Life as an Extreme Sport

blessings and curses

Insider knowledge is a blessing, and a curse. It removes the defensive layer of denial, but it allows you to wrestle more immediately with the issues surrounding the illness. Of course, which half of that is the blessing, and which the curse…

Mom was discharged, after the first round of chemo, earlier this evening. She’s at home, resting upright and comfortably. She’s on an oxygen machine, though, as her saturation levels have been tanking. My father just messaged me – the asthmatic of the family – to let me know that there would be no smoking in the house, due to the suddenly insane amount of raw and bottled oxygen at home. More appropriate to say we won’t be burning candles, or lighting fires!

I spent much of today in a fog; sleep deprevation and stress caught up to me all at once, and I barely managed to get from the guest bedroom* to the couch, and nausea overwhelmed me more than once this afternoon. I’ve had this extreme response when insomnia has taken me several days without sleep, but this is the first time this little sleep has caused such a response – I think it’s the lack of sleep, coupled with the not eating yesterday until very late, and the stress. The utterly obscene stress.

A few years ago – it must have been 2000, since I was still working at Microsoft – my physician took one look at my swollen, distended knee, a problem I had suffered from for years, but had exponentially worsened since moving to Seattle, and sent me to see a couple of specialists, who sent me to more specialists, until I finally received the diagnosis of bone cancer. It took three months of the incompetence of one set of doctors, and 5 minutes with the second opinion (whom I went to, to verify that the swollen, distended, barely functional knee wasn’t all in my head, as the first doctor insisted) to get that diagnosis, and I lived with it for about three weeks before surgery to determine if it was malignant or benign. (It was, thankfully, a benign mass.) Life changed shape a lot in those three weeks. My ex-husband softened his no animals stance and allowed me to buy a ferret, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to die, and what my religion says about death. I sat at the water, a lot, just watching the waves ebb and flow, and thought about how life is like the tide. I worked a little, I played a lot, and after surgery took to recovery fiercely, and with a determination to not let some of that insight slip away.

I had fear, during this time. This was in my computer industry days, prior to entering the field of bioethics, so although I still had a strong medical background, it wasn’t one where I necessarily felt comfortable taking control of my health and treatment from the doctors, and I was afraid of dying a bad death, full of pain and protracted, pointless treatment. The bad, expensive, heroic-to-a-fault American death. But I didn’t have stress, not even many tears. It was what it was.

This? This is not like that. I am already pulled so thin, and I haven’t even made it home. The stress has me folded up on myself; I start to talk and sentences just trail off. I stand up, but forget why. I lay on the couch, eyes open but oblivious to everything, even myself – I can’t tell you what was going through my mind, because I wasn’t aware of mind, of body, of anything. I simply ceased to be, until called back to myself and awareness.

I’m hoping today was just the effect of shock and exhaustion hitting me at the same time, and I’ll be able to pull my act together, both for getting out of here effectively, but also so I’m not a burden on my family, but the help that they need right now. They need me to be a rock, a support, not another problem. To step up and be the savvy adult.

And I guess I need this to be my rock – academia. The place that I can fall back to, and behind, when I start to get overwhelmed. To practice the distancing, and look critically at my experience and those around me. As a way of coping, and surviving. And I’ll trust that my audience, my friends, will support me in this – and yank me back to the other side, of feeling and emotion and coping with the painful reality of the situation, if I wander too high up these isolating ivory steps.

I’m staying with a friend right now, as there’s no power at my house. Because life hasn’t been complicated enough of late!