Monday, January 20, 2014

And While We're on the Topic of Health...

It occurs to me that it's been a while since I've provided an update about my mum, Abbie, and her breast cancer treatment. I am grateful to be able to tell you that she finished chemotherapy before Xmas, just in time to enjoy the holidays with family. I have to say, and I write this with the keen awareness that I may find myself having chemo at some point in the future: Chemotherapy is something one should take pains to avoid at all costs -unless, of course, the counter cost is a recurrence of cancer that will likely kill you.

As mentioned, my mum has had, and continues to have, awesome treatment at an excellent clinic in North Carolina. She has had access to the best medicine available, including the nausea meds that, here in Canada, you have to pay for independently (which is to say, they're too expensive to be covered by our socialized medical system). She has done yoga and had sessions of acupuncture daily. She has received excellent support and constant help from my father and health professionals of numerous descriptions.

And yet, not gonna lie, chemotherapy is a hideous undertaking. Admittedly, Abbie didn't have a moment of nausea - something I manage to feel weekly and I'm just a regular girl, going about her day. But chemo, while it may cure you, is generally an insidious beast. It fucks with your brain, among other things (if only while you're going through it, and perhaps for a short while afterwards). It causes burns, debilitating neuropathy, the kind of fatigue that prevents one from being able to stand up for hours at a time. Of course, it also causes insomnia. Drinking can be a terrible chore, as can the resulting dehydration. One can't be much around others, what with the risk to one's immune system. And the list goes on.

I mean, really, losing your hair is the fun part.

So to say that we are happy to be done with that phase of treatment is a wholesale understatement.

At the moment my mum is having radiation therapy 5 days a week for approximately 6 weeks. I mean, that's no walk in the park either. Mind you, I have quizzed her about which is worse (from her current vantage point) and, unquestionably, radiation is the less terrible ordeal. And that's despite the daily sessions and resulting burns.

I suspect that the reason I've put off writing this update is because I truly prefer not to think about it - though I know that so many have you have been (and continue to be) so kind with emails and thoughts and prayers, and perhaps you are wondering where we're at.

We're ok. We're ok in that way that people who are going through a finite tough time are ok. We're ok in the way that being ok is a choice, and really, what's the alternative? We're so much better off than so many people who have to manage cancer that I'm loath to complain. And yet, arguably, we're not as well off as those who don't have to worry about it.

I like to think of myself as a liberated being. I don't mean this in terms of my mores or my feminism, in this context, but in terms of my ability and belligerent willingness to do the things that bring me happiness. I have to say, however, there's nothing so compelling, after observing (nay experiencing) the serious disruption of the health of a loved one, as the notion of living well now. Your life is exactly what you are doing in this moment. If you have cancer, or are in recovery, if you are stressed, depressed, if you are sleep-deprived, chronically ill or unfulfilled, if you accomplish a goal today or rediscover something lost or drink and eat with loved ones and friends... This is the life you're living now and it's all you have and it's everything.

So, dare I suggest (not that you've asked for my advice), that you find every way to feel the immensity of your mortality - your existential freedom - as often as you can, in as many ways as possible. Do not waste time regretting what you haven't accomplished. Do not judge yourself over perceived failures. Read that book you've been meaning to pick up for a year and half. Buy that lovely bottle of wine that's a bit too expensive. Learn that skill you've been telling yourself you'll get to eventually. Take that course. Pick up the cheque at your next gathering and enjoy feeling like a big shot. Make those plans. Sit on your couch like a potato and be happy that you're not at some party you really didn't want to go to anyway.

Sure, there will be obligations. But they must be balanced by the urge to please yourself. It's trite, but true: When you look back on your life, it isn't the pleasure you eschewed that you'll remember.

32 comments:

  1. so happy to hear that the treatment is going well. wishing your mom all the best as she continues to fight through this!

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    1. Thank you Lisa! We so appreciate that!

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  2. Thanks for the update on your Mom and for letting us know that she is making her way through her health situations. And you are so right - we need to live for each and every day living it like it could be our last!

    Hope you are finally migraine free today!

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    1. Sometimes it's hard to remember to live in the moment. But, you know, I'm getting better at it! :-) Thanks C. xo

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  3. Take care Kline -- I am sending prayers to your mother. That would be a very heavy burden to shoulder, a close parent going through treatment. I'm glad she's getting good care!

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    1. Well, the burden is heavier on her, I know! But it's no fun - at all! Mind you, sometimes it's very helpful to have reminders of the fortune we live with every day. xo

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  4. I'm really glad to hear your Mom is past the chemotherapy phase. And you are so right about existential freedom.

