I’m not one to shy away from honesty. I try, strange as it is sometimes when I meet readers of my blog that I don’t really know well (or at all), to be forthright and simply relate this surreal cancer journey. (When I wrote a few days ago about teratoma tumors and the often grotesque stuff held within them, Todd said, “I’m not sure everyone wants to read about that.”)
Honest as I try to be, one thing that is hard to own up to is the idea of my self-image as a cancer patient. It isn’t vanity, it’s just a lack of recognition. Who is that gaunt, hairless, rotten-toothed patient in the mirror?
That’s right, my teeth are a horrible swirl of yellow, brown, and gray these days. They look rotten.
This picture doesn't quite capture the rotten look of my teeth. Just ask Dawn.
The staining is the result of how I must care for my teeth during treatment: Peridex. I brush with a toothbrush soaked in it, and rinse with it three times a day. I’m sure my dentist will be appalled at my stained nashers when I am able to go in for a cleaning.
My self-image is directly tied to my discomfort with the notion of being a patient. I never envisioned myself playing this role — and certainly not at such a young age. My self-image is also inextricably linked with the image of my dying father. I see glimpses of him in the mirror sometimes, and feel that the physical traits I share with him have become pronounced in my illness. My father was a patient for many years before he died in 2006, and his experience is the model with which I am most familiar. As I lie in bed I frequently gently clasp my hands together and rest them just above my stomach. This is something that my dad did too, and because he spent all of his time in bed during the last weeks of his life, I saw this gesture of comfort and habit all the time. When I do it now (especially when I was in the hospital), my mind immediately flits to my dad.*
I don’t know what this means, or why I’m writing about it. I just know this: the psychological hardships are almost always harder to bear than the physical discomfort. It’s difficult to not wish away times like these, and live in the moment — the moment being so frequently uncomfortable, or unpleasant in some way. How do we truly take it one day at a time, and do the best to enjoy the next few months, months that will likely include more hospital time, surgery, continued blood draws (back to needles now that I have no catheter or PICC line!), and three more months of oral chemo? The easiest thing to do is say things like, “I can’t wait until the Spring! No more constant cancer care, living like a patient (read sick person) and the cold weather will be gone too!” But then you’re committing the sin of missing out on life for months at a time, aren’t you? That’s the trick. Being ill, looking ill, feeling ill and still living your life in the most fulfilling, meaningful way possible.
Maybe I should read The Last Lecture.
*Note: I’m going to find a good picture of my dad to post soon.
For those of you not in the Midwest (yes, even you Northwesterners alarmed with the snow you’ve received recently), here is a glimpse of the winter we’re having:
Winter Wonderland in Madison
Note the height of the snow piles on our lawn and on the lawn of our neighbor, Adeline. Also note my truck, which has not yet been completely dug out. You should see the backyard!
The best part about having good neighbors in weather like this? Three doors down lives Larry the Snowblower Man. He has this huge snowblower, and blows most of the sidewalk on both sides of our entire dead end street. The other day, he was even snowblowing the street before the plow came!
Yesterday, Dawn and I went to pick out our first Xmas tree. We’ve never had our own, and we were both excited to have one in our new house. The plan was to buy a living a tree and plant it later on our property in the country. So, we trudged out in the -10° (that’s right: TEN BELOW ZERO) weather to find our tree. Unfortunately, the living trees that were still available were, well, puny, and buried in snow too. So, we opted for the next best thing: a tree farm cut tree that was selling for 55% off. On our way home we stopped off at the hardware store to get a tree stand and some new LED lights. This is where the day sort of went awry. I locked the keys in the car. I was not happy, but fortunately Todd was able to come out and help us by bringing our spare key. We ended up all eating Chinese food for lunch at a place next to the hardware store. The best part? We have an Xmas tree in our living room:
This tree smells great too!