Friday, July 22, 2011

Brick by Brick

You think you have it so hard
You've got a test next week, your best friend is being a b word, there's some repair you need for your car that costs $1100, your cat is sick, your boss is a prick, your tooth has a giant cavity, and you hate your ex-boyfriend.  Life is terrible.  You want to die. 

And you go on like this for years.  Years.  Going from one crisis to the next. Then one day you get a phone call, and you have cancer.  Bam.  Like a hit from a baseball bat to the head.  Cancer.  Everything spins for a minute.  The world seems to jolt to a stop. 

 Everything changes.  No more "what am I going to do about  my econ grade?" Now it's become "what am I going to do about being dead?"   It sucks.  It sucks so bad, that unless you've been through it, you can't even begin to fathom the feeling.  It hollows you out in a split second.  It's like being struck by lightning. 

But you know yourself.  And you don't quit.  So you say, you know what? I can do this.  I can beat this.  I have no doubt I can beat this.  And so you do the treatment.  You have a 50% chance of living for 5 more years, so you decide to fight like hell.  You have no idea what hell will be like.  

The treatment lasts for one year, and the side effects are brutal.  You get a rash.  You get GERD.  You get IBS.  You feel like someone is continually hitting you in the stomach for about a year.  Your bones ache like they are being frozen within your skin.  You get strange shooting pains all over your body at random times for no apparent reason.  You are so tired, you fall asleep standing up.  You are so tired, you crap your pants- more than once.  You are so sick that you have to decide what hurts worse- hunger pains or the pain from eating.  You are so sick that your esophagus bleeds.  Your mouth is filled with yeasty pustules.  You pass out in the shower.  You still have the rash.  You have a fever almost every single day for an entire year.  You feel every moment like you'll collapse if you don't lie down.  You miss important engagements- graduations, concerts, parties, dinners- because you are so sick.  You get to the point where you can't even run simple errands- you have to take a wheelchair everywhere.  You sleep 70% of every day and night.  You wake up to realize you've missed whole days.  The hormones make you crazy, and when you are awake, everything makes you cry.  You gain 50 pounds.  You cannot catch an effing break to save your life.  You have no control over anything anymore.  You have been stripped down to your bare existence.  You hate your life, and you want to die.  And this time for real.  

In this time, when, to no fault of your own, you have reached your absolute low point, mentally and physically, you look around you for love and support and reassurance- and you feel so small and frail and alone.  You are alone because, through all this, you not only lost yourself, but you lost so many others.  The first was your close aunt- who, in her own grieving process, lashed out at you for the mistakes that you'd made in the past.  Why didn't you take better care of yourself?  You could've prevented this!  She has no idea how to deal with what is happening to you and can't bear to watch it.  Her anger at the situation overfills her heart and she thrashes it around wildly.  You are in the direct path.  She cuts you out of her life. 

Your friends from adulthood try to hang in there, but when they've never seen death so close before, they begin to question their own immortality.  This ish ain't pretty if you've never seen it before, and one by one, memory by memory, lonely tiny morsels of trust left in your once overflowing life, the friends become consumed with their own lives- after all, yours IS the only one that's stopped- and they disappear.  They all have bills to pay, kids to raise, families to tend. But what is most striking to you are the mistakes you made, whatever it is that you must have done  to make all these friends disappear.  Everyone is so uncomfortable around you.  You are overwhelmed with shame.   

You cling to those last few people.  One of your caregivers is an old friend from way back.  You lean on her.  She thinks that you should be handling the illness one way, and you think you should be handling it another.  Tempers flare.  Words flail like sharp weapons- and it becomes a game of who can cut the other deeper.  It's like a bomb went off inside you both, and feels like the worst breakup ever- even though it's not even with a guy.  You feel like a limb has been severed.  You both are miserable, but neither will admit it.  A friendship 20 years old, gone like the snap of your fingers. 

Because you're sick of it!  You're sick of it all!  To have to endure everything, and then, in the midst of it bare the psychoses of those around you? To have to carry their inadequacies as they dump them on you for being sick?  You're the cancer patient!  These are their faults, not yours! Why are they lashing out at you, making your life even worse?  Shouldn't I be the one being taken care of here?

