Friday, January 22, 2016

TV ... and what it does to (and for) me

So, I've been hanging out at home a lot this week, waiting for insurance approval and chemo to get scheduled. It's been a different kind of living than last week. ... Last week, I was out with friends as often as I could be. This week, I've been at home, in bed, with a heating pad on my dang back/rib as much as I possibly could be. This week, I've been in a lot of pain, and I've been really tired. And that's okay, because honestly... I think a lot of why I've hurt so much this week is because I did so much last week. (Also, the chemo is enough out of my system that I don't have competing crappy side effects to distract me from the pain in my back.)

And while I've been at home, when I'm not receiving visitors (with hugs, if they bring me peanut M&M's... hint, hint), I've been watching *Chasing Life on Netflix.

I've been both curious about and afraid of watching this show. It's a show based on a 24 year old who's diagnosed with AML, so it addresses her diagnosis, treatment, struggle with acceptance, etc. It also shows what family and friends of someone who is going through the entire diagnosis to treatment to relapse to treatment, etc., roller coaster may be experiencing.

Like I said, I've been both curious and afraid. ... And, in watching it, true to form, I've struggled with some legit PTSD tied to my own battle with the dang cancer. (Don't worry about how I literally broke down in hysterical sobs in the season one finale when she picked up a mallet and started pounding on the drywall in anger. I've never wished for physical strength more than I did in that moment. ... And  then I had a wave of gratitude wash over me for my brother, Kirk, and how he took me shooting this summer/fall and let me kill old TV's with his 22. I may not be strong enough to swing a mallet, but I can shoot the crap out of TV screens. And that's something!)

And while this show isn't incredibly well written (there are some real inconsistencies and serious plot holes), I've also been relieved and grateful to see that there's a show that's covering the very mixed emotions that not only cancer patients run through, but also how living with cancer can affect the people on the periphery of the fight. Because it's not just the cancer patients whose lives are turned upside down and inside out, it's everyone who loves us... especially those close enough to the nucleus that the diagnosis and treatment (and the emotional fallout of both) directly impacts their quality of life. (Caregivers and other inner circle family and friends, I'm talking to you.)

I think it's been good for me to watch a drama that's centered entirely around a young adult who is facing a cancer diagnosis and an uncertain future. While she was 24 at initial diagnosis, and I was 35 (not technically a "young adult" anymore), there have been a lot of life changes and hard cycles portrayed in this show that I've really related to. It's been interesting to spend a week buried in cancer as entertainment, on one of the few weeks I've had in the last couple months when I'm not buried in fighting it. I've laughed and I've cried, and I've cursed this blessed disease... and I've been grateful for my life, for the way that cancer has played out for me.

Bottom line, it's been a hard show to watch, but it's also created opportunities to reflect on my own experiences, and that's been good for me. Here are a few of the realizations I have had while I've been Netflix binging this week:

Holy crap, I'm so grateful for my own diagnosis, and my own situation. I'm so glad that I was 35 when I was diagnosed, and that my treatment choices have always  (and obviously) been my own. I'm so glad that I was, seriously, a full-fledged adult when this shit storm hit my life, and that (outside of an unfortunate experience after my first surgery, when my surgeon and father got a little too chummy and my dad got some information before medical staff had told me how my path report read) my medical life has always been mine. I'm so glad that I have Judy, that she understands me and my needs well enough to be there for me, but not to hover, and that both of my parents have always known and respected that my surgical and treatment choices are mine.

I was 40 when chemotherapy made me sterile, not in a relationship and not, in any way, planning a family. And the appointment in which I was told that infertility was one of the certain side effects of my first treatment plan is still, hands down, the worst doctor appointment I've ever sat through. (And listen, I've sat through some doozies.) Like cancer didn't already take enough through surgeries and treatment plans. Like it didn't turn the tables upside down and make everything go sideways in my mid-30's. Like I don't already wonder if  I'll have the chance to grow up and grow old like a normal person... Taking the (granted, very remote) possibility of ever having my own children off the table in one, fell, swoop was cruel. ... And, just like that, again,  I'm grateful that I was 35 when the cancer storm hit, and 40 before chemo, and not in the prime of my life, where I could have lost that hope when there was still a possibility of having the family I grew up assuming I'd have. (I don't know how young adults with cancer do it. I really don't. My heart aches for them.)

