Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cancer is boring. It's also exhausting.

I am simultaneously bored and exhausted.

I'm bored because I have this damned diagnosis, and nobody wants to talk about anything but CANCER, and I can't think about anything but CANCER, even if it's not-that-big-a-deal CANCER that has an almost-guarantee of a complete cure, because it's scary. The thought of having my mouth reroofed is scary. It's scary to the point of being boring, just like contemplating perhaps having to have a PEG tube is terrifying until it becomes another source of ennui.

(That's the weird thing about this diagnosis: You go over and over and over it in your head, trying to file down the edges and fold it until it fits your concept of yourself, but somehow, you can't bring the concept of CANCER to a place where it actually makes sense in your body. It just doesn't fit.

You have something in your body that doesn't fit. It wants to take over, and that's terrifying, and at the same time, it's boring as hell, because you can't think about anything else, and nobody wants to talk about anything else, and, and, and.)

It makes me tired. All I want to do is lie on the couch and go to sleep, and wake up some time after surgery, or maybe after radiation.

Yes, yes, I know this is a symptom of depression. I understand that if it doesn't go away after four hours, I should seek emergency treatment. It's perfectly clear to me, in both a gut sense and an intellectual sense, that this is indeed normal for somebody to experience, especially at a time when they are facing possibly having their face replaced in large part with plastic.

Yet it wears me out and it pisses me off, because I'm used to doing things other than stopping by the Beer Hut once a day and getting a four of Brewdog's Hardcore, then sleeping for twelve or fourteen hours.

I'm working a whole slew of days coming up. If my throat isn't too sore and I'm not too emotional, maybe it'll help to work a whole slew of days.

Being diagnosed with cancer is terrifying. It's emotionally wrenching. It makes you worry about yourself, and about your family. It makes you make grandiose plans and promises for the future, and then take them back hurriedly out of fear that if you can't or don't fulfill the promises, something worse will come. It's boring. It's dull to repeat the same information over and over, and have people look at you the same way.

(So many people asked me yesterday "How do you feeeeeeel?" in that tone of voice that I started to reply, chirpily, "Fine! You don't look so good, though.")

Being diagnosed with cancer makes you feel guilty for all the things you've done, and all the things you've omitted doing. It makes you want to go back and change the past. It makes you sad, and excited, and wish that you could see this all as one great adventure. It makes you feel bad because you feel bad, yet so many other people have it so much worse than you, with much less of a chance for a cure or a happy ending. It makes me want to take a Lortab and drink a beer and sleep for twelve or fourteen hours. It makes me angry that I don't have the energy, thanks to the combination of boredom and exhaustion and terror, to contemplate much else.

Eventually this will wear off. I know that it will; everybody who has ever been diagnosed with cancer can't *stay* in this state, or else the world would quit turning.

It's just exhausting to be here. And boring.


Luis said...

"Yes, yes, I know this is a symptom of depression. I understand that if it doesn't go away after four hours, I should seek emergency treatment."

Oh, Jo, how I love you and your snark.

In quite another context, I have experienced emotions similar to what you are talking about. And yes, it's exhausting. And, I never thought about it that way, but yes, it's boring. As always, you have this maddening talent for hitting All The Things on the head at the same time.

I really must remember that retort for "How do you feeeeeeeeeeeel?" Out-friggin-standing.

Anonymous said...

It looks like you're thinking on this thing too much. Yes, it is CANCER (are the all caps really necessary?) but it is (a) not fatal; (b) curable; and (c) LOW GRADE.

What would you tell your best friend if they had it?

Stop thinking about the worst case, please.

Jo said...

Anon, my sincere thanks.

No, really.

You're right. I am overthinking this. (cue more guilt feelings!) And as for putting it in ALL CAPS, I guess the snark didn't translate: it's like when my friend Adam asks, "How your *cancer*?" and whispers the word "cancer". It's a way of making fun of it.

But yeah, you're right. I am overthinking it, and getting too far into my own head. I should do what my massage therapist recommends, and think about my feet instead (currently covered with mosquito bites) and get the hell grounded again.

God, I love my commenters.

Anonymous said...

"How do you feeel?" Ugh. How do you think I feel? What, is everyone some sort of amateur shrink now? "How ya doin'?" seems a lot better (and less instrusive sounding) to me.

Low-grade, good. Won't kill you - good. Cancer treatments - potentially not great fun and entertainment though - who could blame you for wanting to sleep until it's over. Heck, that's how they did childbirth even, it the old days - "wake me when it's over". Perfectly natural reaction, I'd say.


Anonymous said...


You just described all of my emotions as an Onc Nurse.

Take a nice nap. The world will look better when you wake up. Promise.

Just My 2¢ said...


Now you've got it! It's boring. When my 28 year old son was 7 and just back from his induction chemo for acute lymphocytic leukemia, we asked him to take out the garbage. He just looked at us. Then we let him in on the big secret:

You are not sick. You are a well person who happens to have cancer.

Life goes on. We all still went to church on Sunday. When his blood counts were low, he wore a surgical mask. He'd sit in the pew with his bald head and his round face from prednisone and his surgical mask.

I hope you find lots of ways to keep life going normally. This too shall pass.

Eileen said...

It'll wear off eventually! Aren't your colleagues less capitals or whispery - if you see what I mean!

I remember when t'other half was having chemo I walked into his room to find a colleague (who I didn't know but was a surgeon, probably vascular) sitting there wanting to discuss this research paper they were supposed to be writing together. So I watched the cricket on hubby's TV to pass the time. How much USEFUL stuff came out of that discussion I'll never know as he was drugged to the ears for a particularly foul set of chemo drugs and never made sense to me - but it's his most cited paper!!! He worked part-time all the way through 4 months of chemo followed by surgery. It was only the belt-and-braces radiotherapy that stopped him as a lung got all irritated and gave him an awful cough - so he spared the lab staff that and bothered me instead. Nothing like work to give you something to think about! I translated during his op - my sister-in-law thought I should be sitting outside the theatre waiting - as the surgeon very sensibly made sure you understood it would not be helpful.

After all - you are not a different person from what you were before, you just have a little extra something for the moment. Think about the feet and maybe add to the shoes now you don't have to leave them to anyone?
all the best, Eileen

WV - remixed - shaken or stirred, ma'am?

shrimplate said...

Maybe the grueling, overwhelming, repetitive stress of work will take your mind off things.

Anonymous said...

Give some occasional thought to how good it will feel in five or six years to say I HAD cancer and I beat it.(You'll show that nasty little sucker.) Denise (frequent lurker and very occasional commenter)

Anonymous said...

When my husband was 3 days from turning 30 (he's 34 now), he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He was diagnosed by the Endocrinologist who'd also diagnosed his Cystic Fibrosis-related diabetes 4 months before... so if he hadn't been born with CF, he probably wouldn't have had the diabetes, and we've caught the cancer much, much later.

(If that was God's plan, I'd like to have a word...)

Anyway, I've been trying to draw comics about it since, but I think you captured what I've been thinking all these years since. It's frightening as hell. It's boring as hell because it takes over everything. And Lord is it a pain in the ass. Just the paperwork is enough to drive a person crazy. And boring.

If you haven't, it's worth the time to type up a drugs-I'm-on list to print off the computer, so you don't have to rewrite it on every first-office-visit chart you come across.

That's all I've got for sage advice. I really posted just to say thank you -- you nailed every emotion we were feeling 4 years ago on the head, and somehow, that made me feel better. Hopefully, knowing that the hubby is actually healthier now than he was before the cancer despite his burgeoning diagnosis collection, and knowing that you too are feeling normal valid things helps you too.