Where’s Your Mind at Night: A dive into cancer and insomnia

Terminal illness effects the mind in some not so obvious ways. If you’ve got cancer of any kind certainly you’ve done deep, soul searching, looking for your own priorities and answers to life’s big philosophical questions. Yet even if you’re not terminally ill, there must’ve been times when you thought about some deep stuff, right? I mean thinking is usually what keeps us from sleep. But for those who suffer from many illnesses and not just cancer- take fibromyalgia for instance – the discomfort from pain and aches keeps you from getting comfortable enough to rest your mind and body.

Then there’s a very big mystery of why beyond these two major reasons we with stage 4 incurable can have insomnia. Nights not spent thinking about anything in particular and not physically uncomfortable, but just laying there unable to sleep for no apparent reason. I’ve not seen any science to study this form of insomnia. I have a guess that we really want to not miss any opportunities to live while we’re alive. Does sleep really keep us from those precious hours we could be doing things we can’t do when when are dead? It’s important and restorative for our bodies to heal and our minds to write memories on the big gray hard drive.

Sleep is for the dead, or so I’ve heard it said. And then there’s the little issue of wanting to experience life well rested and in a clear state of mind. Go figure – another paradox.

I’ve spent countless hours in deep meditation. On big questionas about mortality, about the importance of “things” VS. “people”, about letting go of unimportant emotional baggage, and forgiveness of myself, others, the universe and whatever my conception of a spiritual entity is like. I’m not going into that one. It’s been wise to not bring the r-bomb onto the blog (religion is best left with the p-bomb -politics which DO KEEP ME UP most nights because our beloved democracy is coming to a quick end as is my life – with a very screwed up, monstrous, interminable metastatic thing in a house it does not belong inside killing the very body that keeps it alive – it dies with its host).

However, just the simple fact of knowing my disease will kill me someday, that death is not some vague notion of inevitability, my thoughts turn more to dying and what plans I can and cannot make. I assume us stage 4 terminal endurers have these thoughts more often than people who have stage 0 through 3 “curable” cancers. But you tell me in the comments section below since I can only assume what I do not know.

Here’s a list of some things I think about throughout the course of a night:

  1. Should or shouldn’t I purchase the larger, economy size of soap, shampoo and conditioner? Will I survive long enough to use it all especially having really short hair now?

  2. I wonder if should subscribe to magazines or continue buying them off the shelf.

  3. Is it worth it to buy a new bicycle?

  4. Does my will still make sense?

  5. Should I visit the place I want to be naturally buried under a new born redwood tree in the Santa Cruz mountains or will it make me too upset? Shall I just instruct Craig to do what I want rather than choosing the space in advance?

  6. Do I want to reconsider becoming a marble instead? There’s a company that will take your body, burn it without polluting the environment and mix it with glass to create a beautiful paperweight or set of marbles from your remains. Pretty neat. You can be carried in your widower’s jeans’ pockets along with his keys.

  7. If I’m a marble and Craig dies what would happen to marble me? Will I just wind up in some antique shop along with a bunch of other marbles?

  8. Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin?

  9. Watching a movie or rereading a book seems heretical.

  10. Put the ice cream down or finish this here pint… Oops. Don’t ask for any it’s done.

  11. Did I choose the right adoptive parent and back up parent for my cat-son Simon?

  12. Can I haunt people after I am dead and if I can who should I haunt?

  13. Conversely I’d really want to visit people I love. There’s some serious practical jokes I’d love to play on my OCD husband.

  14. And I’d love to torture his ex wife who spent years trying to break us up and also tells my stepsons I don’t really have cancer I just want to sponge off their dad and I am a gold digger. I wish. I have some lessons she needs to learn in my opinion. And who better than someone she haunted while I was alive!

  15. I’d love to see a few more places and have some experiences yet to do. The northern lights is one. Going back to Paris and France generally and traveling all of the UK. Meeting the people I’ve only been able to interact with on my blog or social media in person to secure my friendships and make them whole. The UK trip will help a lot with that one. There’s a lot more but these stand out.

