05 March 2014

"Treat" is a Complicated Word

I had an infusion this morning, and while the whole process, from leaving the house at 7:00 to arriving back home just before 11:00, was relatively benign (as much as chemotherapy can be benign); several small disturbances came up against my personal, situational autism. I have a super hard time these days, after fifteen years of the process, in keeping my cool when even the tiniest detail of a cancer-related procedure is different from what I'm expecting. When things go my way in the cancer world, I'm all smiles and lively conversation. But when things don't go my way, I can barely keep my shit together.

This morning my latte from Essential was lukewarm (a chemo-day treat is getting breakfast out), and they didn't have any savory pastries at the bakery, which I'd wanted instead of a too-large breakfast sandwich, which was my only other savory choice. I arrived at the clinic at 7:30 sharp for my 7:30 appointment (which is a couple minutes late, but it takes time to cook a sandwich), and there was a line of 15 people in front of me checking in. It's true that several of those people were there assisting patients and not checking in themselves, but several of the patients were checking in for 8:00 appointments, three or four others had to answer Medicare questions, one was brand new and had to fill out orientation forms, and another's appointment had been canceled with the Infusion Room but not with her and it took several minutes to work out what to do about that. I spent a lot of time shifting from foot to foot, wishing I could sneak back into the infusion room and put my coffee in the patient microwave and heat it up so I would enjoy drinking it; and thinking that this whole thing, starting with why I was there in the first place, really sucked. It felt very much like the check-in line at the airport during an aviation crisis, except for the glaring inequality that there was no fun destination at the end of it.

I finally got my pager and my wrist tag at 7:45, and I did get a bed a few minutes later with no trouble (and I popped my coffee into the microwave and made it better), but I had a new nurse I'd never worked with before and so things between us were rather reserved. It's hard, with a 15-year history, to explain anything useful, in two-and-a-half minutes, about who I am and where I stand in my treatment. To make matters worse, my favorite nurse, who I almost always work with and who I actually saw for coffee, as a friend, during my long chemo hiatus, was right next door, and I could hear her cheerfully going about making her patient comfortable. I wanted someone cheerfully making me comfortable!

I did have a nice chat with the parking lot attendant as I left to come home--we've also become friends over the last many years--but that was not enough to make up for the bleak frustration of being there at that clinic, for an infusion, again. 

I realize, intellectually, that none of the tiny surprises of the morning amounted to anything in the scheme of things, and yet this is no longer a situation wherein my intelligence can help me.

Back at home, I half-heartedly did some normal things like baking shortbread and taking some macro pictures of spring arriving, but I was just depressed. I haven't been spending a lot of time with my oracles of late, and so I made some tea, lit some candles, and sat down in the living room with my I Ching and my journals and my Child Tarot cards.

I scratched in my journal "I seem to have only two choices. To have chemotherapy, or to die. Black and White. WHERE IS MY GRAY???"

For the first hexagram I threw, the I Ching said "OBSTRUCTION," and "you are caught between a rock and a hard place."

Well, DUH!

It then went on to tell me to practice "calm acceptance," and let the Sage help me determine what to do next. The related hexagram was "DEVELOPMENT", and informed my that the only lasting progress was gradual progress.

"HOW GRADUAL?!?" I demanded in my journal. I mean, am I really going to be doing this every three weeks for the rest of my life? For--because I am equally optimistic and pessimistic--forty more years?!?

"Sometimes," the I Ching went on in a soothing tone, "the only true comfort is the knowledge that we are steadfastly developing ourselves into superior people."

"What if I want to scream and cry and flail my arms about and have a major tantrum?" I wrote. That bromide from the I Ching is about as motivational to me at this point in the game, as was the idea that I might make more money on my home sale in a year, if I took on the awful job of painting cabinets. One main difference is that I am, in fact, done with the cabinets, and they look great.

I see--again, still--no end in sight for the chemotherapy job, however, and I AM SICK OF IT. I feel like I'm being bullied, for years on end, and no one is coming to my rescue.

It was clear to me that my inner child is a bruised, battered, smarting, bewildered, miserable thing, and so I moved on to the Inner Child Tarot.

And, it helped.

It helped me switch, ever-so-slightly, but ever-so-profoundly, my thinking about my situation. I have not wanted to "battle" my cancer. Never, not since the beginning. I am a linguist; language means a lot to me. And I know that "fighting" in the context of "healing" are incompatible concepts. And yet, where has my underlying focus been, for these last 15 years? It's been on killing the cancer. That's a battle.

One of my tarot cards said "Be unconventional; walk into the unknown." That scared me to my core.

"Unconventional means, to me," I wrote, "stepping away--completely from cancer chemotherapy."

The crossed out word in the previous sentence, copied faithfully from my journal as it appeared there, is the linchpin of my new understanding. I had started to write "cancer treatment," then stopped, crossed out "cancer", and wrote chemotherapy instead.

Treats are special. We give treats to people we love. Spa "treatments" are lovely things, too.

So, have I been treating my cancer? It was a shocking revelation. One doesn't give treats to things one despises or hates. One give treats to things one loves.

Incontestably, the treatments my cancer has been receiving are not like a day at the spa. Nevertheless, my focus has been on the cancer: on killing it. On eradicating it. On wiping it from the face of the earth. I have been, in fact, utterly xenophobic about cancer. That's not battle; that's all-out war.



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