My Cancer Philosophy

Cancer doesn’t mean I’m broken or did anything to deserve it. It means nothing to me, actually.

And Karmic retribution isn’t something a person “deserves.”’I believe Karma represents an unclear conscience of one who’s so busy looking over their shoulder at what’s behind them, they therefore trip over what’s right in front of them. Karma doesn’t discern between either bad – falling flat on one’s face – or good – missing out on all the love and beauty that’s available in this world.

I know cancer will eventually kill me. But it won’t have made me a better or stronger person. Having a diagnosis of a terminal illness actually forced me to see the person who I always was. It’s through shear force of my own will that I gather together the very best of the essence of myself. And with that will for as long as I’m alive I’ll heal myself as best I can but not beat myself down when I cannot. Gratitude comes then through my healing in that I can help others.

Writing my experiences as plainly and as real as possible allows others to see my cobbled path and how I navigate the bumpy road ahead. In seeing what I could not see until I’ve passed those tests doesn’t mean that they’re cheating on their own but rather can provide a guide for making their road a bit smoother so they trip less often than I have. Why let anyone’s life be more difficult if it’s as simple as that. If my story is valuable enough to be shared in by others then I have an obligation to tell it as well as I can for as long as I can.

My strength wanes and waxes as my cancer does as well. If you’ve heard this quote as relating to metastatic cancer, there’s nothing said in my opinion that’s more accurate: “living with uncertainty.” Uncertainty paints a picture of my life before cancer. It’s not any different now, so my strength from my experience in dealing with change and not knowing what the future looks like, well equips me to handle this disease.

It’s called resilience.

When the gift of each new day comes in shining through my window I am grateful for the time I can pet my cat. Or hug my best friend. Or even mop the kitchen floor. I can sing while I mop. I can hear my cat purring. I can feel the love of my partner returned to me each time we embrace. And some days that’s maybe all that I can find to seek happiness within – but that’s a lot.

In fact it’s more than I can ask for because it means I have a roof over my head, clean water to mop the house with, enough money to have a loving cat as a constant companion, and love in my life that goes beyond just the requisite. I’m fortunate and richly rewarded by life in so many ways that description of these gifts seems lackluster upon review. Yet even for me, a chatterbox since birth, realizes that some things are so much bigger than me they evade my ability to describe them.

It’s true that certain famous (and not so well known) quotes by others can describe feelings and ideas far better than I. Yet certain universal ideas find their way into everyone’s mind sooner or later. Yet these ideas are informed by experience and influenced by authorities we respect, such as religion or poetry or science. Usually it’s a combination of things that create our personal philosophies.

For instance, a white supremacist believes they’re right to impose their thinking on people not like themselves. They impose their deeply held beliefs that certain religions, races, and ideologies should not be proliferated but stopped by their own hand. I won’t even kill a spider in my house. She has a right to be here as I do. And I’m not saying that if the white supremacist were in my house I wouldn’t put him out like the spider.

Here’s the three philosophical statements that describe where I’m at today. Yet my emotions change, sometimes on a daily basis, yet it’s stormy as it may have been in the past but a more gentle breeze that changes my weather. Cancer has this effect on me:
1. Forgive, and if I cannot forgive, forget.
2. Love is all that matters – in all life and the universe.
3. Death is the natural path of all life; I face my own death with curiosity and grace.

And just as that equalizing common denominator of life is death, the most curoius thing about it is not one of us truly knows what mystery lies beyond this reality or how many realities there are. We tend as a culture in the United States anyway, to dismiss alternate realities as we tend to dismiss death. We don’t discuss it much. People do love to talk though. Hearing someone say that cancer is some kind of Karma is not only ignorabt but dissmissive of alternate ways of being. By doing so we miss learning lessons about living life with grace in the face of our own deaths. Especially those with a stage four cancer diagnosis. It never leaves our bodies and turns our bodies into a machine with an invisible timer set for detonation at an unknown future time. Kind of like not having a stage four cancer disgnosis at least, well…philosophically.

