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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Occasions of Reality

It seems to happen at night. Usually I can call it chemo-induced insomnia, but perhaps it's just the dark and quiet lending itself to contemplation, but whatever it is, and tonight is one of those times, when I have occasions of reality - that is, the settling of my mind on what is really going on and what is likely to happen to me, to my life, and to those that I love.

Before this last chemo round, my wunder-doc told me that many people stop after four rounds, unable or unwilling to tolerate the final two in the prescribed course of six. She told me that studies show that those who undergo all six live longer and she suggested that, due to my age and health, I continue.

Live longer.

Don't get better.

Don't get cured.

Live longer.

And I've known this all along...that treatment is simply delaying the inevitable, but something about that conversation in the quiet dark of this one night struck a rather unsettling cord with me.

And I start to think about five years.

I will, in all likelihood, be dead within five years.

(Actually less, if you consider that it has been not quite eight months since my diagnosis. By the way, 50% of people diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer ARE dead within eight months, so I guess there's something to be thankful for).

So what does one do with that?

It's hardly practical for me to quit my job and spend my time traveling or spending time with family. You do have to live until you die. But perhaps some reconnoitering is in order. Some re-evaluation of what I do with my time, versus what I want to do, or try to do, or accomplish. Not to be cheesy, but a bucket list, if you will (although they did some stuff I would completely not be interested in in that movie). Something more based in reality - simpler, something actually do-able.

Maybe making the list will help me get some sleep.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

SODD it! The Sociology of Death and Dying

Today, I have officially begun the long (I'm sure by the end it will seem very long) slog through the literature of the Sociology of Death and Dying. I have enrolled in a directed readings class for the summer and, due to the unfortunate fact that I have advanced lung cancer, I thought it well and good to examine my discipline's examination of the topic of death and dying. The idea is to focus specifically on the social aspects of terminal illness - those who have it, those who know those who have it, those who don't have it, but define those who do, and whoever decides to jump into the pool.

Death is sort of an odd thing in our (western) society. We both revel in it (in our news casts and television programming), and hide from it (When was the last time you had a discussion with anyone about death? Not a particular death, but just death? The fact that we will die and what will that be like? Chances are, it has been a while, if ever). So the death of a someone of whom we can speak of as a sort of topic of conversation is okay, but actual death, the fact that we are all going to die at some point, is not quite as attractive a topic. I like to think that if we spoke about actual death more, it would become easier and perhaps instead of fearing the topic, people might find comfort in it. I, of course, could be dead, dead wrong - no pun intended.

On a slightly different topic, since my diagnosis and general acceptance of my cancer, I have been frequenting a variety of cancer blogs - that is, blogs written by those who have cancer. Usually, I look for folks with cancer types that are known to have particularly bad outcomes like mine. I can't help but think there there are differences in the thoughts and experiences, however subtle, between having a cancer where there is a 14% 5 year survival rate, and one with a 97% 5 year survival rate. Anyway, recently, there seems to be a run on my blogging cancer people who are at the end of their treatment options and are either months from death or who have died fairly quickly. One was told on April 22nd that any more real viable treatments were over, she accepted it and was dead by May 3rd. Yuck - Scary - Lonely - Bad on the one hand.... Calm - Happy - Peaceful on the other. Weird dichotomy, I know.

Let me see if I can accurately describe the latter - I do think that, in an odd way, it's good to know that you have a condition that could cause your death much earlier than you had ever anticipated. Because of my incredible family constitution, I always assumed that I would live to be well into my 90s - perhaps even reach my 100s, in relatively good physical condition. I was living as if I would never really die - the idea of death was so far removed that I was living my life in a pretty superficial manner. Small things bothered me. I suffered from depression, often from really stupid things that I took too seriously. I was just led along in life without pay much attention as to what direction I pointed myself. Because of my social location, education, white female, and the relative wealth of the west, one really doesn't have to pay attention to politics or social problems too much. Prices and politicians rise and fall, but day to day survival itself was very simple. Consequently, I was not living on purpose. I won't say I wasn't TRYING to live on purpose, I was, but what was missing was the reality of death...the knocking on the door, living in your body, making you unwell reality of death. Although my survival today is still simple, it has, on and off, been less so. It is also quite likely that as the cancer progresses, my survival will become less and less simple until I simple stop doing it...surviving, that is.

I guess, in an odd way, cancer has forced me to pay attention to life. "Time gets kinda precious, when there's less of it to waste." (Bonnie Raitt). I listen more. I see more. I weigh things more carefully. I am less flippant. I laugh more. I love more. I am savoring life and I am happy.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Round Four ... *whimper

Last Friday was round four of terrible, awful chemotherapy. I'm not sure what went wrong or, more fairly, what went differently from the last three times, but boy was I out of it. The first couple days it was the usual fatigue and falling asleep sitting up while everyone watches me drool into my lap while they snap photos for their Facebook accounts. Day three, however, led to a high level of nausea and several bouts of vomiting, followed by more sitting-up-sleeping and drooling. I feel a bit better today, but I'm not sure what happened - why the difference from previous rounds - I tried to keep up on the anti-nausea pills and get out and walk, drink plenty of fluids, blah, blah, blah. I'm hoping that this doesn't mean that following rounds will be even more unpleasant.

On a more sad note, there are a number of cancer-related blogs that I follow and things aren't exactly rosy in cancer-blog world. Deaths and decisions to stop treatment seem to be peaking in number and with them, the sadness of those of us left behind in Cancer World to wonder if and when it will be our turn to make those sorts of decisions and write those final blog posts.

K├╝bler-Ross is the one who came up with the stages of grief and honestly, I sure wish that it was a more linear process. There are sometimes I think I have come to some sort of peaceful idea about death and can sit on it peacefully for quite some time, but inevitably, it slides back into some sort of frightened panic of one degree or another. Why can't I just stay with acceptance, even if I have what could be a significant portion of time left?

"What a treasure I have in this wonderful peace, buried deep in the heart of my soul, so secure that no power can take it away, while the years of eternity roll." - Warren Cornell

Forgive my dip into Methodism.