What is it going to take?!?  It's all been ripped from your clutches- your life, your health, your body, your future, you friends, your dreams, your time, your energy, your job.  It has even taken your personality. You are shaken to your core.  You are a naked shell compared to what you once were.  You are Job.  You look around you and it is a desolate wasteland of nothingness that surrounds you now.  How did you even get here?  A year ago you never would've believed that this would be your life now.  You were so naive.  The destruction from your life has created a huge void.  Is this rock bottom?  Please tell me this is rock bottom.  Please tell me things get better from here.  

There is nothing left to do but rebuild.  You discover that the whole time you thought you were alone, there was a prince right beside you.  He was there holding you up when you weren't looking, all along.  The cancer seems to be gone.  You can allow your body to begin mending.  It will take years, and the fatigue and pain never fully subside.  You try to figure out who you are now.  You try to build your old life again, but everything is different.  Everyday is a brick. Brick by brick, though, you make a new life.  It's not as carefree as it was, but you are alive.  Things are not easy, brick by brick.  Slowly you rebuild.  

Most importantly you find, you are not alone.  You find a community of other survivors.  Healing is not easy, and many of the symptoms still exist.  Nothing is the same as it was, your body has changed, your mind is not the same, your personality is different.  But you have learned to accept that.  Things are ok.  Then things are good.  There are still very few true friends, and only one or two people you trust anymore, but slowly life becomes great again.  The bricks begin to build a structure, which is still wobbly most of the time.  Brick by brick, it becomes stronger.   There are cancer scares, and sickness, death and disasters.  And finally, after a long, hard road, when you realize that everything is still in shambles, you sigh to yourself and decide to just be happy for the little there is.  It is not much, but it is awesome.  Life has begun again.  It has been six years, and life is starting to look like a life I like to live again.  Thank you, God.  


The Path Traveled said...

This is such a bitter sweet post you have written. My heart breaks but at the same time smiles that you have come full circle and turn your life in another direction.
Each sentence written wants me to slap some sense into those that once were in your life and then the next sentence wants me to give you a hugh hug and tell you you will be OK and get through this....and you will!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. Thank you for this, because it is an inspiration, whether the one reading it has cancer or not. People can learn from this.

Your strength is amazing, your wisdom is refreshing. Thank you for this awesome perspective!

Kim said...

I love you Lori Lee.


PS Saw a billboard on I-4 the other day...'Cancer made me stronger.' That's what it said. Turned to Hubs and said...'Cancer just pisses me off.' We laughed. 7 years ago, at first dignosis, we wouldn't have thought that was funny. Maybe it still isn't, but you just gotta deal with it.
And you do, Sweet Girl, beautifully.

joanlvh said...

From now on, I wish the best for you joanlvh

conniewonnie13 said...

This is an astounding post. Thank you so much for writing every single word of it.

meg- said...

this is one powerful post. i enjoyed reading every bit of it. im also a cancer fighter. i have hodgkins lymphoma and im a doctor. but life's good. i recently started blogging as a new way of coping. do come visit it White on Black Background

Heidi said...

Thank you, I loved this post. I am a Stage IIIC Melanoma survivor awaiting reults of a possible recurrence.

Anonymous said...

As a fellow melanoma survivor-I must say you totally summed it up!

Becca D. said...

Wow! Stage IIIa here and I am in awe of what I've just read. You nailed the whole thing right on the head. You have an amazing gift with words. Thanks for the post!!

Hillary said...

This really hits home for me. As I read through the first paragraph or 2, I could not stop thinking "um yes that is me.. yep, that one is me... Oh yeah, that is how I feel.." You have summed it all up right there.
I have been battling Melanoma since October 4, 2004. 19 days before my 18th birthday. Here I am almost 7 years later and still fighting the same fight. I don't know how you got to the place you are now. How do you get out of that shitty stage and into the appreciation stage? I know I am the only one who can change the way that I live my life, but I just feel like I am in this "rock bottom rut" and it is never going to end... which makes it that much harder to move on to a better phase in my life. I hope to get to where you are someday. It is my biggest dream and right now seems unattainable.

Anonymous said...

Lori - I love you and I miss you -
this entry is deeply intense - you are so strong and i love that you share your story

you are what I wish I could be ... strong. Love you,M

Anonymous said...

You are a very strong woman- your story is very bitter sweet and I pray things continue to get better for you. Love and Prayers

Rainwoman said...

I haven't visited your site in awhile, but I am glad I did today. I am three years out of Interferon treatment . . . Stage IIIC, and, thankfully, there has been no sign of recurrence, but lately my mental health has tanked. This post is exactly how I feel . . . I couldn't have said it myself. I'm glad I visited your site today. Thank you.


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