And I know if you’re reading this post you probably will agree that no one deserves cancer. Not me not anyone and not anymore.

Bone Deep: the painful reality of metastatic cancer

Imagine an unreachable itch. The unscratchable kind. Yet it’s only an itch. Imagine bone deep insurmountable, untouchable pain, like you’ve never felt in your life. Pain so constant there’s little relief but addictive medication, some forms of natural remedies, and whatever you find through trial and error, works for you individually.

Metastatic cancer pain exposes you for who you really are. It’s not for the weak, the faint-hearted, the complainer or the meek who are afraid to stand up for themselves. If your best qualities consist of empathy, neatness, downhill skiing, contact sports, or binge watching hours of television, this type of pain shan’t suit your lifestyle. Oh and if you work, metastatic cancer pain probably won’t help you get that promotion you’ve waited years to earn. In fact, you may even get fired for taking too much time off or for HR simply discovering your cancer diagnosis.

Oh, shit.

You don’t look sick. You dress up to walk to the mailbox if you must or to go grocery shopping at midnight to avoid germs and sneezing kids who can unwittingly give you pneumonia. Variably painful constapation with dangerously impacted intestines from time to time can send us to the hospital.

Constipation alone is responsible for 92,000 hospitalizations per year. (https://www.cancertherapyadvisor.com/home/decision-support-in-medicine/hospital-medicine/obstipation-constipation/) So imagine sitting in a very uncomfortable hospital sleeping contraption (the word “bed” seems too generous for the intended result, sleep), getting a jarring, “is it okay if I check your vitals,” at 3 a.m., and a roommate with a privacy curtain separating you from her and the entire extended family. One small kind of weird bathroom with a toilet and a shower stall with the water pressure of summer sun shower and about the same humidity. Now, poop!

Sure thing. No privacy, exhaustion, constant nuisances like night nurses and Telemundo Spanish language television. Everything annoys you, more so than in real life and add to it incredible boredom and it’s not the recipe for bowel evacuation.

Homeward, unbound.

Monday comes and it’s 10:30 a.m. and still I cannot rise. Having overdone it on the weekend, I pay the price of lost time on Monday. The heights of generalized pain and the burning numbness of neuropathy in my arms and hands keep me from getting going.

I lay in bed reminiscing about the days of actually earning money for working. Benefits beyond a paycheck reveal themselves like the unborn babies I lost in my 30s. I hear morning laughter and I’m reminded of the camaraderie of my office mates asking, “how was your weekend?” There’s no one asking and no one to tell about my Saturday and Sunday. No one to sit and drink a bad cup of coffee with nor to whom I can complain about Monday morning Silicon Valley traffic.

I no longer sit in traffic but in my bed and try to meditate on what I am thankful for not what I no longer can do. It’s still painful to think about all that I miss.

Money, its a bitch.

The financial fallout of terminal cancer for the afflicted causes pain of another sort. Juggling hospital bills, finding copay assistance for my $18,000 per month chemotherapy, and finding a way to spread $2400 per month of social security over 30 days of medications, doctors visits causes all kinds of stress. What Dr. Susan Love calls cancer’s collateral damage.

This cost of care presents such a highly profitable market all along the supply chain that our losses turn up sadly on the positive revenue side of so many spread sheets. Even of those companies with seemingly altruistic founders, doing this for their mom, or sister, or wife, dream of the things they can buy with the dollars they’ll reap. At my expense. At your expense. And that includes the medical marijuana supply chain from the hippie dippy growers to the seedy dispensary owner. No offense to anyone but you’re in it for the money.

So with that I’ll leave you with a clip from the movie “The Jerk,” where Navin figures out how business really works. “It’s a profit deal!”

