Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Courage, Heroism and Cancer

A couple of years ago, a cyber-friend asked me to make a comfort quilt for her neighbor who was going through cancer treatments.  She sent some sayings, one of which I had never heard before, but loved it as I could relate.

It's attributed to John Wayne...and whether or not he really said it I suppose is beside the point.  "Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway."

Many people have said to me that I am their hero.  Mostly friends and relatives who have watched me as I go through these treatments.  First, I think "hero" is an overused word.  For one thing, I find it difficult to believe that football players and basketball stars are "heros." here is what Merriam Webster has to say about the definition:

1. a : a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or abilityb : an illustrious warriorc : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualitiesd : one who shows great courage2a : the principal male character in a literary or dramatic workb : the central figure in an event, period, or movement3plural usually he·ros : submarine 24: an object of extreme admiration and devotion : idolI'm not mythical, I'm not an illustrious warrior, noble qualities? Hmm...there's one for thought, although I don't particularly feel noble.  I'll accept one who shows great courage I suppose, although truth be told, I don't feel courageous...I just do what I have to do.  No, I'm not in any literature, nor am I the central figure in anything...and 3, no, I've been called "cookie", "Sweetie" but never a sandwich (i.e. grinder, hero, submarine or sub).  I guess I can also accept that some people admire me...although once again, I don't quite get it....I do what I must....and yes, sometimes it means steeling myself to do it.  For example, I am currently on a chemotherapy called Xeloda which rather than being taken intervenously, it is administered as a pill.  The original dosage was four tablets in the morning and four tablets at night, taken for two weeks then one week off.  Unfortunately, it gave me hand-foot syndrome (swelling, peeling skin, burning sensation, pain of the hands and feet), severe gastric distress, and some other side effects which were none too pleasant.  The day before I was to start again was the first day I felt relatively human.  Not fun.  Two weeks of yuck.  So...when Tuesday morning rolled around and I had to start taking it again...I looked long and hard at those tablets.  I didn't WANT to take them.  Although the doctor reduced my dosage to 3,000 mgs rather than 4000 mgs....I really didn't want to have the same problem.  But, I gritted my teeth and took the tablets.  

That I can relate to was courage...yet, it isn't the courage I associate with heroism.  Now if I had charged into a burning house to save some people knowing full well I could be killed, that might be heroism...and yes, I understand that that example verges on stupidity...but you get the drift.

For most of us who are undergoing treatment, every day we are in treatment requires us to screw up our courage...and saddle up.  

For now, the drugs are working.  The reduced dosage may be working...I'll find out in a couple of days when my tumor markers come back.  I do know that I have low red blood cells, low hematocrit and some really whopping sized red blood cells who are trying to carry on for the reduced numbers....and yes, I still have hand-foot syndrome, and the nasty rash which burns and blisters on the back of my hands (a sign of toxicity), but at least my stomach was less upset...

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Being at Peace

This last weekend I had the privilege of meeting a fellow breast cancer survivor who had some pretty big burdens. She struggled with the question of whether she had done things differently, if there would have been different outcomes in an area of her life.  This question is one which burns in the minds of some cancer patients....Would I have avoided cancer if I had done this?  Would I have been in a better position if I had gone to my doctor earlier?  Lots of "What ifs."

Of course, one of the other things that cancer patients have to deal with are the people who accuse you of causing your own cancer, and indicate that cancer is a "wake up call."  That maybe "Now you will take better care of yourself, stop eating so much, get more exercise, stop smoking..." fill in the if we need MORE life altering things to deal with at the time of diagnosis and we certainly don't need  more guilt.

I feel strongly that for most of us, we do the best that we can at the time. In retrospect, sometimes we think we could have done better.  However, with where we were at the time, with the information we had, with the personalities and resources  we have...usually the answer is we did the best that we could at that time.

The hard part is looking at that..acknowledging it, and then letting it go.  I think that most of the meditative practices, such as Yoga generally believe that.. Often, we go through the motions or even actually are able to get most of it....but letting it go, and allowing ourselves to have peace in that is difficult.

One of my constant expressions throughout life is "What is done is done" and "no use crying over spilled milk."  I am also taken by a line from the Book of Common Prayer...and if any Episcopalians can help me out, I'd appreciate it.  I remember a prayer which was said at the end of the day....only I can't remember WHICH office it is, but one of the lines is "what has been done, is done.  What has been left undone is undone," then it goes on to say to put it aside, and be at peace....go to sleep...tomorrow is another day.  All of us need to remember this and try to practice it.  I think it will lead to better inner peace and probably a healthier body...if not a healthier mind.

But there's another element to this.  I admit, I was a bit nonplussed this weekend when I heard from my college Freshman daughter who was preparing for her final exams this week.  Being "mom" I asked her if she had been studying hard.  She waffled...which indicated to me she had been umm.....enjoying life? rather than really hitting the books.  She started in on "I only have to get a 71 in order to get a 90 in the class and I only need a 3.75.. in that class and in another...."  This isn't new.  I'm not sure how I feel about it.

My daughter and I are two different people.  Maybe it is my having cancer is why she often snorts at me and says "there's more to life than studying."  Don't get me wrong.  She does well, and she's smart.  But in my book you work as hard as you can to do as well as you possibly can..and figuring out the minimum you need to do isn't doing the best you can.

I suppose it goes back to the first part of this essay.  If you do the BEST that you can, and work as hard as you can, then you can rest assured that no matter what the outcome, you did what you could in that moment.  I'm not sure that figuring out the minimum you can do is doing that...although it might just be a stress reliever for her and she is verbalizing this....but not really slacking off....but studying smartly and effectively.

A mom can only hope.

On the other hand, my husband's cousins say that she is great at time and project management and this is a useful skill once she gets out in the business world.

Time will only tell, and, of course...her grades.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Having trouble dealing with Baldness from Chemo?

Quite some time ago..longer than I want to admit, Carol Hoenig sent me a copy of Regina E. Savage's Mirror Makeovers and savvy thoughts of the everday gal Surviving Cancer and Baldness with a Sense of Humor  (978-0--9823705-06 , ©2009).  This is a fun little romp through one 10 year cancer survivor's thoughts about being bald and how she dealt with this issue which can be so traumatic for so many.  At 25 pages, it is hardly a heavy tome, but it carries with it an insight that I didn't includes three markers for you to create your own inspirational messages and hairdos right on your you can look in the mirror and see something different.

Ok. So it's not perfect, but I guarantee that it will make you feel better.   Or at least laugh a little. Darren Cranford offers many illustrations which are amusing... It is available on Barnes and Noble, as well as Amazon, as well as from Quiet Angel Publishing .  Check out the link, and you'll be able to find out more about Regina and the book.  Its also nice to know that a percentage of the sales is donated to Chrysalis To Wings and to Healing Oddyssey.

And...since they were so kind in sending me a complimentary copy, please leave a comment  below..(maybe even suggestions on topics you'd like me to tackle), and I'll have a random number generator pick a number and I'll send you a copy....One comment per person, please, and I'm afraid I'll have to limit it to residents of U.S.A. since I'll be forking over my own cash to send it to you. :)  I'll draw for this on June 15. So make a comment before then.

Thanks! and good luck!