I’m no cliffhangerPosted: April 5, 2011 Filed under: breast cancer, cancer fatigue 3 Comments
Before I get into the heavy stuff, here’s some eye candy. No, it’s not a picture of Jacoby Ellsbury, my favorite baseball player and not-so-secret crush. It’s a photo of my TOMS shoes that I blogged about yesterday.
I received more than one request to showcase the shoes here. I aim to please, people. You make a request, I will consider it. Didn’t say I’ll make it happen, but I will consider it. I chose the TOMS natural canvas classic AND the canvas wedge. Love them both.
A girl needs options, and a girl coming off a nasty battle against not only cancer but also a nosocomial infection or two needs multiple options, i.e., lots of shoes. If there were a TOMS store in my neighborhood, I’d be standing outside it now in my jammies, nose pressed against the glass waiting for it to open. But I digress.
And I lie: I am putting in a photo of Ells. Because it would be wrong to mention eye candy and not put him in here. You’re welcome.
Ok, back to business. Although it’s hard to concentrate with Ells on the screen. All right, focus, focus.
I read a lot about cancer. Not just breast cancer, either — I’m an equal-opportunity reader on this weighty subject. Hate it, but am drawn to it and have a yearning to find out as much as I possibly can about this insidious killer. I’m an info-junkie when it comes to my cancer: I want to know all the gory details. The not knowing is way worse for me, because it allows my crazy imagination to have free reign and imagine all sorts of scenarios, none of them good. Reading about cancer can be overwhelming, frustrating, depressing, thought-provoking, and rage-inducing, much like the “cancer journey” itself.
I learned early on (although my “cancer journey” is short compared to a lot of people’s) that reading about people who died from cancer is to be avoided. Stay away from the unhappy endings! After watching that very thing happen to my sweet, irreplaceable mama, I need no further education on the topic. Not that I’m closing my eyes to the reality, because believe me, the one thing you think about a lot when diagnosed at age 40 is death. It’s a sobering fact that you hope to live more years beating the disease than you had lived before being diagnosed with it.
Some say being diagnosed early is a good thing, as we tend to be healthier and better able to tolerate the twists & turns, the challenges and set-backs that cancer throws our way. Some say that diagnosis at a young age means being better able to handle the tolls the disease takes on your body. Both of which can be true, but they are countered by the fact that most of us in the “young cancer club” have young kids at home, maybe even more on the way, and parenting during cancer presents its own land mines. I will never forget my fearful yet brave 10-year-old boy asking me repeatedly if I’m sure I wasn’t going to die from breast cancer. Similarly, I will never stop being totally pissed off at cancer for creating the situation in which that question had reason to come out of my boy’s mouth. Stupid cancer.
Of all the things I have read about cancer, Dana Jennings’s column is one of the best. Jennings writes a phenomenal column for the New York Times about his “journey” with prostate cancer. I’m not sure how much longer you can access it online for free, since the NYT is going to start charging for online subscriptions, shame on them, but I will likely reference and quote him in future because he’s a writer who inspires me and because his “cancer journey” had a happy ending.
He wrote something recently about a quintessential cancer patient experience: being in the waiting room, filled with other people, at the oncologist’s office. People not on a “cancer journey” likely don’t give this a moment’s thought; why should they? An oncologist’s office is something you pass on the way to your kid’s orthodontist’s office, right? Why would you think about what goes on in there, or the people contained therein?
After reading Dana Jennings’s observation, you may well think about what goes on in there, and about the people contained therein. I know I do, and I’m one of them. I’m the one being overly nice to the receptionist and office manager, willing them to see me as a person not just a patient. I’m not above bribing them with treats so that in future, if I need a last-minute appointment or other favor that only those in their position can grant, they may be more inclined to grant it. I’m the one stretching out the day so I can get to the oncologist’s office at the last possible minute, in order to put it off as long as possible without being late. I’m the one not making eye contact with other patients, because I don’t want to hear anyone else’s sob story. There’s simply no room in my heart or my psyche for any more worry, misfortune, or bad news. I may indeed be what Jennings refers to as “a human question mark,” but I refuse to be a cliffhanger.
“But in the waiting rooms of oncology — diagnosticians and surgeons, chemotherapy and radiation — almost no one speaks in a normal conversational voice except for the employees. In those rooms, we all know that none of us managed to catch that last plane out.
We patients, often frayed and afraid, glance at one another, sometimes nodding, sometimes not. I like to nod and look my fellow patients in the eye because, for a moment, it frees me from the overactive prison of my own mind. But I also understand those who don’t want to. They’re afraid to look into another face and see their own staring back.
A sense of exhaustion hangs in the air, and it’s not unusual for the healthy spouses to look more inconsolable than the patients. We’re all tired of the tests and the questions, tired of the fear and the rage, tired of our insurance companies, tired of the cancer-focused magazines and pamphlets that we just don’t have the patience for anymore. We are sick of being human question marks.
In those rooms, we are, all of us, on dark journeys, each one of us bearing a crucial tale to tell. But we are also feeling poignantly mortal, and we’re not up to telling each other our stories right then and right there. When it comes to the stories of our lives, we know that we have become cliffhangers.” — Dana Jennings
You so funny!
But the Jennings quote is something else. My breathe caught for a moment, my heart flooded with an ache, my jaw clenched and, yes, my eyes teared up. I remember going through that waiting area experience and the agony of my father’s fate being a cliffhanger. Worse still was when I realized that I was watching the last episode and the hero would not find a way to escape this week’s perilous predicament.
Thanks for sharing.
I dreamed you were at B&N in Tulsa at a book signing!
So true about the waiting room and researching online. I can’t handle the unhappy endings, just can’t do it. I am careful about what I look up anymore for that reason.