I’m sharing this clip not only to point out the absolute abandon with which the food chain of big testing machines and cancer pharmaceuticals gain heavy profits. It’s also very funny in some ridiculous business situations. During my career as a business consultant specializing in product and service development, I took a trip to Austin, Texas to visit with a customer.

We stood outside of their offices in the Texas humidity laughing at their audacious requests for deeper discounts and free services. The laughter came from the managing engineer who was one of my favorite people to work with. He recalled the aforementioned film clip and we cracked up in mutual knowing of the film. It was so apropos of the ridiculousness of the meeting we’d just left.

That person who brought laughter through difficult times has his own pain to handle at home. I’m pretty sure this difficult client was nothing compared to the difficulty he faces at home. So, here’s to you, Mr. Horgan, for checking in on me and reading my blog, even 15 years after my departure.

Indescribably, Unforgettably, Irreplaceable

There’s no pain like cancer pain like no pain I know.

Closure: death and forgiveness

None of us thought we’d die before our “time.” I think it means our presupposed allotted lifetime into old age, perhaps our 70s or 80s. Seeing grandchildren grow. Watching as our bodies change with age, seeing our partners creases form around the same eyes into which we’re used to gazing. Death from stage four cancer didn’t occur to me as my ultimate decider. It did erased the path to the future I’d laid out in front of me. After diagnosis I could find no place to land my next footstep.

I miss my parents these days. The path I’m on no longer leads home to them, either. Their presence represented home for me, which I only realized after they died. No longer could a path carry them back to me, either. The warmth of parental love would be welcomed. That love a parent usually feels for a child no matter what age or stage in their relationship. Death ends an irreplaceable bond and the only unconditional love most humans will ever know. So different from the lives we chose.

A parent’s love, unchosen by us, although m not always healthy but biologically necessary in childhood, becomes evident at some point in our adult lives. Hopefully we work out any resentment or negative emotional turmoil and reach a mature understanding of one another before they die or as in my mother’s case, before memory becomes only the child’s to remember, as the parent may no longer recognize heir own. Perhaps in some way Alzheimer’s and dementia take down the open door and board up the portal to the past leaving nowhere to find our common experiences.

My mother died from Alzheimer’s just before her 74th birthday. Too young for my family, and too soon for me. Money somehow takes over the priorities in many families. My family exhibited no exception in behavior. My younger brother kept me from finding out about my mother’s death. My ex husband sent me his condolences but too late to travel to arrive in Florida from California in time for her service. She wanted to be cremated, and many times in my life had me swear I’d not bury her. Mom was terribly afraid of being buried. My brother and my mother’s sister tried to stop her burial after a text message from me alerting them to her wishes. However, it was too late and the cemetery had already embalmed her. The embalming process made cremation no longer an option.

There’s a bond between a first born daughter and a mother. At least that’s what mom told me. Do you ever hear yourself speaking your mother’s words or her idiosyncratic phrases sometimes? I know I think to myself, “god, I sounded just like Elaine!” And I look like both of my parents. There’s no doubt a genetic blender swirled them together to create me. But they had very different deaths.

As different as their lives.

The strong relationship between my father and I went through its share of turmoil and warmth. We were much more alike intellectually and culturally. He handed me Kurt Vonnegut when I reached 10 years of age, Stranger in a Strange Land at 12. He fed my curiosity and introduced me to art and jazz and rock n’ roll. Never did I doubt his love for me until after his first, and only, 18-hour operation to remove about 50% of a huge benign mitochondrial tumor. The big ugly thing grew slowly and lodged itself against his brain stem. It also grew tendrils that wrapped themselves around his cochlear ear bones making balance a trick – and showing us the need for an MRI. Those tendrils seemed to reach out and give us the finger giving new meaning to #fuckcancer as if it were tweeting #fuckhumans – as if. Brain surgery takes away parts of a person’s personality and can leave anger where once was joy and humor. His anger was directed at me and my brother took full advantage of the situation. He fed my dad’s anger like my father once fed my curios young mind. Lots of influence where a blank picture of me once showed his favorite kid. I took second pole position.

