Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Life, Distilled

There are five stages of grief according to the Kubler-Ross model which most people are by now familiar with (and which was drilled into us in nursing school). According to Ms. Kubler-Ross, when crummy (or catastrophic, if we are using her terms) things happen to you, you must experience all five.

1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Acceptance

Looks good on paper. Neat, tidy and efficient.

But in reality(or at least in my personal experience)what actually happens is something more along these lines: Denial, bitterness, sarcasm, acceptance, depression, Netflix, depression, xanax, sarcasm, avoidance, dark humor, acceptance, bargaining with husband to watch 30-Rock instead of some war documentary on Netflix, denial, sarcasm.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

It isn't neat. It isn't tidy. And the frustrating part is that lurking around each corner is a new trigger that can set the whole cascade of emotions back into action. The whole process is exhausting.

Which is probably why for the last several days I've been holed up in what I've deemed "my nest" on the couch, perusing Netflix instead of participating in - well really much of anything. Ms. Kubler -Ross might label this as "depression". And she probably would be right. But Ms. Kubler-Ross would probably also miss out on the "Amazing Bodies" documentary I found that featured not only conjoined twins but also dwarfs. Take that hoity-toity five stages of grief lady.

But I digress.

Yesterday, in the middle of a particularly engaging episode of "How I met your Mother", my own mother called to ask me why I hadn't written anything on this blog for a few days. I told her I was trying to wait out the current Netflix stage until I had something to be optimistic about again. I told her I felt sad and that I just didn't have it in me to be happy or funny right now. And then she said something that made me turn off the television (well, after the episode was over anyway): If you really want to help people, you need to be honest about what this is like for you - otherwise they won't be prepared if it happens to them.

And she's right. I do.

So, here's the truth: This really sucks. Recovering from surgery hurts - worse than I could have prepared myself for. And I can't do the things I used to be able to do - little things like getting dressed by myself, opening childproof medicine bottles, driving or drinking a glass of wine without feeling guilty. There are days when I'm afraid of not being strong enough to be able to face the next phase of this fight, afraid of losing my job, afraid of losing my identity to being "just a cancer patient" - whatever that means. Sometimes I feel guilty about all of the hardships I have placed on my husband - financial, emotional and just plain logistical (just bringing me around to all these appointments is a part time job). And I cry - a lot. And at weird times.

But, I'm also pretty lucky. Because even on the days when all I want to do is hide from the world - I have amazing people around me that keep reminding me what a beautiful place the world is. Reminding me that there is still so much to do and experience and learn.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say here is - thank you. Thank you to all my friends and family who stand by me on a daily basis - drain tubes and all. Those who know when to pull me up off the couch and when to just sit there beside me. Thank you for letting me know that it's ok to be devastated sometimes - because in all honesty, I am sometimes.

Even with chin held high - cancer takes away so much. It takes away the illusion of health and infallibility - something that can never be returned. For even at the end of this battle, when all the surgeries and chemo and radiation are done - that lurking threat will always be there. Cancer takes away the ability to feel safe in ones own body. And worse - it strips that illusion from my children, who don't understand why mommy has to get sick to get better, who have to ask things like "Mommy, what's a cancer" and "Mommy, are you going to die?"

And I don't always know how to answer.

Thank you to the people who continue to keep our family in their thoughts and prayers and actively work to make my life easier (sometimes behind the scenes) - even if it's just to make me smile. Those who bring food and send silly gifts or write notes on facebook just to let me know they are there. But more than anything - thank you to those I keep closest to me - who allow me to let my guard down and cry. Not the soap-opera-lovely,tear running down one cheek kind of cry - but a lets-get-real "ugly cry". The kind of gut wrenching, snot everywhere, sob till you can't talk, breath, think, or anything else - except be in the moment. Sob past the point where it's even rational anymore - just a sincere response to this maddening existence that we've been thrust into somehow.

Because dammit it's not fair. At 32, I shouldn't have to face my body being mutilated, being thrust into premature menopause, face treatments that may cause me to develop osteoporosis, damage my heart and possibly cause me to develop other, more insidious cancers in the future.

But I'm learning there is no fair in life - or unfair for that matter. That this is "just an is". And maybe that's ok.

Cancer forces you to face ones own mortality in a way that nothing else can. It is the line in the sand: Life before diagnosis, Life after diagnosis. It changes every aspect of the way you see yourself, the way you see the world - and not all of that is bad. Facing ones mortality has a way of putting life in perspective. It allows you to do and say the things we all should be doing and saying anyway. Because through it all, cancer - and the ability to fight it - is still a gift. Life, despite all its uncertainties and sometimes unbelievable strife and heartache is a gift. And if it means I get to stick around to be part of that - I will do whatever it takes.

I am so thankful I get the chance to fight - because so many others do not. I am thankful for the science that is allowing me to have a chance to do so - and for the physicians and clinicians who sacrifice so much of their own personal lives to help save mine. But most of all, I am thankful for the knowledge that I'm not alone in this battle. So, if I haven't told you lately, thank you - every single one of you - for being in my corner of the ring. Your kindness and support does not go unnoticed. It means everything to me - to our family - and it will eventually help me get back off the couch.

As for now, if you'll excuse me, "the nest" and season 3 of 30-Rock is calling my name. But, with any luck, I won't be there for long.