Wrestling with Myself

Despite the radiologist’s suggestion that the regimen of radiology will eliminate any remaining cancer, the sense of hopefulness that I expected would come over me hasn’t quite enveloped me the way I anticipated. It’s as if I “know” that neither the radiologist nor the oncologist nor anyone else really “knows” whether the cancer will disappear. And no one knows with any degree of certainty whether it will reappear. Having read quite a lot about lung cancer, I understand that its recurrence is common; far more common than to make survivors of one bout with the disease feel confident that another won’t follow on its heels. I realize that line of thinking will take me no place but down, yet I can’t seem to shake it. It’s not that I’m afraid of dying, it’s more than I’m afraid of living with the uncertainty and the possibility that my life and my wife’s life will be subject to being turned upside down. Even though it’s been just under two months since my surgery, I feel like I’ve been living within unpleasant physical limits for months and months and months. On November 18, I felt fine. On November 19, my surgery changed that. It may have saved my life, but it changed irrevocably changed it, as well. I realize I’m still relatively early in the recovery stage made less natural through the insertion of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but even with that realization, it’s impossible to overlook the reality that my life has changed.

Yet, as I go for my chemotherapy and radiation therapy, I see people whose lives have been altered far more significantly by cancer than mine, at least so far. I see people who depend on others for motion of any kind, whether moving a wheelchair from one room to the next or moving from a gurney to a treatment table. The lives of those people have changed far more drastically than mine, but it seems to me (from my limited vantage point) that they have either accepted the permanence of those limiting changes or are valiantly fighting their way through. So, I think to myself, given the relatively greater challenges they face I should be less…what? I should be more brave. No, bravery isn’t it. I should just suck it up and live with what life has dealt me. But I am unwilling to do that, at least not yet. I’m angry, but I can’t seem to find an object of my anger toward which to direct my rage. So I just feel like screaming at myself.

After ventilating like I’ve done in the previous paragraphs, I feel stupid and small, like I’ve just completed a temper tantrum about something over which neither I nor anyone else has control. Recovering from both moods is like pulling teeth; if I could slap myself into good sense I would. It’s odd that I feel that I can look at myself as if I were a dispassionate observer and can make rational observations about my emotions and my behavior, but I can’t seem to transform those rational observations into rational experiences of the observed. I’m not even sure what I’m saying to myself here. I’m unclear as to what I think I’m doing by writing rationally through emotion that, obviously, colors the observation and thus the writing about it.

Perhaps I’m going through phases of health-related experience. Maybe like the stages of grief, but I’m not sure grief applies to my situation. Does one grieve over the loss, whether temporary or permanent, of one’s health? I suppose it’s possible. And, if so, can the stages of grief that I remember very vaguely from reading Elizabeth Kubler Ross apply? Maybe the problem with me this morning is that I’m trying to be rational and emotional at once. Maybe it’s difficult or impossible to look at one’s emotions dispassionately while they simultaneously rage and parade through one’s brain.

I wonder what I’ll think when I read this months or years hence? I’ll laugh at myself and be ashamed that I was so utterly unable to control what ought to be nothing more than a passing thought. I wonder how I’d react if, instead of being told the cancer will be conquered, I were told the cancer is terminal? I’d probably be serene and accepting. I don’t think I’d be crazy, because I’d know there’s an end to the engagement, whereas I don’t have a timeline for being “back to normal.” Maybe because “normal” won’t be what it once was.

Enough of this crap. Even if I have to break my fingers, I’m going to stop typing this drivel.


About John Swinburn

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