Shut up about the small stuff

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Remember the book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff? I have a copy, somewhere. Or did at some point. I read it, too, thinking it would be good for someone like me: impatient, intolerant of idiots, and in turmoil over all that I couldn’t control.

The book was on the best-seller list for more than 2 years. Richard Carlson went on to write some 20 books in this series, from Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Women. I think I had the original copy, and knowing me, might not have made it through the entire book. Too impatient for that.

I do recall a few ideas Carlson presented in the book, such as “live in the present” and “become more patient.” Not sure I managed either, since I’m always in a hurry, usually thinking about what needs to be done next, and am most definitely not patient. It’s hard to become “more” of something when you’re not really “any” of that thing.

“Life isn’t an emergency” is another one of Carlson’s anti-sweat-isms. I’m not even sure what that means, but I can tell you for certain that it does not apply to cancer patients. Life most certainly is an emergency when you’re dealing with diagnosis, research, treatment options, doctor’s visits, prescription drugs, mounting medical bills, surgery, hospitalizations, and the like.

Carlson also encouraged us to “get comfortable with the not knowing.” I feel pretty confident saying that this will never happen. Never. Ever. I most definitely will not get comfortable with not knowing what happens next, where this “journey” is going, or what the future holds. Hopefully Carlson took his own advice, as he died from “an illness” in 2006 at age 45. That’s 3 years older that I am now (well, I will be on Wednesday), and 45 is too young to die, IMHO.

I wonder if Carlson would have had the same attitude if he too had been facing cancer. Maybe he would have sweat for a little bit, then invoked his ant-sweat-isms to conquer all of the “small stuff” that invades ones life along with a diagnosis of cancer.

My blog friend Lauren wrote yet another stellar post about this very subject. Every time I read one of her blog posts, I’m hard-pressed to say which part I like most, which idea resonates the loudest, which anecdote finds me nodding my head in agreement, or which passage has the power to make me misty-eyed. This week, it’s this passage that stands out:

“There are no small things in cancer. There are no ridiculous things. People like to tell us not to sweat the small stuff, but there is no small stuff in cancer. There is no such thing as a small assault on our feelings/psyche. Sometimes, the tiniest pebble in our shoe is the one that will make us most weary; indeed, the smallest of stones can derail a train.”

I now feel as if I have permission to sweat the small stuff.

As if I needed anyone else’s permission.

A whole lot of the cancer thing is indeed big stuff. Not to imply that my “journey” is harder than anyone else’s, but I would respectfully submit that being young-ish with dependent kids at home makes for more sweat-worthy stuff along the way. Laura, another blog friend painted a vivid picture of battling cancer while raising young kids when she wondered how to hold back tears when her 6-year-old said, “I forget what you looked like before the cancer when you had long hair.” Tell me how to not sweat that. Please. It reminds me of my own struggle to remember what my mom looked like before cancer. I was 36 at the time. I still have to work to hear her real voice and not her “sick” voice, and I was a grown woman at the time of her battle. Laura also remarked upon the depression and guilt she felt as her 8-year-old son helped his little brother pack his lunch for school while she lay on the couch motionless. That makes me sweaty just reading about it.

Lauren also covered a topic in her post that I recently experienced myself. It involves Press ‘n Seal. 

You know, the stuff in your kitchen that you use to cover food.

While Press ‘n Seal has many domestic uses, it has a medical use too: covering one’s port while said port is slathered in numbing cream, before facing the 20-gauge needle used to puncture the skin and the port membrane to deliver drugs.

Last week I went for my regular port maintenance, in which I have to have the oncology nurses access the port (poke the big-ass needle through it) to flush it. This needs to be done every 4 to 6 weeks to avoid a blog clot. The port is tied into the jugular vein, remember, and I do not want to mess with that big dog.

Before my port maintenance, I use the numbing cream (when I remember) so the needle stick isn’t quite so traumatic. Needles have always been rather sweat-inducing for me. I don’t care what Richard Carlson would have told me, I have never liked needles and they’ve always given me that sweaty-palmed, slightly nauseated feeling.

The day of my most recent port maintenance, I was going from the gym to the oncologist’s office. I told my Runnin’ Buddy to remind me about halfway through to use the numbing cream. I was pretty proud of myself for remembering the cream and the Press ‘n Seal, along with a hypodermic needle from my stash at home and my teeny little vial of B12 that my sweet oncologist prescribed for me. I get a B12 shot once a month, and it was time. I figured since I’d be there, why not ask the oncology nurse to give me the jabful of B12?

