Posted in about me, cancer, ebb & flow, gratitude, motivation, physical health

An anniversary without which there are no others

It was a long, rectangular room, with posh reclining chairs lining three walls and turning the corners on the fourth. The remaining space had a counter with cabinets and maybe a sink behind it. I don’t remember more detail than that.

Except that attached to the front side of the counter was a small Liberty Bell replica, one that works.

On the last day of chemo, when you get up out of your comfy chair, poison coursing through your veins for the last time, you get to ring the bell.

Twelve years ago today, I rang the bell.

Of course, you’re nowhere near done with all that cancer or cancer treatment have to offer. The short-term side effects of that treatment were still looming. The long-term side effects … well … I’m not sure all of those ever go away. And of course, the increased risk of other cancers as a result of this cancer’s treatment? That doesn’t go away.

You really don’t know that cancer isn’t what kills you until you die of something else. I mean, it’s nowhere near acute any more, but I am, both medically and self-defined, at risk for cancer.

As per doctors, Leukemia, skin cancer, and breast cancer all gained some strength in their potential as a result of the treatments. They haven’t mentioned thyroid cancer, but they didn’t protect my thyroid during radiation treatments (that I recall), so I’d guess that one is on the list, too.

As per my own thinking, my body has already shown me that it’s willing to flip on the “good host” switch.

Sometimes being a good host is not a good choice.

So I do things to reduce my risk. As much as I possibly can? No. But quite a bit. (You could argue that it’s more than most people do, but how my body actually functions has nothing to do with that comparison, so I avoid it.)

I also work to reduce The Kid’s risk. Because there are even more carcinogenic materials in normal life than there were when I was young—and they affect fetuses and kids more than adults—but many of them are avoidable. (It might be my greatest frustration that making money trumps consumer safety, and the countless loopholes available to businesses who want to avoid inconvenient or potentially expensive restrictions on ingredients/components.)

All that said, it’s been a hell of a dozen years. The best of times, the worst of times, and all that.

I was doing well at living well, and then I got knocked off course. I’m on my way back to doing well at living well.

Grateful every day for health and mobility, even when it feels like being excused to lay on the couch for 6 months would be great.

I can vouch: it’s not great. (And I wasn’t even in bad enough shape from chemo actually to be laid up the whole time.)

I recommend being preventative as much as you reasonably can and picking one or two things to be diligent about. Don’t wait until you have a positive biopsy before you assess your habits. (Or, truly, any other unpleasant health diagnosis. Cancer is a big one, but it’s certainly not the only.)

You are worth the time, the energy, the effort.

 

Posted in cancer, connections, differences, ebb & flow, mindset, socializing, thoughtfulness, tips, vulnerability

Talking to people going through hard things

A friend’s father-in-law is in his final hours. I would not text her right now to complain about … anything.

Thinking about that led me to realize that perhaps people get situations confused. Or just aren’t able to find out what direction to go in other difficult situations.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was inpatient at the hospital, had a seemingly endless string of tests and procedures, one of which landed me in ICU overnight, and was somewhat overwhelmed. But within two weeks, I was home.

Despite being home, cancer treatment often lasts a long time. I was admitted to the hospital in mid-May and finished treatments in mid-January. I’ve known too many people who tally up years of treatment.

Once the initial storm settled, socializing was really important, because I couldn’t do most of the other things I was accustomed to doing.

A relative had gotten a flat tire, and started a conversation with, “Well, I know this is nothing compared to what you’re going through, but …”

And no, it’s not, but in real life, that doesn’t matter. I mean, I wouldn’t complain about what my spouse made for dinner last night to someone who was food insecure, but the people in my social circle are, for the most part, all secure in food, housing, and other basic needs. (Except healthcare. Welcome to America.)

OK, I got off on a tangent there, but what I’m saying is—the majority of my people share similar annoyances, with the occasional life-shaking event.

Is the life-shaking event finite? A death, the onset of serious illness or injury, loss of a job, for example?

If yes, they’re not in a good place for you to bug them with minutiae. (“I was just diagnosed with cancer.” “OMG really? Can you believe I got a flat on my way to work today?”) Choose another friend for that.

