cancer has heightened my ability to feel other's elation. When I see a big smile or a moment of achievement (which I am lucky enough to see often in my line of work) I can actually feel it now. Not just appreciate it, but physically feel it. It's kinda tingly. It's funny 'cause my friends at the show were complaining about how bad the crowd was, how annoying it was to hear everyone singing along to every song, but I liked it. It unearthed the twenty-one year old in me.

So, yeah, I'm bitter. I'm jaded. But I'm also more open to delight. Life is too short not to take advantage of it every time it comes my way.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A small compendium of things my doctors can't explain

I am a big fan of Shakespeare. I think he's really funny and could write a hell of a good yarn. He also wrote some things that were really profound. One of my favorites is from one of his lesser known plays, Hamlet:

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Replace "Horatio" with "modern medical science" and you've got a pretty good description of what I've come to believe over the last year or so. Here is a small list of things that have happened to me that defy current scientific explanation:

1. About six years ago I was rubbing my belly in an effort to relax and go to sleep. When I passed my hand over my left side I heard a voice in my head, clear as day, "Watch this spot."

2. About 18 months ago I felt the same spot on my left side and heard the voice again, "There's something wrong here now." Two months later the pain started. Four months after that I was diagnosed with a tumor in that exact location.

3. Before and during surgery I listened to a guided meditation that suggested that I could divert blood away from the surgical site just as I divert blood to my extremities when hot and core when cold. My surgeon told me he was shocked that he didn't need to do a transfusion during surgery. Just use a little blood filler and I was good to go.

4. The same meditation suggested I could influence how I felt when waking up from anesthesia. I have had problems with this in the past but this time I woke up and felt fine. No nausea, no pain and completely lucid and awake. Had a nice chat with my recovery room nurse, actually.

5. I have been on thyroid replacement therapy for about 10 years. Once diagnosed, you take a pill everyday for the rest of your life. During chemo I felt a nausea wash over me whenever I picked up my bottle of thyroid pills. I decided not to take them. Why argue with such a strong reaction? I've been tested several times in the last few months and my thyroid function is now completely normal.

What the huh?

Okay, so I could argue that these are all coincidences, but c'mon. There's gotta be more going on there. Science and medicine is great and all, I wouldn't be typing this without it, but don't forget we don't know everything. We used to think the world was flat after all.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I always knew that frisky cat would get out of that flimsy bag

Dear family,

Last week I got a call from my cousin who wanted to let me know that my mom had found my blog and, therefore, knew about my cancer. As this blog is on the web I suspected this was bound to happen. I've been getting copious calls and emails from family members who have just found out. It's nice to feel the love. I wanted to explain my decisions a bit more. Since I know you're all reading this blog now and I don't have contact info for many of you, I thought this would be a good way to convey information. So here goes.

As most (or all) of you know, I have had a strained relationship with my mother for the last decade or so and have not spoken to her for several years. When I was diagnosed last year I was pretty freaked out, as you can imagine, and I thought it would be far simpler and less stressful to just keep my diagnosis private until I was done with treatment. I decided that I would only tell a few family members about the cancer on a "need to know" basis. This was mainly because I felt like it was unfair to put any of you in a position where you had keep this information from my mother. There are many reasons for this and I can explain further in private if you feel that it would help you understand this convoluted situation. I still think this was the right decision but I hope that none of you feel like it was a personal slight or feel awkward about contacting me now. It was a difficult conundrum faced under horrible circumstances and I do feel like I've made the best decision that I could.

If you want to contact me, please do. The love and support of friends and family has been so valuable in the past year and I don't think it's possible to have enough good wishes come my way.