Today I’ve entered the grief stage. Not that I think I’ll enter it and then it will be gone. No, today’s just one of the grief stage days in what I’ve learned is going to be a much longer road than I’d hoped. I feel like crying. Constantly. It’s right there, under the surface. It’s the “I want my mommy and daddy” stage.
I’m beginning to rethink my philosophy of hope for the best. Not really, but I’m getting exhausted from having my hopes dashed on a regular basis. I know there’s no quick fix. This is cancer. This isn’t the cold I get that lasts for a day or two and then disappears. This isn’t the pain of menstruation that I’ve experienced a few days a month every few weeks for forty years (minus pregnancy and breastfeeding), but disappears with a minimum of waiting. Sure, it comes back, but it’s got a purpose, even if it’s one I don’t need or want any more. This, what I have now, this is a diabolical, opportunistic worm with armor plating.
Stop that. Stop that. Stop that.
These are cells gone rogue and I’ve got a team that’s caught them. Kicked them to the curb. Driven them to the edge of town and told them they’re not welcome here. The thing is, we don’t know if we missed some of their friends. And while we can’t see them any more, they could be waiting, just over the horizon, ready to sneak in and insinuate themselves until they take over the courthouse and elect themselves mayor.
Not my town. Not my body. But that means a long, protracted fight and years of vigilance. It means probable surgery: Dr. S (my onco, not my PCP) is consulting with surgeons in addition to Dr. B. to determine if I need axillary node dissection. If so, Dr. B. would remove 10 – 16 lymph nodes from under my armpit. A drain would be installed. Recovery would take three to eight weeks.
It means possible chemotherapy. Dr. S. ordered an oncotype assay. It’s a test to determine whether or not chemo is advised. Only one company in the country does it, and we had to make sure my insurance covered it first because it’s very expensive. (It does.) A week to send a section from my sentinel node biopsy and a week for results. I won’t know if chemo is recommended for two weeks. More waiting.
Radiation is 100% going to happen. Period. It will target any ruffians who might still be hiding out. Of course, there will be some collateral damage. I’m just starting to research what radiation means, what the possible effects are, and how I can minimize them. Not too much, though. There are different types of radiation, and I won’t know what treatment is recommended for me until I meet the radiation oncologist. I don’t know when that will be.
I’m so tired of wanting to cry. Of crying. I’m so tired.
I’ll be taking The Pill, as Dr. S. calls it, for five years. Period. When we first met he told me that my cancer is Estrogen and Progesterone Receptive, and that this is a good thing because they have The Pill, which blocks those hormones. Will this send me into menopause? I don’t know. I keep forgetting to ask. (Writing this question in my notebook now.) If it does, I’d be OK with that. Forty years is a long time.
All of this adds up to weeks and possible months of immediate treatment, and ongoing treatment for five years.
What gets me, and what makes me feel humble and weak, is that this was found early. I think about my friend who was diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal. A friend’s sister with Stage 2 or 3, also colorectal. I could go on for days listing people I know that have or have had cancer. I feel like I’m overreacting. I know I’m not, especially with the added stress of COVID, but I’m strong, damnit. Everyone tells me I am, and I know it’s true, but this is too much. Two months ago yesterday was my first doctor’s appointment in eighteen years. My angst over my high blood pressure diagnosis feels so cute right now. “Oh, look at you all upset about high blood pressure!” I’m looking at everything differently. I’ve now lost thirteen pounds. Was it because I began walking three miles a day? Haven’t been able to do that in a couple of weeks. Was it because we changed our diet? Maybe, but I’ve had wings, and burgers, and custard, and fries, and popcorn with oil in the last two weeks. One of the symptoms, side effects, whatever of cancer is weight loss. So now I’m worrying my weight loss is not proof of the positive changes I’ve made, but a result of those damn ruffians trying to muscle out the well-behaved citizens.
I’ll be OK. I know I will. But today I’m more scared than I’ve been since this all began. I’m realizing that I have to get things done now because I may not be able to later, especially if I’m out for a few weeks after surgery, or dealing with the fatigue of radiation. And yet thinking is so very, very hard. Concentrating? Forget it. And Jim. Jim has to deal with me and my fears and his own fears and taking on more and more of the responsibilities. I’m still in some pain from the surgery and can’t do what I’m used to doing. This isn’t just about me. It’s about us. It’s about our families, who we call after every doctor appointment. It’s about my friends, who care and want to help and don’t know what to do.
We’re going to go for a walk today. We’ll explore more of the nearby park we found a couple days ago. I’m going to take every project – my writing workshop, the Purdue class that’s submitting articles to me, Living Landmarks, the Midwest road trip anthology – and write down every single task, no matter how small. I will list the minutiae. For example, the next chapter in Living Landmarks is about the Chicago Cultural Center. Instead of my current to-do of “Write Chi Cult Ctr,” I’ll break it up into what’s actually required. The research is done, so my tasks will be: re-read my notes, highlight the salient points, add trivia to my running trivia spreadsheet, add significant dates to my running timeline, review the pictures I’d taken, select pictures, edit pictures, find public domain historic photos, choose one for the book, document all sources. And actually, you know, write the chapter (that’s the fun part). I’m invigorated simply picturing that checklist of doable things.
I don’t want to feel like this today, but I do know that it’s part of the process and it’s healthy to grieve the loss of the life I knew. Underneath the urge to cry and the tears themselves is hope. I know it’s still there, waiting for me.