Thursday, January 8, 2009

Queen of Denial

Just call me Cleopatra.
There are different layers of intimacy for the people in my life. I have Tim, and the kids, and a few members of my own family, some friends. These people make up the first layer. I know that I can tell them anything, and they will listen, and they will talk with me, comfort me, if necessary. They will not collect these details, and then hop on the phone, calling everyone they know to share personal details to make themselves look important. I depend on my inner circle a lot, and am very grateful to have them. Then there are people who are friends, who I see at church, talk with on the phone, share with. That's sort of the second layer. Then there are acquaintances, people that you say 'hi' to when you meet them, who stop and talk, but always about general sorts of things. Nodding acquaintances. They are the third layer. Cancer has been a tough one for me. For one thing, I was raised to be a stoic, and being in the military just sort of clinched that deal, since they were always, always keeping a sharp eye out for malingerers. So I've just gotten used to dealing with things in a quiet way.
I also write, after a fashion, for both for my newspaper, and for this blog. My story is my story, and I tend to be a lot plainer about writing it that I am telling it out loud. Maybe because I don't look you folks in the eyes.
Only the people in the first layer of intimacy get the full story, with all the unvarnished details. They are the ones who get the worries, and they are the ones that see the tears. The people in the second layer get an abridged version of that same story, usually light on the 'downer details'. I try to be upbeat. By the time you get to the 'nodding acquaintance' layer of intimacy, you get the 'I'm doing fine. I'm enduring well. Tim and I are making it.' And these words are not a lie, because, actually, we are. Day by day, we are enduring what is probably one of the hardest periods of our life. In the end, we are going to be okay. We realize that. David M forwarded a poem by another poet. As Mr. Wallace put it, "The river is moving. The blackbird must be flying." Those words have become my mantra.
There are people in the waiting room at the Cancer Center who are quite caught up in their disease. I don't know how to phrase it kindly, so I'll just say it. There are people who have never been so important as they are now that they have cancer. I don't know how to handle them. They go on and on, telling the most personal details of their illness, and they want sympathy and lots of it. They want you to share your details, which always makes me uncomfortable, because I do not know them. There are people who come in alone, and sit quietly, watching trash TV while we wait for our names to be called. They make me sad, all by themselves, and I hope they have someone to talk to. Then there are people like me, square in the middle of the road. I come in with my friend or family member, and we visit quietly. Sometimes, somebody will recognize me from the paper, and we will visit on 'safe topics'. Remember the man who gave me the thumbs up as I waited for the CT/PET scan all those weeks ago? I likened it to being saluted by a veteran? I've gotten to visit with him and his wife. I can visit with people, talking about cancer in a general way.
I'm afraid that I look like a weirdo in the eyes of the Cancer Center staff. I hope not. Some of them are very solicitous about little things like giving shots, wanting to detail step by step. I don't need that. Just give me the shot. Just access the mediport. I've gotten used to these things. I don't like them, but they don't surprise them any more, so let's just get 'r done. I talk to my doctor pretty frankly, I think, but my approach has been more matter of fact. There are symptoms I don't like, but I can endure them, and I think that my body is putting up a good fight, so I ask my questions. I share my concerns. I listen intently, and I walk out of the office ready to go. There were times when I cried, early in the game, but now I feel like I have a handle on what's going on, and my practical nature is emerging once again. I just what to get this done and over with. My goal, as I explained to one doctor, is to finish treatment, to close this chapter, and although everyone has been wonderful to me at the cancer center, my goal is to never see these people again. Really. It's a small town, and I know we might run into each other at the Walmart or something, but we'll just nod politely, maybe speak about the weather, and we'll keep on going. That's my game plan.
Anyway, I talked about my quiet dreading of the changes for the second half of chemo. New drugs. I do pretty much feel as if, comparatively speaking, I breezed through the first half of chemo, but reading up on the second half, I did have some concerns, and they kept me awake in the dark. I was worried about steroids and 'roid rage'. Brianna is home, and over all there are some positive signs with her, but I have to keep my cool with her. If I began having drug induced emotional meltdowns, it would spin her off track. I was worried about the potential allergic reactions to the taxol itself. What if I couldn't take it? Would it endanger my plan to kick cancer's butt and be done with it? Losing my finger nails and toe nails was a gruesome prospect, as was getting bloated from the steroids. I have no hair. I have gray skin. I have big scars. I already feel very self conscious about my appearance, but the second half could well make things even worse. So I had plenty to fret about in the dark, and I did. I slept about 5 hours.
Yesterday, I went to chemo. Cara took me this time. We took the Scrabble game.
It was a whole different ball game. The place was crowded and busy. I had five pre-meds, and in keeping with my body's sense of humor, it handled the big stuff without a whimper. What hit me hard was mainlining the benadryl. Before the full dosage was administered, I felt like I had been suckerpunched. I was woozy, and sickish, and wanted a nap something awful. I kept this to myself, assuming that it was a normal response, but it was pretty bad. I watched a woman walk out on the arm of her mother. I recognized the wig, and the gray skin, and for some reason, we locked eyes. She hesitated at the foot of my chair. She looked familiar, but I couldn't place her. Did she recognize me? I tried to make my woozy brain work, but couldn't. Suddenly, she was dropping like a stone, Cara was grabbing for a chair, and the woman was vomiting. Her doctor was called, and I heard the words 'taxol' and realized that she had just finished the same treatment as me. She came to once, fainted dead away again, and was carried back to a chemo recliner. Eventually an ambulance was called, and she was taken to the main hospital. Her children were called, and I recognized her daughter. Nicky had graduated with Dylan.
This whole little drama scared the puckey-doo out of me, sitting there in my own lightheaded fog. When the nurse returned to change my IV to yet another pre-med, she suspiciously asked me if I was alright. 'No,' I allowed. 'I feel very lightheaded. It's just the benadryl, I think.' Sure enough, I had some seriously low blood pressure. They do what they do, and got it up to a reasonable number, and the treatment continued. I was there for seven hours, was walked to the door by staff, and came home sick. Cara was quite nervous about the fact that I might get sick in the 'Cara-mobile'. I am proud to say that I did not. But for the first time, chemo made me sick. Really sick. It was not fun. I am better this morning, but still not so great. This second half is going to be a whole 'nuther ball game, apparently.
I got an e-mail from a friend who wondered if I was, perhaps, being a little too cheerful and strong in my blog. Maybe glossing over the difficult times. I guess that she's right, probably. So you folks have been moved to the inner circle.


