Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Fear Not

You’d have to be totally numbed to life to not have some fear about a cancer diagnosis.  Sure, every fiber of my machismo bristled at the thought that I was somehow infested with this thing that would try to take me out of the game on a permanent basis, but the real me – you know, the one who has feelings and kids and people who love me – that one was pretty damned scared. My military training was in full force in that I put on that brave face and tried to have it out with the doctor. Of course, if you’ve read anything that I wrote about that conversation, you know he pulled the trump card and won. That conversation went something like this:

   Me      I feel fine.  I don’t have any of the symptoms you listed.
   Doc     The pathologist was adamant that you have leukemia. You have 50% monoblast cells in your bone marrow. I want to admit you tonight.  This constitutes a medical emergency.
   Me      Let me get this straight. I feel fine.  I’m on my way to the gym and you want to bring me in here and give me chemicals to make me really sick?
   Doc     (trump card) You could leave tonight and I can pretty much guarantee you that within 30 days, you will be in the Emergency Room very ill and in another 60 days, you’d likely be dead. The choice is yours.

Insert discussion between mom and doctor here. 

   Me      Can I at least take my car home and put it in the garage?
   Doc     (not amused … and not wanting to let me leave to get an overnight bag. Kill joy!)

It was at this point, of course, my mind began to spin and I think there were some obituaries being mentally written at that point. But dammit, this was a VA hospital and I felt like cussin’ like a sailor, although admittedly, I really don’t have much of a potty mouth. This was one of those occasions my mom let the “F” bomb drop once we were on our way out to the car. I think I was in too much shock to let anything out.

A lot has transpired since that day. I’m past the 90-day mark that the doc told me would be my life expectancy if I didn’t get the chemo rolling and now still in the queue for a bone marrow donor. The transplant is a daunting procedure that will knock me for a loop, but I’ve spoken with a number of people who have been through it and are thriving now. The Leukemia-Lymphoma Society set me up to talk with a couple of guys who are survivors, one an eight-year survivor and the other a six-year survivor and I know personally two people who are about a year past their transplant dates. The common thread is that they’re alive and doing well. And that’s where my sights are set.

I harbor no illusions about sailing through it like I have the consolidation chemo treatments, but I’m hopeful it’s not as bad as I have shaped the process in my mind. I think we all tend to do that.  We build up this bogey man in our mind of what something is going to be and we live in that illusion of fear. Sometimes it’s downright debilitating. For me, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve built up the monster of an experience and while the actual event is not really pleasant, it wasn’t what I had imagined. I get through it and wonder why I had turned it into such a big deal. I can be my own worst enemy as I suspect we all can from time to time.

I think that’s why it’s so important to talk things out with others who have actually been through what’s in front of us. They not only help us navigate the mine field of our imagination, they can provide the real comfort we need. Cancer isn’t something any of us should fear. There are things we all can do to live a healthier lifestyle, but I’m living proof that even a healthy lifestyle of daily exercise and a decent diet isn’t going to deter this and I can’t say that genetics played a factor in my case. Everyone in my family lives to be pretty ancient and self-sufficient. Cancer just happens. When I’m on the other side of this, I’ll continue my daily exercise and balanced diet.  The “new normal” will certainly entail a bit more vigilance than before, but I’m going to be OK.

And today, I’m not afraid of tomorrow.  Yup, I’m a bit intimidated about the bone marrow transplant procedure as I do have this allergy to pain, but don’t we all? Actually, I have a relatively high threshold of pain, but I don’t like pushing it any more than the next guy. Truth be told, I’m really getting pretty tired of the needles. Maybe I shouldn’t have watched the Frontline presentation: Facing Death. That’s a laugh a minute, especially since two of the people they featured were dealing with failed bone marrow transplants. Actually, I watched it because of how I see death now. I’m not expecting to die, but I do have to face that eventuality and its possibility, no matter how unlikely, in my treatment. If I can face that ultimate fear, then everything else is pretty much gravy, right? (Nod your head here in agreement).

There are a lot of things in life that elicit fear – and I’m not talking about spiders, snakes, and small spaces. Watch TV for even 30 minutes and pay attention to the language: everyone’s trying to scare us into doing something. Advertisers want us to buy their product or else… and then there’s the danger lurking in our very own kitchen cabinets, details at 6:00… or the other political party is downright unpatriotic and dismantling our freedoms… or it’s just not safe to go to the (you fill in the blank). And the list goes on and on. We give these people even a moment of our attention and we feel threatened and moved to action as our fight-or-flight instinct kicks in.  Our blood pressure rises and we ask our doctor if this medication is right for us and we lock our doors, turn on our security system and become a high-strung hermit that has been scared right out of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by the same system that was created by those noble ideals.
So…stop it!

Stop living in fear. Some of us will have bad things happen to us for no reason that makes sense. Some of us will have our houses burn down because of something that no one could have foreseen; some of us will lose loved ones to circumstances we couldn’t have imagined…and yes, some of us will get cancer. But we can’t live like we’re going to lose it all, but rather, may I suggest making the most of the life you have with those that mean the most to you…and that includes *you* today. And take care of yourself now and say the things you have in your heart to that special someone before you talk yourself out of it. Live your life with gusto and intention and make your decisions devoid of fear. Absolutely, weigh your options and consider the consequences, but don’t *not* do something out of fear.

Music for today - These Times by Safetysuit
 
These times will try hard to define me
And I'll try to hold my head up high
But I've seen despair here from the inside
And it's got a one track mind


And I have this feeling in my gut now
And I don't know what it is I'll find
Does anybody ever feel like,
You're always one step behind?


Now I'm sitting alone here in my bed
I'm waiting for an answer I don't know that I'll get
I cannot stand to look in the mirror
I'm failing
I'm telling you these times are hard
But they will


And I know there's someone out there somewhere
Who has it much worse than I do
But I have a dream inside, a perfect life
I'd give anything just to work
It's like I'm only tryin’ to dig my way out
Of all these thing I can't

And I am
Sitting alone here in my bed


I'm waiting for an answer I don't know that I'll get
I cannot stand to look in the mirror
I'm failing
I'm telling you these times are hard
But they will pass,
They will pass
They will pass
These times are hard
But they will


These times will try hard to define me
But I will hold my head up high

Sitting alone here in my bed
I'm waiting for an answer I don't know that I'll get
I cannot stand to look in the mirror
I'm failing
I'm telling you these times are hard
But they will pass


And I know there's a reason
I just keep hoping it won’t be long ‘til I see it
And maybe if we throw up our hands and believe it!
I'm telling you these times are hard
But they will pass
They will pass
They will pass
These times are hard
But they will pass