The Cancer Files: Who Are You if Not What You Can Do?

One of the more insidious effects of cancer in my life, was the slow degradation of my ability to be what I had firmly placed in the column “Things I Just Am.”  I thought those qualities were an integral and unchanging part of me, but from the moment I was told I likely had cancer, they began to slip away.

For instance, when they shuffled me from one room to the next after giving me the news, scheduled me for a surgery I knew nothing about with a surgeon I had never met, and then sent me out the door: the me I was so sure I was would have never smiled, signed paperwork I didn’t read, and then left.

The me I thought I was would have asked ten thousand questions and insisted on coming back later to discuss surgery with the actual surgeon before agreeing on a date and a plan to move forward.  The me I thought I was would have advocated for myself, refused to sign papers until I was sure I understood them fully, and made sure I had researched all of my options on my own before just accepting what I was told.  Not only did I not do any of that, I didn’t even notice or care that I wasn’t doing any of that.

When I got home and handed Carl the blue folder with my surgery information inside, he was furious.  If you know him at all, you know that fury is an uncommon emotion in his life and it certainly wasn’t what I expected.  I’m not sure I knew what to expect, but I remember being surprised when right before my eyes, my happy go lucky man, grew three feet taller, put on about fifty pounds of muscle, and developed the ability to fly.

Within a few hours, he knew everything the internet knew about thyroid cancer and the surgeon I was scheduled with, he had developed a list of 23 questions for said surgeon, and scheduled us for an appointment prior to my surgery date to ask them.   He was incredible and would maintain his role as my fierce and shameless advocate throughout my treatment and recovery and, well, our married life, as it would happen.  : )

When all was said and done, we cancelled that surgery, found another ear, nose, and throat specialist in the valley who we were much more comfortable with and I went forward with a biopsy (that the original office recommended we skip) to see if any of my thyroid could be saved.  And when I say “we,” I mean my superhero husband who swooped in and saved the day, while I wandered around bemused and generally useless to myself.  I don’t like talking about my time as a damsel in distress (so much so that I never even brought it up in my original Cancer Files).

I wouldn’t realize until much later, after years of wrestling with the question, “Who are you if not what you can do?” that those feelings of helplessness and uselessness and the knowledge that I could not take care of myself (much less be there in the lives of my family, friends, and animals as I was used to being) had devastated me more than the illness itself.

Roommates: Miss Baby

No doubt about it, things were getting tight. She stretched her arms and legs as far as she could, just to check again, and sure enough, the soft, seemingly flexible walls of her living space were decidedly less flexible than they had been the week before.  It was happening so slowly, she almost hadn’t noticed, but lately, it had become clear–this room, which had started out quite comfortable, was shrinking.

It was a desperate situation really.  She wasn’t exactly sure how she’d gotten here and therefore, wasn’t exactly sure how to go about going somewhere else . . . There were others nearby, but none she felt comfortable asking.  For some reason, they didn’t seem to like her.  They were always scooting out of her way, mumbling and grumbling.  She apologized often, but that didn’t seem to help anymore.  Another hint the room was shrinking, she couldn’t move a hand or foot these days without bumping into Bladder or Diaphram or some other random, grumpy neighbor.

Something soft brushed her toe, interrupting her thoughts, and she kicked out, “HIYA!” Then everything constricted suddenly, as it sometimes did.  She pressed out against the walls, hoping to get away from whatever it was, but there was nowhere to go . . . finally, she looked and realized it was just Bladder again.  “Oops, sorry!” She said, but only received a pained groan in response.  Sigh.  Typical.

One way or another, she was going to HAVE to find a way out of here . . .

Roommates

 

 

Roommates: Meeting One

“Hello everyone and thank you all for coming.”

“Uhhmm, Bladder, why are you whispering?”

“SHHHH, Stomach!! It’s sleeping now and I don’t want it waking up until we’re done talking.  I didn’t invite Baby to this roommates meeting.”

“Oooohhhhh.”

“Yeah.  Look, I called this meeting to see if I’m the only one whose getting worried about the new roommate.  I mean, at first I thought Baby was pretty cool; it was so quiet and took up hardly any room at all.”

Around the small room, organs nodded their assent.

“Then, the other day, I woke up feeling like I was going to burst, opened my eyes, and baby was LITERALLY using me as a pillow!”

“Ya know, now that I think about, Baby’s foot has gotten caught on me three times just in the last week.  I mean, it’s always polite, all “excuse me” and “so sorry!” but that never happened when Baby first moved in.” Ribs chimed in all together.

“I’ve been getting a little nervous, myself.” Whispered stomach.  “I didn’t really want to say anything because I wasn’t completely sure it was Baby’s fault, but honestly, since just a couple of weeks after it moved in, I’ve felt positively awful.  It got better a few weeks ago, but still, I used to work with whatever came down about three or so times a day, now, if there isn’t enough there, I can’t control it, I just start kicking bile back up.  I’m not sure if I’m crazy or broken or what, but I just know it started soon after Baby moved in.”

“Well, that does it.” Bladder stated quietly.  “I don’t want to be hasty; Baby’s awfully sweet, but it sounds like we all have concerns.  I vote that we meet again in a month or so for a another check-in.  If things don’t get better in a few months, we may just have to ask Baby to leave.”

Everyone present nodded somberly and tried to move back into their normal positions, but there just wasn’t room, so they squeezed in as close to where they used to go as they could.  And just in time, too!  With a whoosh, a tiny hand flew out, smacking belly button in the back.  Belly Button let out a surprised yelp and Baby promptly held up the same hand in a gesture of apology. “So sorry!  Pardon me, Belly Button, I’m afraid I woke up with a start.” Baby said with an easy smile.

To be continued . . .
Roommates

She: How to Begin?

I’ve been talking to a girl whose name I know, but who hasn’t given me permission to use it yet, so I’ll simply call her She.  She’s been telling me stories about where she has been and all that has happened to her since she was born and I listen with a rapt ear because although I know of her, I have never truly known her.

I am not her mother–She is the daughter of misfortune and I listen to her now because I have spent the entirety of her life pretending she did not exist.  She would speak quietly and I would sing over her; She would tap on the windows of my soul and I would swiftly pull the curtains.  I knew with every painful beat of my broken, unhealing heart that she was there.  It is guilt which salts the wound and will not let it close.

Now, I am tired of her ceaseless whispers and tapping.  And so, after all this time, I have invited her in for coffee so we can talk. Well, so She can talk.  I have promised to only listen and relate what She says.  I have promised that no matter what she has to say, I will record it without altering her story.  I have promised to unlock the door . . . she need not tap on the windows any longer.

I think she knows this will not really be a record of her life, but rather, a record of her death.  By the time this story is finished, She will have relinquished the borders which give her substance and I envy her strength–reciting her memories, such terrible memories, in her soft and steady way. She does not seem to mind that she is fading with every word. I also, a bit grudgingly, admire her cleverness–She said she came only to speak her truth, and I let her in not realizing that, Continue reading “She: How to Begin?”