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    1. Ha! Existential freedom is a biggie :-)

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  5. Great to hear your Mom is doing well!

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  6. Yes, sending up continued prayers for your Mother's complete recovery!

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    1. We so appreciate that. I'm sure they are making this process much easier!

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  7. I'm glad that things are improving and sending good thoughts for her recovery. Wise words on life!

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    1. Thanks T. Wisdom is so overrated. I'd rather stupid innocence :-)

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  8. Chemo is awful. I could only take 3 sessions before I quit it.

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    1. I know! And I totally understand how you found yourself in that position - just as an observer. I do hope that you are getting better and better each day - and that the specter of your terrible year last year has almost faded.

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  9. Have been thinking about your mom and hoped she was doing okay... glad to hear that she is done with the chemo part and sending healing wishes for her continued strength and recovery!

    Having gone through my own cancer journey in the last two years I can heartily agree with your sentiments about living in the right now and not wasting time on regrets. While I was always one to appreciate the current moments in my life, and didn't need cancer to teach me that, I find that now I am even less likely to put things off for "someday", having touched the edge of the finite. That has even affected my sewing, as I am no longer saving "that special fabric" for some occasion in the future, but am choosing to sew with it now, so I can enjoy it.

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    1. How awesome that you've always been able to embrace the "now". I'm sure that helped you immeasurably through a terrible time. And I think the idea of using the good fabric, as you find it, is a perfect metaphor! Keep cutting into the excellent stuff. I'm sure you will enjoy those garments for many years to come. xo

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  10. Thanks for the update; I'm so glad your mom is doing (comparatively) well. And aren't you right on every thing else, too... I sometimes think we (or I, at least) need one life to learn how to live well, and then wouldn't it be lovely if we could start over with what we've learned!

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    1. Thanks for your continued thoughts and good vibes, Uta! And I hear you. Just like with everything, a muslin is useful :-)

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  11. I am so glad your mom is getting better. My father-in-law just went through chemo and found it very difficult.

    I'm glad your mother got all her meds and had a supportive team. My fil, though, is in Canada and got nausea medication as needed. Hope all Americans and Canadians should get what medication they need, when in this situation.

    I have to say, my fil, did say that losing his hear was fun compared to the rest of what happened!

    I wish your mother all the best.

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    1. Oh, I don't mean to imply that Canada doesn't provide good meds! I recognize the limitations inherent in a system that provides equally for all. I'm just saying, as a daughter, I'm so happy that my mother didn't need to worry about gaining free access to that medication.

      And I'm so glad that your FIL is on the mend. Please give him my best.

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  12. When my husband was diagnosed, we were told: "He has the diagnosis, but you both have the disease". Cancer is a teacher that shows you what is important in life. Cancer does not "touch someone's life" - it becomes your new life.

    It is wonderful that this phase of your mother's treatment is over and I wish her good health and strength during the next course.

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    1. Oooh, fascinating. I can definitely say that my father has been in the thick of things. It takes tremendous focus and all of one's time and energy to manage cancer. But, of course, it's the only path! I wish you and your husband excellent health from here on in.

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  13. Glad to hear your mom is doing well.
    I think I know which anti-nausea meds you mean - I just got out of hospital, and asked for a prescription for them, since they were the bomb (no nausea, but don't knock you out like Gravol). I had to assure the doctor several times that I have private insurance. It was about $186.00 for 50 pills. We do have a good system here in Ontario, but it's definitely not perfect - I always wonder how many 'better' drugs are out there that the doctors just never offer if it's not covered by OHIP/Trillium.

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    1. And that's with insurance! I do agree that we have a good system in Ontario. But I wonder also about what we don't have access to, because we just can't offer everything to everyone. I am happy that you got those meds and I do hope they have worked well for you.

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  14. Thanks for updating us on Abbie's health. I'm sure it was just as hard to write about as it is to think about and experience. But I think your willingness to express these less than pleasant truths is going to end up being helpful to some people. I know the reminder to live in the present and find the positive is a propos for me right now :-) Thanks for that.

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    1. Well, it's harder for her to live through it. But I really don't love to put pen to paper on this topic. Thanks for reading, Gail. I'm glad if this has been of some use for you. xo

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  15. I'm glad to hear your mum is doing well, it must be huge difficult to write about. I wholeheartedly agree with living well now and it's something I try to remind myself regularly-to find joy in the now :)

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  16. This is good news indeed. Life is such fragile but wondrous gift. You are right that we should LIVE it...whole heartedly and completely. Hoping both of you continue to heal. xo

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    1. And you Evie! Giving you all the breathe-easy vibes...xo

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