Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mental Gymnastics

I have the great good fortune of an incredible support network. I’ve said it many times not because I’m trying to convince myself of anything, but because it’s true.  And for that, I continue to be grateful and truly humbled.  I can’t tell you how much it means and I honestly hope you don’t have to be in my position to find out who your real friends are.  I’m amazed at how many real friends I do have…and again, many more acquaintances who have stepped up to the plate and been absolutely extraordinary in the face of my challenges. I’ve used this medium as my own therapy to talk things out, to work out the details, to come to grips with the reality of a long-term, to-the-death illness that I can’t even see except through lab reports and the expertise of the many, many medical artists who are manning my very own ‘situation room.’ That’s at least what I imagine in military terms is happening. On a micro-scale, that is exactly what is happening.

On a macro scale, I have my ups and downs and you see my life’s lessons I’m pulling away from this journey.  Everything I’ve written has been entirely true although some of what I write tends to be subjective. What I don’t typically talk about is how I feel about what’s happening, mostly because men typically don’t do that very well and to some extent it has the possibility to come across as whiny. I’ve been trained extraordinarily well to be strong in the face of adversity, to be stoic in my discomfort, and to compartmentalize feelings from reality so I can do my job.  That is tremendously important as a pilot, but I’m not in a cockpit right now. I work from wherever I can, whether it’s in an office, from my home, or from a hospital bed.  Perhaps that’s the beauty of the 21st century and perhaps it’s a way to keep my mind active and sharp when Newtonian physics conspire to keep me immobile: ‘a body at rest tends to stay at rest…’ But feelings are breaching the watertight integrity of their compartments and I’m battling the reality of cancer. As much as I endeavor to be positive, cheerful, and just a bit of a wise-ass, I struggle with the new normal. I struggle with clumps of hair falling out and while I’ve never been nor will I ever be a Calvin Klein underwear model, there’s that part of me that cringes at the sickly looking guy in the mirror losing hair, muscle tone, and weight. It’s not just a little dismaying. It’s one thing to know in your head that this stuff is supposed to happen; it’s another entirely to watch it happen to yourself in relatively short order. Walking around the block with a surgical mask has the unwitting effect of making you invisible.  People make eye contact just long enough to register alarm and look away. Funny though, the mask does not seem to deter panhandlers!

I can remind myself of all the things I wrote, of all the things I knew were going to happen, of all the things I have that others don’t, yet there just aren’t words that adequately describe the feelings that race through my mind.  I’ve seen YouTube videos of people dealing with cancer, the very things I’m facing and the struggles they’re facing. I can take some solace in the fact that I’m not the first or last to go through this and there has been great compassion as I’ve said many times. I’ll also say again, I don’t throw pity parties, but I felt I should write about this today to put the reality of leukemia out there and to re-state this is a long-term thing that requires endurance on my part as well as those who hold me up when I get weary.

I’ve learned an awful lot about leukemia where I’d rather remain blissfully ignorant, but in a sense, I’m grateful my doctors haven’t allowed me to be passive about my treatment.  More than peppering me with questions about delightful details like stool consistency and the kind of discomfort or pain I’m feeling, they’ve been very direct in interactive discussion about the course of treatment, sometimes uncomfortably so, but truth be told, I can’t imagine trying to navigate treatment without being informed and involved.

So, the past few days at home have been a good respite from the physical exertion of the hospital stay. Tomorrow, I start a consolidation round of chemo to keep the leukemia in check while we await a bone marrow donor.  It could happen quickly, or it could stretch out a few months. Being the white bread Caucasian that I am, it may not take as long as someone who is of mixed or complicated ethnic descent. While I don’t harbor any unrealistic expectations about this happening quickly, I do want to put this behind me and get back to life as I knew it.  Not 'normal,' mind you, but a life less restricted and one not defined by a diagnosis. I have things I have to do.
Music du jour - Don't Give up (You Are Loved) by Josh Groban.

Be well, stay strong, much love to you all!