Hal Johnson said...

Some folks might prefer that you keep an upbeat tone, Debby. I suppose if gathering more readership was what you were after, that would be the way to go.

And yeah, maybe it would be easier for your regular readers if you put up a cheerful front, but I say just write from your heart, for all of the dark and light that brings. I think that if you put up a cheerful front, you're putting aside one of your strengths as a writer.

But then, what do I know? When I wrote about the deaths of my coworkers and seven other people, folks seemed to really want me to write about our family Christmas. So, I did, sorta. I guess I'm not practicing what I'm preaching, but like you I think, I put up the cheerful side out of basic consideration.

You might say I'm feeling a little conflicted on this "writing from the heart" issue.

Debby said...

Since I was one of those 'so how was your Christmas?' people, I feel a little self conscious, Hal. (But 'tis my nature...) Life is a real mixed bag. Sometimes it just plain sucks. The crash was bad, and it affected you in a very personal way. As your readers, we all felt for you, our friend. We sympathized, but tried our best to move our friend into a happy place.

As for me, one of my New Year's resolutions was to stop worrying about readership. Period. I've got some pretty loyal readers, and I am so lucky for that. That's all I need to know.

Pencil Writer said...

Last night, after prayers, I felt a nudge to remember you again. I did remember that your treatment was changing and did follow through and pray again for you and Tim. I can not imagine the physical/emotional toll cancer treatment takes. Prayers continue in your behalf!

steviewren said...

I'm sorry Debby that this treatment isn't what you hoped for in terms of ease. I do hope that it kicks the hell out of your cancer though. I appreciate that you trust us enough to tell the truth. Thanks

A Novel Woman said...

Well, Cleo, I feel honoured to be part of your inner circle.

I think upbeat is highly overrated, or at least, faux upbeat for the sake of others. I prefer a big platter of honesty instead, and you've given us that. You're not a whiner, you're not complaining, you're just giving us the real deal. Not a lot of people are able to do that well, but you do.


Redlefty said...

I'm with Hal, just lay it out there whenever you want. We love Debby, the whole package, not just the upbeat parts.

Portia said...

You say what you feel and what you want to say, we'll still be here reading. I know that it's a lot more rough than you let on and have often been amazed at your ability to be positive and actually put together a post. It cannot be easy to be that insightful during chemo. I'm praying for you and your family.

jeanie said...

I fell very honoured.

Sorry that you are feeling yuk.

Bush Babe said...

Hey there Cleo... you already know what I think. It's OK to 'crack hardy' darl, if that's what you need to do. I love that you share the unvarnished truth when the need arises also - I imagine that if ever I am standing in your shoes (so to speak) I can come back here and read and know I will be in familiar territory. That is your gift to us.

We should all be honoured. Honesty like this is not easy. But it is gold, my friend. Thank you. I wish you a better 'next round'. That finish line is in sight!!

Bob said...

I'm with Hal and Michael -- just say what you feel and direct it to whatever 'circle' you prefer. I'm honored that you share it with us. Take care, friend.

Laura Jane said...

The inner circle feels like a sanctum.

Honoured to be here, offering a shoulder from far away in Western Australia.

Some of my favourite tough cookies have crumbly edges. Nothing wrong with that, hon.

Chin up (unless you're pukin, then chin down is more appropriate).


Mike said...

Your most honest writing is what affects us most deeply.

Debby said...

Laura Jane: LOL!

Everyone else, yep. Still getting used to it. I'm thinking that by the time this is over, I'll look like Uncle Lurch. And then am ashamed of myself for being so superficial.

And then am embarassed that, emotionally, I see-saw around so much.

Debby said...

Okay. Not uncle Lurch. Uncle Fester. (ack.)

Scotty said...

Ditto from me - you write whatever you feel like and I'll be here reading it.


Cimba7200 said...

Debbie,as a stranger to you I thank you for your frankness with your cancer. Considering how you feel you write excellent articles here. I wish you every success with your treatment, as unpleasant as it is. - Dave