Steve. Oh, good gravy. I'm so grateful for Steve that I have a hard time finding words. He has been the most tremendous help to me in the last few months. The timing in which he came into my life, who he is and what he has done for me (physically and emotionally), is nothing short of miraculous to me. He's the biggest blessing that I absolutely did not see coming, and I'm grateful every day that he walked right into my life and wants to be part of my story. He's amazing.

Having to stay strong for other people, or the perception that I have to remain strong (and upbeat, positive, happy, funny, cheerful, etc...) for others, is so difficult. Which doesn't mean that I'm not naturally those things, or that I don't want to be all of those things (for myself and for the people who love me). But man alive... it's wicked hard some days. And, often, I wish people could see that, could understand that the last thing in the world I want or need is to be praised for how ... any and/or all of those things I am. Because I am also scared, and mad, and... unsettled about all of this, and those feelings matter, too.

Cancer humor is a real thing. I was raised by a woman who learned to laugh in the face of cancer when her baby sister was diagnosed in her early 20's, so I grew up with a special brand of caustic humor pointed directly at this disease. To me, sick jokes about cancer are freaking hilarious. But, at the same time, there's this weird honor code that says the only people who can make them are the people whose lives have been directly impacted by the disease. Other cancer patients crack me the hell up. My mom and her sisters, and so many of my cousins, make me laugh out loud. (I still cackle when I remember Rachel telling a story ("she died" was the punchline) when we were at the baking retreat in October. ... It's so sick, but it's also so true.) It's an unusual thing, to be sure, but it's a coping mechanism that so many of us have in common. I don't have an official, traditional, meet-every-Tuesday-sit-in-a-circle-and-share-your-experiences-and-then-stand-around-and-talk-while-you-drink-punch-and-eat-donuts-afterwards support group, but I have a tremendous number of amazing people who have been so supportive over the last few months/years. And there are enough of them that have fought this fight that we have the ability to both commiserate and laugh together. I'm so grateful for those people who have helped me get through this, by making (and letting) me laugh.

Having a hard time planning for a future that is, currently, uncertain feels... impossible at times. And it's weird, because I used to be such a planner. And on some levels, I still am, because I like to know what I have coming up the next day or week. But now, I have a hard time planning outside of a six week time period. Like, I know that I'll start chemo next week. And that'll take the next six weeks to run through. And then I'll go to Houston, and then... maybe that next weekend I can go see my friend Monica and her new baby, before I start the next two cycles? But I can't plan past that. Like, there's a blockage in my brain. I have to know what my scan says, because that will determine if I have another six weeks of what Trabectedin or... and that's where my brain literally stops, because while I have a rational awareness that Doxorubicin may be the next drug in my arsenal, it was so horrible last year that I can't even think about a future that that drug is a part of. ... And I hate that. I hate that I feel stuck, or like my time is limited, almost all of the time. I still love my life, I'm still grateful for every day that I have. (I may not be grateful for every moment, or every hour. But every morning, I'm glad I have another day. And every night, I write down what I did that day, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to do... whatever I did.) It's weird. I can live in the moment. And in most moments, I feel alive and like almost anything is possible. But I have a hard time knowing how to plan my future anymore. ... And this show has helped me recognize that it's not like my brain is broken and that's why it works this way now - that it's part of my diagnosis, that it's part of living with cancer. And that in some weird way, not being able to plan a future has helped me appreciate the current in a way that I didn't... last year, or even last month. It's a weird paradox, but my inability to see six months down the road has made each day richer, better, more full and happier than my days were six months ago.

In short, I'm grateful for the last week of days spent in bed, watching TV. This show was a kind of therapy for me. I've always liked to read books or watch movies that make me think, and this was a different approach that got my brain going.

It's been good for me to have a mirror, of sorts, held up in front of me. Some of the symptoms and scenarios were very familiar, while some of them were... so far removed from my reality that they were obviously fiction. At the end of the series, I am grateful for the reminders of what is hard, because I was also reminded what is good. Cancer is super hard, and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. It seriously sucks. But it's also seriously awesome, in that it's true, what they say... you don't really live until you know you're dying.

* Please note that this post is not a product (erm... TV show) endorsement, per se. It's not actually something I'd recommend to a lot of people, because I don't know how relate-able the cancer drama is, and... frankly, the family drama is a little bit over the top and out there, which makes the show less believable/likeable. That said, I've enjoyed it, and would love to talk (or text) with any of you who've caught it. Let me know what you think. ... And, if you're close enough to the nucleus to have felt the heat of the blast, either with me or with someone else, let me know if you think the friends/family/support staff roles are on point. I'm honestly curious about how well they nailed those characters.

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