I flew to Miami after a rousing bout with prediabetes and an annoying loss of mobility of my left foot. A neurologist asked if my blood sugar got tested and if diabetes ran in my family. Yes it ran rampant on my mother’s side and my sugar tested 265. I dropped 25 lbs and looked rather grayish. A swift change of diet and no more wine (gasp!) took care of that problem.

But my family is prone to rumor mongering. My brother used it as an opportunity to convince my relatives that I had to be a drug addict and they’ll choose to believe a good yarn before the truth. Most of them doubt I have cancer, so on some level it’s conceivable. Hey, you know it’s easy to hold down an executive level job for nearly three decades as a full time drug addict.

It’s not easy being a woman in a male dominated field and my long and successful career abruptly ended the day of my diagnosis. Dense breasts kept me from early detection and stress spoon fed cortisol to the hidden tumors growing beyond my breast and into my bones before it was caught. Now four plus years later, my mother has been dead for about half of this time, I consider why she was told it would be too upsetting to see me and I was not given any information about the facility in which she lived. If my life were any indication of overcoming hardships this wasn’t one I could put up a fight for from way across the country and without any family willing to support my need to see her. I never intended to relate my cancer to her, but somehow I believe she’d have known regardless of her brain turning her into someone who might not even recognize her own daughter. Maybe it was for the best I didn’t see her that way, but I’ll never know.

I do want to say this: terminal cancer allows me to clearly see through fine tuned lenses the importance of love and forgiving. And if you cannot find forgiveness then to let go and forget. I’m equally as imperfect as both of my imperfect parents. And long ago I forgot those wounds left unhealed. I forgave my own foibles as I forgave them theirs. And as quickly as that — my wounds surfaced and began to heal. As I am the delicate mix of those two who raised themselves more so than me, both abandoned me at different life stages, they also tried to return to heal their guilt, which I admit now I was not ready to completely forgive. But if they saw me now I know they’d both be very proud of me. Grace under pressure exhibiting empathy for others and a spirit of giving where there’s need.

I leave these words in this blog, and hopefully expand it into a book that I hope to leave as a legacy if for no one else but myself and as a gift for my beloved partner of 12 years – C. Yet inter-spaced between the lines and words are my parents. Having closure with them came to me as I’ve taken a long time to think about what to say in this time of my life about such a difficult topic as this. Closure happens as it should when we are ready and cannot be forced by funeral, cremation, burial or memorial. It may happen while they’re living or not. Either way closure happens for the living to lessen sadness and soothe our senses of loss because the dead, as far as we know, have their final closure with the exhalation of their last breath. There’s no forgiving us anymore. We can only forgive ourselves for them.

My father wanted a party for his memorial. He wanted me to insure it’s success, and what a success it was. My mother and his later ex wife both attended. Both commented that my dad wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. This was just as I knew as his medical custodian what he meant when he told me how he wanted to come out of his surgery and when to say no to life support. I thankfully never had to make that decision. I also know the gift he gave me were much more meaningful than money and more dear than any object could posthumously express for him. Giving me those responsibilities showed his confidence in my intellect, his pride in who I am as an adult and his unconditional love for his daughter. I can still feel it as I can still recall so brightly the 250 or so people at his memorial singing with me, “Joy to The World,” by Three Dog Night.

Closure with a parent may take years to happen. The end result of such healing can be expressed by his favorite song: by easing loss and sadness and leaving better memories to give, “joy to you and me.”

