Panic, Perhaps?

I think, for the first time since I got the diagnosis of lung cancer, the realization has finally hit me that I’m in a fight for my life. Maybe I’ve come to that realization before, but I’ve blocked it. Maybe I’ve been too afraid to allow myself to remember the realization. Maybe I can’t allow myself to acknowledge it for long. But I realize it now. The disease is attempting to kill me and I am relying on doctors and other medical professionals to administer drugs and other treatments to kill it first. I am a player in this game, of course, but in many respects I’m simply a pawn. I don’t know enough to know what to do, other than follow instructions and listen to and heed advice. But I’m fighting, albeit without knowing exactly what moves to make and what to do to give myself the advantage.

I have the distinct impression that no one wants to have a conversation with me in which the possibility that cancer might win the battle is open for discussion. Everyone, me included, wants to believe “you’ll fight this thing and you’ll win.” But not everyone wins. And sometimes the treatments are so goddamned ugly that the victims of the disease wonder whether the disease or the attempted “cures” are the uglier options. I have no evidence of what I’m about to write other than a gut feel: people want to say they will do what they can and they mean what they say, but when push comes to shove, they want to avoid being too closely connected to someone with the disease. That’s not true, I think, of people like spouses or others with whom one has a very close relationship on a daily basis. But others who want to be helpful would rather not be asked. And so they don’t want to have conversations about “what if” treatments don’t work. They don’t want to be too close to the possibility that, instead of recovery, I might face some form of wasting away in pain, whether quickly or over a long period of time. Hell, I don’t want to face that, either. But I have little choice, unless I simply ignore reality and pretend my chemotherapy and radiation treatments are like visits to the dentist.

There’s a fine line between coming to grips with a potential death sentence and determining with every ounce of one’s resolve that the sentence will not be carried out. Tonight, as I write this, I am determined to fight until I win. But I have to realize, too, that I’ll pay a price for victory. I may have severe shortness of breath. I may suffer from none or many of the potential side effects of the treatments, some minor and some catastrophic. Or I may breeze through treatment with no ill effects. But even then it won’t be over. The statistics tell a story of a “post-cancer” life that doesn’t last terribly long. Lung cancer tends to return. Once it finds a victim, it tends to seek out, quietly and undiscovered until too late, waiting weaknesses.

Perhaps the thoughts going through my head tonight are evidence that I am a coward. I haven’t even started treatment yet and here I’m contemplating its ill-effects and ultimate failure. I don’t look forward to radiation therapy five days a week and a twelve-week regimen of chemotherapy. But I don’t know that I’m a coward for dreading it and everything else associated with the disease. As I look back on what I’ve written, I think “coward” isn’t the appropriate moniker for me; no, maybe “psychotic” fits better. I bounce between cheer and dread, sometimes in the same effing sentence.

Back to where I started this diatribe. I wish I had someone willing to listen to my rants without feeling an obligation to answer them, point-by-point. Someone who’s been there, perhaps, someone who knows what comes next on my emotional trip across the galaxy. I’m deeply grateful for my friend Bev, who’s been there with her husband’s illness, and has shared advice and counsel. And I’m so very grateful for my Facebook group, whose members have allowed me to whine and rant and express my raw emotions. But I think I need someone else, someone not invested in my happiness or sanity, to listen and offer blunt advice. I want to be able to talk to someone who can offer counsel on my options if things go awry; how can I bring the process to a close with the greatest certainty of success and with the least emotional damage to those I love? I realize these decisions are a long way from today; but I want to know well in advance how I cope with such things.

In the interest of full disclosure, the mood that prompted me to write this screed might be attributed to the wine I’ve had to drink tonight. Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll have forgotten all this. Probably not, though; there wasn’t that much wine. Am I simply experiencing some form of panic in advance of the commencement of my radiation treatments in a couple of days? Or is this emotional bowl of spaghetti a moderately normal reaction to a cancer diagnosis? I cannot believe I’m still so damn emotionally charged weeks and weeks and weeks after getting the diagnosis. It’s embarrassing to be such a baby. Maybe that’s not right. Not a baby, but a crybaby. I’ve had ample time to get used to the reality of my diagnosis. Yet I’m whimpering about it. I am too effing weak to fight cancer on my own; I need help doing it. And before anyone offers to refute that, please don’t. Please just let me feel what I feel. I don’t mean to be offensive, but I think I need to just experience my emotions and let them flood over me without anyone trying, with the best and most admirable motives, to assuage them.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. I’m sorry to have put you through it. But it was cathartic for me, I think. If I’ve already written all this, forgive me; I’ll blame the wine for that.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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3 Responses to Panic, Perhaps?

  1. bev wigney says:

    Glad you’re feeling better today, John. Well, if I were closer, I’d hug you to show you how much I care. bev

  2. Bev, I’m better this afternoon. Tomorrow, when I go in to get blood work and have my first radiation treatment, I’m going to ask about support groups. And it’s on my to-do list to do internet searches for groups, too. You’re so very generous with your support and your willingness to share. If you were close I’d hug you tight to show how much I appreciate you! John

  3. bev wigney says:

    John – These are all fair emotions — trains of thought. Recently, I was thinking it might be really helpful to see if there is some kind of cancer support group at your clinic or hospital or area — I think the American Cancer Society — is that what they call it there — might even have some kind of directory. When Don was sick we discovered that there was a man just down the road from us who had the same cancer – same stage – same treatment center. He became Don’s “cancer buddy”. It really is helpful to be able to have certain kinds of talks with others dealing with the same issues. The reason I am probably more attuned to a lot of what people feel is because, for quite some time, I did a lot of volunteer stuff on the – at that time fairly new – website started by Dr. Jack West at the Swedish Cancer Clinic in Seattle. At that time, the site was entirely focussed on lung cancer. I got to know some of the other people on there just through the forum, but most were patients and not spouses — and many who posted on there were patients. So, I regularly read what they wrote and “conversed” with them. Anyhow, I can tell you that it is helpful to have some fellow patients — I hate the word patients — we need a better word — but anyhow, it’s good to have “fellow travellers” to talk about things — to discuss fears, doubts, treatments, pain, and all the other stuff that becomes part of one’s life after a cancer diagnosis. I’m not one to sugar coat things too much – yes, you are in for a battle of sorts – but really — we all are every day. We never know when the other shoe will drop. The best thing is to find ways to empower yourself — and to find “people” who understand how things are. Take care. Hope you are feeling better about things this afternoon. b

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