Mixed Emotions

I began writing this yesterday, but couldn’t seem to remove the self-pity from it, so I opted not to post it. I don’t think I succeeded in the removal with my edits and additions, either, but I’m posting it anyway.

For me, whose attention span can seem measurable in nanoseconds, my overwhelming focus on my diagnosis of lung cancer is utterly foreign. Rather than frantically skipping about as usual—from idea to idea, topic to topic, interest to interest—my mind seems unable to deviate from its laser focus on the disease. I have until now thought my difficulty in maintaining interest in a topic for very long was a tragic character flaw, and deeply annoying. But that was before this entirely unwelcome singular focus that seems to overwhelm my interest in almost everything else.

I took an online test yesterday (Wednesday) morning, an instrument that ostensibly measures attention span. My report, which showed a score of 38 out of a possible 100, suggested  I “seem to have a rather short attention span.”  It goes on to say “…it would be a good idea to visit a psychologist in order to assess whether Attention Deficit Disorder may be an issue.” So, I need to see a psychologist because I am at least borderline ADD and perhaps completely out of my mind. Okay, the score reflects the way I’m used to being in this world. But it does not reflect this recent inability to relieve myself of the focus on deviant cells attacking my body. I suppose this cynosure (that’s a new word for me, courtesy of an online Thesaurus) is a temporary reaction to a foreign object, like a grain of sand in an oyster. Following the simile to its  conclusion, the tumor growing in my right lower lung may become a gleaming pearl, a potentially deadly shiny object. Yeah, right. See, even in monkeying with linguistic acrobatics, my attention comes right back to lung cancer. The cough, a constant reminder and the trigger for my visit to the doctor in the first place, doesn’t help, either.

Until the last several days, I thought writing about my emotional and intellectual reactions to the slowly evolving diagnosis would help. Instead, I find that I sometimes have to force myself to write and I don’t even know what to write. I can’t write how I feel because I don’t know how I feel. And that frustrates me beyond comprehension. I always know how I feel. I always know how to express my anger or fear or joy or general happiness. But I don’t know what this is. I’m not afraid of dying, but I am afraid of the process of getting there, I guess. And I am upset with the damage the process would do to others who matter.  And the thought that I might have done something long ago to avoid this pisses me off. The best I can do to describe it is an amalgamation of guilt, fear, and anger.

The guilt component relates, I think, to the fact that I smoked for 35 years. I didn’t stop even when my father died of lung cancer. I kept smoking even though I knew smoking was directly linked to lung cancer. And I exposed my wife to second-hand smoke for many of those years. So perhaps what’s happening in my body could happen in hers because of my behavior. That guilt is impossible to cut out with a scalpel or to kill with chemicals or radiation. It’s there. It’s a permanent fixture that resides in my brain and cannot be excised, nor should it. I deserve it as a constant reminder of my responsibility for outcomes that I could have and should have seen coming and could have done something to avoid.

The fear is not for me but for my wife. But then it becomes fear for me, too. I fear what going through this with me might do to her. She already went through the nightmare of cancer when she had a mastectomy followed by months and months of chemotherapy. She doesn’t need this crap. And, perhaps at some point she will decide she’s not willing to put up with it any longer and will just let me deal with it myself. I guess that is a fear I’ve always had for reasons that escape me, that I’ll be abandoned. Perhaps I know, somewhere deep inside, that I didn’t support her during her battle with cancer, the way I should have. Perhaps I was more concerned with my pain than with hers. I honestly don’t know. But something inside me tells me I’ve been someone or done something that is deserving of abandonment. It’s probably an unreasonable fear, based on a vaporous framework created out of thin air. It’s vapor. But it’s vapor I breathe for some reason.

The anger is toward myself and it resides comfortably with the guilt. They’re a pair. Why did I allow my behavior to get me to this point? Why? Because I’m an idiot. I imagined, I suppose, that it would never happen to me. I’m mad at myself for ever allowing that absurd sense of invincibility to invade my thinking. That very sense of invincibility left me exposed.

When I try to unravel what I feel, I end up with, as I said, guilt, fear, and anger. But those emotions combine to form something I can’t name. And that nameless emotion is what I can’t quite describe. Somewhere, mixed in with all the other emotional crap that I should be able to discard like trash, is the sense that I deserve this diagnosis. Intellectually, I believe that is bullshit. But emotionally, I can’t quite bring myself to erase it. I don’t believe people get sick because they deserve to get sick. I don’t believe people are hit by cars or fall from tall buildings or are struck by lightning because they deserve it. But there it is. A feeling that I KNOW is wrong and nonsensical, but I can’t shake it, regardless.  So, maybe my knowledge that it’s wrong is just a cover to make me seem sane; maybe I believe it and I’m only saying I don’t to convince myself that I’m not crazy. God, just the thought processes that led me to write that sentence may be used as evidence at my commitment hearing.

When I’m able to pull myself back from this strange abyss for long enough, I realize that the likelihood that my cancer is apt to be lethal is probably quite small. I’ll know more when I have the damn biopsy (breathe…breathe), but I’m banking on learning that it’s in an early stage, that it can be removed surgically, and that my life will return to normal.  Everything I’ve learned about lung cancer since this experience began suggests that my cancer probably is not at an advanced stage. The surgeons probably will be able to remove it by removing a piece of my lung. In a few months after surgery, if all goes well, I should be almost back to where I am today. But, then, I read that 30% to 50% of lung cancer survivors whose tumors are successfully removed eventually die from a recurrence of lung cancer. So that little tidbit tends to tank my buoyant mood.

My next post will not even mention cancer. Unless I get significant news. In which case I’ll retract my commitment and journal away.

 

 

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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