Cancer Personality and The Great Move of the Decade

Is there a personality type that is prone to cancer? Purportedly those who’s personality exhibit the following characteristics do have a higher propensity: highly conscientious, caring, beautiful, calming, responsible, hard-working and usually above average intelligence. One who exhibits strong tendencies towards caring other peoples burdens and was wearing for others, one who is deep seeded and there need to make others happy and be a people pleaser and often internalizes their emotions and has great difficulty expressing them. There’s also an adverse reaction to stress which the person becomes in able to cope adequately with the activities of the tasks at hand. Possibly this causes the physical manifestations one of which might be the metamorphosis of the cell beginning the course of cancer.

“Extreme suppression of anger was the most commonly identified characteristic of 160 breast cancer patients who were given a detailed psychological interview and self-administered questionnaire in a study conducted by the King’s College Hospital in London, as reported by the Journal of Psychosomatic Research. “Patients results are based on statistical comparisons between 69 patients found at operation to have breast cancer and a control group comprising the remaining 91 patients with benign breast disease. Our principle finding was a significant association between the diagnosis of breast cancer and a behaviour pattern, persisting throughout adult life, of abnormal release of emotions. This abnormality was, in most cases, extreme suppression of anger and, in patients over 40, extreme suppression of other feelings.” [http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0022399975900628]

I hope the current situation in which I find myself very stressed out doesn’t cause my body to respond in the extreme.

Moving Residence and Stress

How do you handle huge life events with metastatic cancer? As best as you can and with slow determination. Asking for assistance from your friends and from your family sometimes doesn’t pan out. I have a wonderful friend I made years ago at a garage sale. She was a couple of dollars short and I’d covered her so she could enjoy a few vintage ceramics and beads.

I never expected six years later she’d still be my housekeeper. Over the course of time we’d found commonality in our eclectic eye for beads and for jewelry making. We are drudging through the stress of packing, readying our 1600 square foot townhouse http://www.1481carringtoncircle.com/ , and removing the traces of 11 years of memories as eclectic and varied as the beads I collect. She’s come over to help me pack as we sell our townhouse. She also refuses to take a dime because what once were services have shifted into the kindness of a friendship. She commented that I’d give the shirt off my back, which I literally have done several times in my life. And how could she take money from me when clearly I was the one who needed help right now.

All the kindness I have shown her was reflected back at me in ways I never imagined. When we give it should never hold the expectation that we may receive something in return. But as my philosophy about karma is not to do bad in the world as it keeps you looking over your shoulder at whose anger is behind you. Then you cannot see the good that’s right in front of you and you either miss these opportunities or trip over them and fall on your face.

A change of residence is very high on the stress https://www.stress.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/stress-inventory-1.pdf

My stress adds up to just under having a 50% chance over the next two years of having a catastrophic health event. I think I’m already there so I’ve beaten the stress scale by four and a half years. But looking back I had a very low level of stress in my life in the years leading up to my diagnosis, so go figure. Perhaps the subconscious predicts stressors before they arrive to eat us alive. I was planning a change of career and the very day – March 15, 2015 – was the same day I was diagnosed in the hospital and the day I was supposed to start a new job.

You Oughta Be in Pictures!

The house really shows well – I’ll have it even more staged for our open house on Sunday. There is so much work to do after living a full life for 11 years in a home. And our home has been really good to us. I’m grateful to it for giving us positive memories, but it’s time to close this chapter in our lives and move onto the next chapter .

I know intrinsically that this house will be wonderful to whomever buys her next. It’s stable and so well cared for and we feel bittersweet selling her but we leave it with good love and positive energy. After searching for our new digs, I believe you can tell if people who lived in a house were happy and if it looks like a product of divorce or ugliness. Not so here!

In the state of California, if someone died in a house in the three years prior to selling it you must disclose that event to the buyers? I found it morbid and kind of strange. our culture’s obsession with first person shooter games, zombies, and horror films directly opposes the feelings of disgust when faced with real death or the dying. I’d think people would be desensitized to death rather than creeped out by it.

I don’t believe there will be anything to disclose. I’ll make it through the move and ably live to experience the next phase of this life. In just two weeks from now we shall see.