If their life-shaking event is chronic (whether permanent or temporary) and the initial blow has passed, then you need to know, in response to a story about the flat you got on the way to work, would they say:

Must be nice to be able to go to work/have a car to get a flat/etc.

or

Oh man! That sucks! Why did it take AAA so long to get there?

And base your decision on that.

If you don’t know, ask.

“Hey, I know you’re going through xyz shitty thing right now, and I wasn’t sure if you wanted to talk about that, if you were looking for conversation just to be kind of light, or if you were looking for just normal conversation.”

Or something like that.

Then people who really need you just to be there and hang out have you there and hanging out (um, maybe not literally), and people who really don’t want to hear about your shit won’t be offended by your insensitivity.

Posted in cancer, know better do better, mindset, motivation, physical health

Rock the Pink?

The Climbing Daddy, The Kid, and I went to a Phoenix Mercury game over the weekend. It so happened that it was “Rock the Pink” night. I was not excited.

They honored breast cancer survivors, which was nice, and every seat had a pink Rock the Pink rally towel on it. Pre-recorded interviews with some of the players were aired during halftime and, much like the overwhelming majority of breast cancer-related PR, it made me angry.

I’ve said this a bazillion times and I’ll say it a bazillion more: early detection is not prevention.

Repeat after me: early detection is not prevention.

Early detection is not prevention.

Getting a scan doesn’t prevent breast cancer. It begins a diagnosis.

There are a few cancers that will give you some benign heads ups before turning cancerous. Breast cancer isn’t one of them (as far as we know).

With early detection, you have cancer. You’ll have one or more of: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation; you’ll acquire all of the accompanying baggage.

If you’re lucky, you’ll only have tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. (I had really good insurance when I went through mine, but the totals were around $250,000.)

You might lose your memory, your mobility, your fertility, your friends, your spouse, your job, your energy, your hair (and other facets of your appearance, some of which don’t recover). And, since early detection isn’t a guarantee, at the end of all that, you might still lose your life.

You’ll lose peace of mind.

Weigh that against prevention.

Prevention is inconvenient because carcinogenic things are cheap, easy, convenient, tasty. Preventative habits are not the norm in the US, so they’re cumbersome and require solid planning to maintain.

But there’s no surgery, chemo, radiation; few potential negative short- or long-term side effects, and I’m stretching for the examples I can think of.

It’s worth it.

(And it applies to all the cancers, not just breast cancer.)

Posted in cancer, connections, ebb & flow, thoughtfulness

Thinking of you

When someone dies, those close to the deceased have an onslaught of well-wishers.

When someone is diagnosed with cancer or another critical health issue, they have a similar herd of well-wishers.

When someone has another unfortunate life event, they have immediate help and concern.

The thing is … the support dies off well before needed (and is often overwhelming in bulk).

If you know someone who is three or four or nine months or a year or two years into something that you would have sent flowers for at the onset, send flowers again. Or initiate a visit or phone call (depending on proximity). Or send a card. Or a care package.

You’re not going to “remind” them that they suffered a loss or are sludging through an unfortunate chapter in their life. They didn’t forget. It just seems that everyone else did.

Go. Reach out. Make someone’s day.

Posted in cancer, education, mental health, mindset

Aggression

In my masters program, I had a class on group counseling. It was one of the most interesting classes I’ve ever taken.

A tiny slice that I remember: in talking about group therapy, you can put depressed people together and they don’t amplify each other’s depression. You can put anxious people together, and they don’t amplify each other’s anxiety. But if you put aggressive people together, they amplify each other’s aggression.

This is churning through my brain lately on several levels.

Micro:

We have some aggressive kids at school. If there are, for example, five aggressive kids in 4th grade and there are three fourth grade homerooms, what do we do? We can’t separate them all. If these types of kids (people) don’t function in a therapeutic environment together, how can they function (or thrive) in an academic environment? How is a teacher, who is not a trained psychotherapist, supposed to manage them?

Macro:

We have some aggressive people out and about. It’s more and more seemingly acceptable to be aggressive, and to meet aggression in kind. How are we supposed to make America great again [sic] if we’re just escalating the fighting? Compounded by aggression being considered valuable or desirable in many circles…

I tagged this post under cancer because aggression is spreading like one, and killing us like one as well…