Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Carping the Diem Forever

I woke up this morning with a dull ache behind my sternum, right where the grapefruit-sized mediastinal mass used to be. Or maybe still is; I don't know. The pain could be from trying to do too many pushups yesterday, or it could be that the tumor is growing again, pressing hard against my breast bone.

Also, for the past few days I've had an annoying little hacking cough. It might just be from postnasal drip caused by the cold weather. Or it might be the tumor pushing against my lungs and esophagus again. Oh, and this mild headache that's been lurking in the background all week? It might be tension about the CT scans tomorrow, or it might be a brain tumor. And the drenching night sweats could be hot flashes from the chemo induced menopause, or they could be a symptom of recurring lymphoma. I don't know, I don't know, I don't know.

And the thing is, this worrisome not knowing is going to be my reality for the rest of my life. Every little ache or swelling or cough or symptom could be the cancer flaring up. Or, it could be nothing. I realize I'm going to have to find a way to coexist with this perennial uncertainty without constantly freaking myself out. Whether I have two months to live or another 25 years, I really don't want to spend them doing Lamaze breathing into a paper bag.

But you know, it occurs to me that I actually have some practice in living like this. I mean, think about it. I currently live on the Gulf coast, smack dab in the heart of hurricane country. And I lived in California for almost 30 years, only a few miles from the dreaded Hayward fault. Every time there was a rumble that rattled my window panes, I had to wonder: Is this The Big One, or is it just a large truck passing by?

I remember well how jumpy we all were right after the big quake of '89. I remember sitting through a long tedious meeting a few days after the earthquake. Boredom made me fidgety and I started unconsciously jiggling my leg, causing the table to vibrate a little. Two seconds later I was sitting there all alone: my colleagues had all dived beneath the trembling table in a collective panic.

But as the weeks and months and years went by, our hair-trigger panic subsided and we went back to being our normal blasé selves about the inevitable. Sure, there's a huge probability that all the skyscrapers and freeways could collapse and burst into flames any minute now, killing us all in 30 seconds, without warning. But so what? We didn't let our state's prognosis harsh our mellow. Life was still good, the world was still beautiful, and we were all about the whole crazy carpe diem business anyway.

And now I guess that's kind of the way the rest of my life is going to be. I'll be insanely jumpy for a while, but it may become easier with time. I'll always be fully aware that I've got one metaphorical foot poised precipitously on a crumbling levee while the other one balances precariously on a volatile fault line. Always aware of the risks, not denying the grave reality, but at the same time still sane enough to feed the dogs, prune the roses, and happily count the days until Mardi Gras.

Twenty days and counting


Blogger Alto2 said...

Funny, I always thought you were in CA, not here on the Gulf Coast.

In all likelihood, the symptoms are there to remind you you're alive: too many push-ups (are you nuts?), a sniffly nose, blood flowing through your brain. Go enjoy the beautiful weather and find a new activity to take your mind off the scans.

2:48 PM  
Blogger rita said...

Oh my, yes. You have it absolutely right about how to live with being post cancer. You do indeed know how to do this.

I do mourn sometimes for the less fatalistic emotional life I used to have, but hey - I am alive and the sun is shining and there are roses to prune and good coffee to drink, friends to embrace, and pets to nurture and spend the day with. Onward.


4:01 PM  
Blogger RUTH said...

Wishing you all the best. Enjoy each day and fill it with so many things that those niggles won't have time to enter your mind.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I can't relate from the cancer perspective, but in the days and weeks and even months following 9/11, I was a mess.

I worked three blocks from the Sears Tower on 9/11 and they had evacuated the building. I said to myself that if there was a plane coming down in a 3 block vicinity, I wasn't going to be around to watch the aftermath. So I went home.

And as I was about to open the door to my building, I turned around to get one more glimpse of the Sears Tower. This time six blocks away. And I was like, wow, that didn't do much.

Anyway, long story longer, I can relate to your anxiety and the fear of the unknown - but - might - be - coming - or - possibly - even - here! I don't think it really ever goes away.

A few months ago, they evacuated a burning subway via a sidewalk trench right in front of my building. It didn't take me but a split second to think, terrorists!

Good luck to you on your search for inner peace and calm.

5:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Two seconds later I was sitting there all alone:"

Lady, I do hope you keep writing somewhere. I love the way you can turn a tale.

6:32 PM  
Blogger Trasi said...

And I could get hit by a truck tomorrow.

I'd have said tonight, except I'm not planning on leaving my house tonight. I guess I could slip in the shower and die. Come to think of it, a glob of conditioner DID hit the bottom of the tub/shower floor this morning and I didn't wash it down....

Right on, sister, I think we ALL should live that way. As though everything's cool. Until it's not. You've done all you can do thus far, and when it's time for you to try something else, you'll try that. I'm not saying give up or don't do anything or whatever, but once you've done what you can, you just have to go about living your life as long as you have one. marinating in one's own angst does not alter the outcome one single tiny eeny weeny bit.

And you have a really fabulous wardrobe, Liz. I am in love with your green turtleneck sweater with the buttons up the arms. That is so DARLING on you.

6:57 PM  
Blogger Ya Looblue said...

i fear my lack of profundity would muck up this beautiful post, so i'll just say that i'm thinking of you and, as always, sending really good sparkley things your way...

7:14 PM  
Blogger Optimist said...

Hey there! Your post reminded me of one of my favorite books, "Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway". The title says it all.

Fingers and toes crossed!

Bonnie in Houston


10:47 PM  
Blogger The Fog is Finally Lifting.. said...

Well Liz, like some of the others, I have no personal experience of having cancer.

But you know what? There is this great book by Dale Carnegie - How to Stop Worrying and Start Living Your Life (I think that's the title) I'm not asking you to read it, just telling you where the following steps come from (giving credit where credit is due):

1. Decide what is the worst that can happen?
2. Believe it will happen.
3. Decide what you will do.
4. Now that you have your plan, forget about it - you're ready anyway - go back to enjoying your life.

This was the most helpful strategy I've ever learned to help deal with intractable worries. I don't know if you will be interested at all, but I'm just saying...

Sending you hugs and good thoughts,

11:01 PM  
Blogger The Cat Herder said...

I will be counting the days to Mardi Gras with you, Miss Busy. I look foward to the photos of Le Crewe du Chien

2:16 AM  
Blogger Meredith Jones said...

What a gorgeous green jumper (I think you American's call them sweaters?) You look beautiful, and I don't believe you're over 50! Very very best wishes.

4:35 AM  
Blogger Mrs Pretzel said...

I like what Wandering said. You are right too... it's going to be weird to live with that unknown... I hope you'll keep posting here, and let us all encourage you!


11:08 AM  
Blogger Carny Asada said...

This is weird, because just today, I felt a sharp pain in my chest and thought, "Is it cancer again? Or just residual tightness from the radiation?"

I assume that, at some point, I will go back to being in denial, because people don't seem to be able to live with a consciousness of their own mortality for very long. I mean, if we really recognized that we could die at any time, and that this life might be all we get, wouldn't we put down the guns and speak kindly to each other?

10:56 PM  

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