Any shot at resuming normal life is gone, baby gone as soon as you realize you have prescription Lidocaine, B12, a needle, and Press ‘n Seal in your purse. Any attempt to seem like a normal person is duly shattered by that paraphernalia in one’s pocketbook.

So at the appointed time, I stood up against the wall of mirrors in the gym, pulled my shirt to the side and slapped a thick layer of cream on my port. Then I cut a small piece of Press ‘n Seal and covered the cream so it wouldn’t sploosh all over my shirt. While I finished my workout, the cream slid around a bit, and the Press ‘n Seal crinkled with each movement, and the curious onlookers were probably wondering what in the world they just witnessed.

Here’s what Lauren had to say about our ol’ friend Press ‘n Seal:

“In all my years of reading on PTSD and grief and trauma with breast cancer, not once have I seen a section on dealing with the emotional trauma of how dehumanizing it is to put Press N’ Seal on your body. Not once have I seen a section on how deeply humiliated you feel when you are made to walk half-naked through hallways on the way to an MRI, where then, in front of the room full of techs, you must disrobe and awkwardly lay on your stomach and hang your breasts through two holes in a plank. There is nothing in any book about how violating it feels having a breast written on in sharpie, and that the last time you see it in your life, it has a doctors intials on it. There is nothing in chapter 3 of any book that discusses the indignity of having our bodies being measured with trigonometry like a drafting project as we lay there naked, and get tattooed by nurses for radiation, especially when you are one who doesn’t like the thought of ink in your skin. There is nothing, nothing about the angst of a port sticking out of your body, or how impersonal it feels having your body lifted and shifted by nurses until you are lined up just right for radiation.”

I can’t speak to the parts about radiation, but on all the other stuff I say yep, that’s right. How strange it is when things like Press ‘n Seal on your body become part of your life. How sad when experiences like the ones Lauren describes become lasting memories, and not in the warm & fuzzy way. How terrible its is when you realize that there’s “nothing in any book about how to come to terms with the death of control over your body and life,” as Lauren so aptly puts it.

I’ve learned, just as Lauren and Laura and millions of other cancer patients have learned, that the small stuff becomes big stuff, and the death of control over our bodies and lives is just one of the many casualties in the “cancer journey.” The PTSD in one’s daily life also chips away at the idea of normalcy, signaling the death of innocence, the end of easy.  It may or may not be well-documented, but it’s there. And as Lauren says, “Just because it is not said or written about, doesn’t make it less real. It does not make our feelings about many of these more ambiguous losses less valid, less deserving of mention. It does not make the trauma less valid, it does not make us whiners about small stuff.”

She notes that “we will suffer many more deaths on the cancer journey. Some by things taken from us, and some by things given/done to us. There will be a thousand deaths in cancer, and then a thousand more.”

And so I will indeed sweat the small stuff. Anytime I want.

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7 Comments on “Shut up about the small stuff”

  1. Everything about this post speaks to me. You write beautifully, from the heart, as does Lauren. Just as the cancer cells replicate and change healthy cells into deadly ones, cancer invades our self image and modesty. At one point I decided why bother to even cover my breasts since it seems as though everyone in town’s already seen them. Cancer also invades our relationships. The little boy who can’t remember what his mother looked like before cancer… I think that may be with me for a long time.

    XOXOXO,
    Brenda

  2. Eddie says:

    While I understand the sentiment behind “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” I can’t quite embrace it. Life IS the small stuff. The crazy giggling of your pudgy little baby boy; the outlandish nonsequitur your daughter uncorks on a random Tuesday in the carpool line; the stray yellow lab at the ballpark; these are the things that make up a life. So don’t sweat the small stuff, embrace it, revel in it, despise it, curse it. Do whatever you need to do keep moving forward to the next smile, laugh, or glass of champagne. Cheers!

  3. oh punkin, screw them and their small stuff theories…please look for a bottle o’ komen perfume, a roll of press n seal and a box of junior mints in the mail tomorrow

    thank you 🙂

    Lauren

  4. Tom Lillig says:

    I realize this post was written about a year ago. I stumbled on your blog through some google search I was doing on a marketing topic. And I thank God I did.

    I don’t have cancer. But I am in a family that has suffered and is suffering from this disease.

    You have illustrated quite beautifully the daily tragedies that exists in the reality of the patient that become commonplace. I don’t have words to express my understanding. I just know that I’ve learned an important life lesson thanks to your writing.

    I


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