Just Keep Swimming

I’m exhausted.

I’ve been feeling pretty run down emotionally and mentally the last few weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m feeling for the most part good physically, I’ve just been a wreck in my head. I even tried to write a blog a few weeks ago, but my heart wasn’t in it. I write when I have to, not just for fun. It’s a release for me. Because of that, I think this might help me break out of this rut.

I’m pretty sure being in this funk is because I’m coming up on a year of finding out that I have cancer. The “On This Day” feature on Facebook gives me a great recap of where I was a year ago. Today, I was home from my initial hospital stay, waiting for my colon to rupture. Which means in the next few days my life will have changed forever.

I think that’s the hardest part about fighting cancer. Your life is forever changed. Even people with lower stage, treatable cancer – their lives are forever changed. Every morning I wake up and the first thing that hits my thoughts is my health.

“Is the cancer growing? Is the cancer gone? Do I still have that pain? Am I doing the right thing? Is it enough? Should I be doing more? I didn’t rebound yesterday, I hope that doesn’t hurt my regimen. I didn’t have time to juice, that’s really stupid of me. I can’t miss a day again! I’m almost out of this supplement. I wish it wasn’t $75. I wish I knew what was going to happen.”

Every morning I just turn down the volume on all that uncertainty and fear and just start my routine again. It’s like being trapped in a Groundhog Day-like movie, but without Bill Murray… like a remake starring someone like Hayden Christiansen, so it’s not even funny. I think that’s a pretty good example.

Every day I do the same things. Occasionally I would break up the monotony with a trip to the RenCen to work at the office with all my work friends, but now because of this horrible rash from the EGFR protein suppressing drug, that’s not something I feel comfortable doing. The rash is the first side effect I’ve had since chemo took away my will to live. The drug suppresses a protein that builds tumors, but they also make your skin heal slowly. That in turn gives me a blistery rash all over my chest, back, face and scalp. Then it turns into a itchy flaky nightmare as it’s healing just in time for another dose two weeks later. Nothing seems to help much so I’m just rolling with it and hoping the meds are doing their job. The worse the rash, the more effective the meds. Let’s hope so.

As I said, two weeks ago I tried to write an update. My wife was in Florida with her Grandma. Her Grandpa passed away after complications from heart surgery. I also believe some of this rut I’m in is because of that news. Grandpa Joe was definitely a one-of-a-kind great person. I retyped the eulogy he wrote for the service and learned a lot about him, but that eulogy was more about his life and not about who he was. The thing I remember most about him was his laugh. He always found humor in everything. The most recent memory I have of him is when we met them at their hotel the day I found out my cancer had spread to my liver and became stage 4. I had so much confidence that all I had was stage 3, that I had caught it in time, that it wasn’t such a bad diagnosis. When I told him and Grandma Trudy that it was stage 4, what I saw in his eyes was just such sadness for my situation. He really cared. He really wanted this to be easy to treat. He wanted good news. But seeing how much he cared for his Grandson-in-law, that helped me get through that day. We were all still able to laugh at our silly kids and then later as he ordered the Lawn Mower Salad from Dave and Busters. That thing could have fed us all. I needed that. I loved his laugh. I’ll miss him.

I always try to find something to get me through each day. But sometimes there just isn’t something to help distract you. Sometimes you just have to force yourself through the negative thoughts and keep going. Lately that’s been the hardest thing for me.

I’m just exhausted.

I’m not scared though. I’ve become pretty good at calming fear, but I’m still not great at being positive over negative. For instance, my wife and kids came with me to Chicago this past trip. We drove. Never again. (Or at least never again will we rent the smallest car ever to save money). Don’t try to downsize your current vehicle to drive 5 hours, it’s not fun. Anyway, as we hit Illinois traffic I lost it. I banged the steering wheel and had a mini tantrum. My wife rightly told me I was being ridiculous. I think we’ve all been there, but I’m trying REALLY hard to not be that person anymore. As we were stuck in that traffic, the kids were watching Finding Nemo on the DVD players, and I think you sometimes get more out of a movie when you are listening to it rather than watching it. The scene where Marlin and Dory were in the whale has been on my mind since last Thursday.

Marlin was so negative and scared. All he wanted was his big problem to be solved but didn’t realize he could never do it unless he let go. As they hung onto the tongue of the whale, they say,

“How do you know something bad isn’t going to happen?”

“I don’t.”

I’ve always been Marlin. Coincidently, my wife is always Dory. But I believe those characters are more about our ever present internal struggle. There are times we need to be Marlin, as he helped Dory get through the jellyfish, and they are times we need to be Dory, and just trust that letting go is the right thing to do. Lately I’ve lost some of that ability to be Dory when I need to be. Even after Marlin finds his son, and his struggle is over, he is still terrified he is going to lose his son again and almost chooses to let Dory die instead of letting go of fear. It’s a constant battle we all face, and as a cancer patient, I face it multiple times a day. And I succeed and fail every day. For instance, on our way home on Sunday we decided to take a detour and stop at the Lincoln Park Zoo just north of Chicago. The Zoo was free but parking was $20. I didn’t want to spend more money. And all I kept thinking about was the long drive we had ahead of us in a small car. But we decided to just do it anyway. Because of those things, I enjoyed the zoo much less than I should have. Then, as we were waiting for a table at a restaurant called R.J. Grunts, I complained that “we have such a long drive ahead of us,” and my wife called me out on it. “You’re always talking about how you have to be positive more to help heal your cancer and live in the present and you can’t even do that with us”. She’s right. I was being stupid. I decided to have a good time at the restaurant and make the most of the drive home.

But that’s just the thing… I don’t have to feel happy all the time. This excerpt from Radical Remission stands out to me.

“Please keep in mind that making a commitment to feeling happy for at least five minutes a day is not the same thing as thinking you need to feel happy all day, every day in order to improve your health. This is a tragic and misguided conclusion that has sprung out of the mind-body medicine movement, such that many cancer patients feel guilty whenever they are stressed or scared, because they know that emotions can weaken the immune system. Can you imagine the pressure of having to feel happy all of the time, especially when dealing with a life threatening illness?

It is true that stress, fear, grief and anger have weakening effects on the immune system. However, it never made sense to me to cover up valid feelings of fear with a false veneer of positivity along with an additional layer of guilt. That’s why I was so pleased to learn that most Radical Remission survivors and alternative healers believe it is healthiest for a person to feel fully, and then release fully, any and all emotions that come up, whether they be positive or negative. Doing so allows you not only to experience the full range of human expression, but also to spend more time feeling truly happy in between the various waves of emotion. Young toddlers are a great example of this. They can be flooded with anger one moment, and after feeling it fully and releasing it, they will be completely happy five minutes later”

That’s what I’m trying to work on now, releasing instead of ignoring. I guess I’ve been doing that all along, I’ve just been holding on too long lately.

Just let go. Something bad might happen, but something great might happen too. Trust it’ll be the latter, and if it’s the former…

Just Keep Swimming.