Unravel Cancer: Experiences with family battling cancer: January 2011
06 January 2011
13:11 When love can be too much
Maybe I've had this grief thing all wrong.
Maybe the Daughter of Cancer blogger had it right all along. All her crying, whining, wallowing, and carrying-on; maybe that's it. Maybe that's how to deal with grief.
The alternative seems to be killing me, or at least that's how it feels today.
While waiting at the bus stop Thursday on my way to work, my neck & left shoulder spasmed severely, to the point where I felt my head jerk.
Immediately I called my acupuncture lady, and met her at her office as she was coming in for the day. She stuck me full of holes, cupped my upper back & shoulders to the point where it looked like I'd been beaten, and told me to stay home.
Gol dang it.
Seeing my brother over the holidays clearly had an impact. Seeing him always does. It's the same with my mom. This whole situation feels like an addiction. Literally, I can't control my body's reactions after returning from a visit. My mind seems to be ok, but my body is not following along with my mind. No matter how I try to accept the horror unfolding before me, no matter how hard I try to let them both go, my body says Eff You.
When can love be too much? When can love hurt?
In this case, it's me who's getting hurt. There are many great things I have going for me, like the trip I'm planning. Just Saturday at the Sierra Club snowcamping orientation, I met a great adventure videographer lady who's trying to get her career started. Woohoo! Even if we don't end up working together, it's an in, a lead.
But, when I return from a visit, my body goes kaflooie, my mind gets way-layed in depression, and I take everything personally. This is not a good recipe for trip-planning. Already I'm way behind on what I need to deliver to the web design consultant. Hopefully I can pull it out of my butt tomorrow night after work.
The fact is, all this crap has been going on for almost 2 years now. My symptoms are getting worse & worse. The spasm this week was so scary, what with numb pinky fingers & all, that I decided to seek medical help from Western doctors. My current GP blew me off. I have the name of another lady my pal recommended. My yoga teacher & I agreed I should get a full-on physical, with ob-gyn, and hopefully a spinal x-ray, etc. of some areas. He thinks we should eliminate any major issues (like tumors) and then go from there, if it's simply a matter of stress reduction.
Yes, I wrote tumors. The physical reaction my body had this week just seemed so extreme, that I'm now terrified some other major thing is wrong. Maybe it's my heart, which is why the contracting muscles are all on the left side. Maybe it's my thyroid (runs in the family). Maybe it's a low-grade infection (lymph nodes are hurting). Maybe it's skin cancer (bumps on my neck for 5 weeks).
As you can see, dear readers, I'm coming apart at the seams. That's exactly how I feel. The stress of hearing about my mom's emergency surgery on Christmas Eve (3rd tumor), and not being able to be there, was a lot. Add that on top of my brother's ridiculous condition in the wheelchair, and that's triple a lot.
So, I pray & ask for the answer to balance how much I care, how much I love them, the survivor guilt I have, and the rest of Life, including my super stressful job, and generally active lifestyle. Clearly, these ingredients are making a sour stew. They are not balanced and it's causing some severe physical reactions that are uncomfortable & scary. Truly Thursday & Friday were deeply scary days. Now I know a little bit what it must have been like for my mom & brother to visit the doctor's after their diagnoses, and wonder if the treatments really worked. Terrifying.
Today, I managed to cry a bit. It was really helpful, but my body still seems sore, and overall I feel exhausted. Grieving is hard work. It's uncomfortable. It makes me feel vulnerable. I don't like it. Apparently, that's a big part of the problem.
So, we'll see. All I can do is take steps to learn more about what's going on. Knowledge is power. And, I'm thankful that amongst all the unconscious redirection of stress to my body, a part of me _did_ wake up & realize it was too much.
Meanwhile, I bought some snowcamping gear this weekend @ REI and Yakima, and a little somethin' somethin' from Vickie's Secret. I'm feeling better.
AND, I listed to most of the Islanders vs Blackhawks game, where the Hawks spanked the Isles, 5-0. That felt great! It was so awesome, I share it with you here:
Even though my body is cracking, there's something worth celebrating: Go Blackhawks!
Author's note: The following is a work of short fiction I wrote in a creative writing class I took at my local community college. It was inspired by my trip to visit my brother in October. I've since seen him over the New Year holiday, and he is much worse. Hope you enjoy the story.
His face was bloated. Red burn scars swept over his bare skull. Stubble remained where once long blond strands fell to his shoulders. He was Sampson, then: lean, tall, with the rugged face athletes and laborers have from spending long days outdoors.
Twenty-five minutes were spent trying to get the pickup as close to the kids' football field as possible. Two large men hooked my brother's arms, carrying him to the folding chair. The sky was wide, blue, and cloudless. Parched hills pock-marked with brittle shrubs hung nearby, emotionless. They had no opinion about the goings-on atop their sides.
My brother collapsed into his seat with a smile on his face. Boys in silver and gray clumped around a man with a silver & gray baseball cap. My brother's son was there. Eventually, the sun announced itself on our skin. My brother's dry scalp yawned with joy when I rubbed in the shea-butter cream. Then came the sunblock.
The parents and friends along the sidelines shouted and cheered, my brother's face glowed. The boys scored. My brother's smile puffed his cheeks out, like a squirrel. His arms flapped awkwardly as he attempted to clap. Parents from the team strolled by often to see how he was doing. Their questions and chit-chat attempted to be supportive, but couldn't hide the awkward pity & fear of their own demise that his presence represented.
I was there the day it happened, later that week. I saw my brother cry when the wheelchair was pulled out of the truck. I heard the sigh weighted with sorrow, anger, and despair slip through his thin lips. He brushed away the tears when the boys voices echoed from the upstairs porch. The friend said there were black-handled levers to lock the wheels on each side.
“I can't believe it's come to this”, my brother said.
His sons tumbled down the deck stairs to where we were standing, their rounded faces arranged into slackened jaws. They ran behind the chair and began to push. Their stubby legs strained against the driveway. They fussed over who could hold which handle. My brother became dad again, delivering orders and encouragement. The chair got wheeled to the edge of the driveway, overlooking the steep hill. Half-gold, half-green aspen leaves wavered in the afternoon breeze, cueing Autumn's approach.
The kids twirled my brother around through sun and shade patches scattered on the driveway. With his instructions, they quickly collaborated on how to pop wheelies. We all seemed to release unknown clenched breaths at the same time. As quickly as they ran down, the boys shot upstairs to get some item he had forgotten. Or maybe it was his gentle way to get them out of the scene, so he could take his own turn at moving the oversized wheels of the chair. He looked up at all of us. His cheeks puffed out in a smile. It was going to be alright. For today at least, it was going to be alright.
I'm a 30-something professional woman who's mother & brother were both diagnosed with Grade 3 Astrocytoma tumors within about a week of each other. My mother's tumor is in her brain, and my brother's tumor is in his spinal cord, causing him to lose feeling in his arms & legs. These writings are about my experiences dealing with them, coping, loving them, loving myself, and living my life knowing that they are both dying. I hope you find inspiration and courage from my writings to help you get through whatever is going on in your life.