  16. Can I rent an RV and drive around the US and see my old friends one more time before I die. I don’t have the money and I don’t know if I’ll have the time. I wish they’d be able to come see me. But if I’m not worth their time and money…well should I make an effort? I’ve spent a lot of time filling and u packing a lot of emotional baggage on this one in particular.

  17. Should I get a walk in bathtub? Will that make me an official senior citizen?

  18. Do I continue to keep trying some new somewhat tangential hobbies to my current hobbies? Will I have the time to be good at anything else other than what I’m already good at? Like gardening and growing food for us – there’s a lot to learn and who’d tend fo it when I am dead?

Whats on your list of things that keep you up at night? Can you relate to my list and my thoughts with regards to why we don’t sleep beyond the two big ones – mental and physical pain?

I’m pretty upset with a few people, several companies especially AT&T, and excited about a few activities and people who will visit in the next few months. And nervous about my upcoming radiation treatments on my vertebrae.

That’s just today’s mind antics so on that notes I’m going to go ground myself on the soil outside then go take a nice long bath. Fuck all the chores today. And fuck you cancer.

Tropic of Cancer

I. He
Quick stepping and waltzing
Precise as a surgeon cuts into
The body, like a first kiss.
Her softness ages his face.
Speech fails him, words
Slurred with the stroke of
An unset clock stuttering
Her number in the dark.
His hand reaches under her breast
Bone tapping out a beat
Inside her hallowed chest.
Slipping away the sheet
Music uncovering the dance
With all the precision
Of a dull, straight line.
No beginning and no end
His sets his sights on her alone.

II. She
A limbo line dips and bends
under the tropic of cancer.
Drum beats cutting each dancer
One head after the next rolling
With small waves, lapping the shore.
Snapped off in a vulture’s jaw
With no allegiance and no friends,
She lost the line bowing then breaking,
Then falling toward the ocean floor
Slipping from lightning storm’s crooked fingers,
In the Leeward winds her hair twists
Into golden braids of dusk.
The complaining and crying of gulls
Making the melody of illness.
Quickening to find stillness and calm
Drowning into the safety of a harbor
She gives way to night’s remission
And accepts his request for her hand.

Facial Blindness*

Her brittle old tortoise shell prescriptions
Blur a head of softly graying curls
He needs a cut, she whispers, always to herself.
Anyone in or not in the grocery store line that afternoon.
Recognizing
Cantaloupe, honeydew, whole milk
Lettuce heads and newly sprouted wheat, and
Baby spinach asleep in the sway of her basket.
A figure furiously waves from ahead of him,
As if he’s about to shoot the games winning point,
Calling his name
Louder than a fool.
God knows everyone by name.
Thankfully.
No one knows how old a person grows
When you meet them again for the first time
Every day grows old the second time.
Meeting a mirror,
Waving at a mistake.

She imagined him drawing
On her insides by
Some mysterious ancient men in the caves
of France with
Sepia stick figures or during the war
Kilroy was here.
Words and pictures.
Guilty of cervical vandalism.
Warm looks exchanged and
Holding him in her
knowing glance,
“Mother, it’s you.”

*Prosopagnosia – a brain disorder of the occipital and temporal lobes that doesn’t allow a person to recognize another person’s face. It’s as if looking at someone through a dense fog. Helpful in recognizing a person by sight include physical quirks and traits, for example a severe limp, large glasses, a very tall person, or bright hair, etc. Without any guideposts even a husband can look straight through his wife in a mall and never know they’d passed one another at all. The poem imagines an anecdote related to me by an acquaintance of mine who has had prosopagnosia his entire life. He could not recognize his own mother in line at a grocery store after she’d gotten new prescription glasses and had forgotten to tell her son. And he’d forgotten to tell her that those old glasses were his only queue…