Thursday, November 28, 2013

One Week Before Surgery

As of today, there are only 7 days remaining before I go in to hospital for cancer surgery. This morning, Robert and I were up early to attend the "pre-admission clinic" at which I had to have blood drawn, get an EKG, talk to a pharmacist, get a chest x-ray, and sign consent forms. The actual tests took up at most 15-20 minutes, the rest of the hour and forty minutes was spent waiting. I was deeply grateful for the comfort and solace of Robert, who had reminded me to bring a book to read, and who was able to keep me laughing at myself and my own impatience with the process.

Patience is not my strong suit: any patience I do possess is hard-won through my years of working the Al-Anon program, and can desert me at stressful moments. Having to sit through redundant sessions during which I'm told the same information which my surgeon's office has already given to me by email, (twice now) does not show me at my best. I was as polite as I was able, but poor Robert had to sit and listen while I quietly nattered to him about how irritating it all was. He's incredibly patient, loving, and a source of humour and joy. 

Tonight is the last meeting of my home group which I'll be able to attend for a couple of weeks after surgery. I'm looking forward to it. This group has quite a few wickedly funny members who can get the rest of the group howling with laughter, and laughter has always my best medicine.

(After giving it some thought, I've decided not to attend the meeting tonight, only because my doctor warned me that were I to catch a cold or the flu before surgery, it would have to be postponed, and that would be ghastly,  as it is, we've been waiting four months since the cancer diagnosis, I want the operation to be done and over with. The room in which our group meets is small, with little or no air circulation, and is close-packed with people by the time the meeting begins. All it would take would be one person with an active cold or flu, and I could get ill. So, regretfully, I've decided to stay home. I called my sponsor, who is in the peak of health, and we agreed to meet tomorrow afternoon.)

I apologise for being so remiss about posting in the last while, but I'll keep you updated, and Robert has agreed to write a post letting you know how I am after surgery. I'll also try to write a few more times before I go in to hospital next Thursday, Dec 5th. My surgery will be at about 11:30 that morning.

Today, as I struggled with my impatience and irritation at the excruciatingly slow and time-wasting process of pre-admission, I was dismayed to realise how strong emotion or stress can make me feel as though I've backslid enormously in my ability to practise program principles. I've been a member of this life-changing program for 29 years. Apart from the stress of leaving a long-term marriage to the alcoholic, when I finally faced the reality that the marriage had been moribund for many years, and I was just not accepting that truth, my life has been fairly stress-free for a long time. I've had family and friends supporting, encouraging and loving me, and until Aug 10th, was in a state of blissful ignorance in my new love with Robert.

I believe it is to his credit that the shock of the diagnosis didn't make him hesitate or falter for a moment in his commitment to me, and to our relationship. I get tears rush to my eyes when I consider what a tower of strength and love he has been for me,  while I've been coping with hearing that I have cancer, testing to stage the tumour, and the emotional turmoil of living with a tumour growing inside me, until the surgery to remove it.

 Robert is the man I've always wanted, and had begun to believe didn't exist. His  decency and trustworthiness, wicked humour, intelligence and thoughtfulness, and generosity with himself and his love for me, have been a gift beyond measure. I thank my Higher Power every day for the incredible wonder of Robert in my life. He has made having cancer bearable, with his ability to make me laugh at anything, and I do mean anything.  At other times in my life I might have found some of his cancer jokes shocking in their directness, but in this period of my life, they have been a cool draft of sense and honesty, and have made me laugh until my stomach hurts.

I am so grateful for the fact that with him, I can be completely myself, at no time do I feel as though I have to censor myself in order to be acceptable to him. I know that he doesn't judge me, as I don't judge him. We just love each other, and feel gratitude for the wonder of it all.

I'm off to do some painting, it calms and relaxes me, allowing me to coast along creating in peace.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Geographical Cures

When you move and are excited, believing that your new living space is going to be vastly superior to your last, and then discover that you feel pretty much exactly the same in the new one that you felt in the old, there's a chance you are trying what 12-Step calls a "geographical cure." (Moving, either houses, apartments, or to another city in another part of the country, in the hopes that the very act of moving will effect a long-lasting, overwhelming change in feelings, attitudes, actions, beliefs.)

This was one of the most difficult concepts for me to grasp in Al-Anon - "Happiness is an inside job, we give it to ourselves." Our culture is always trying, through the medium of advertising, to suggest that happiness is to be found in a tropical vacation, a sea cruise, a new car, new furniture, new clothing, a new pen, a new breakfast cereal.

Those of us who have swallowed the cultural messages without question, can find ourselves at the point of having achieved the position for which we were striving, whether than be professionally, socially, or in the purchase of a house, only to find ourselves feeling the same again, once the momentary excitement wears off. What then?

Step Eleven. "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and the power to carry that out."

This step can be perplexing for those of us who come into program as I did, believing ourselves to be either agnostic or atheist; how could I seek that for which I couldn't find belief? My first sponsor had a phrase she'd quote, which never failed to set my teeth on edge: "It's not "believe that you may seek," it's "seek that you may believe." I wasn't sure what that meant, but was too proud to ask for details.

I had been raised with a punishing deity, and had decided while quite young, that I wasn't going to give another thought to someone who sounded so much like an avenging out-of-control parent - smiting, turning people into pillars of salt, threatening to cut children in half - I was receiving enough violence from the adults in my life, why did I need an imaginary comptroller to be issuing even more rules and regulations?

It wasn't until my first marriage, when I'd be out walking my dog, and talking angrily to my HP, asking, "What do you want from me?" while at home, my alcoholic husband slowly drank himself into insensibility, that it dawned on me one day to wonder just of whom was I asking that question?

That's when I realised that I believed in something, and what could be harmed by my doing some seeking to try and achieve clarification.

My belief is neither here nor there for you, as yours is not for me; what matters is that we grasp that we are not the ultimate authority on all things, and humble ourselves, to listen and learn from the wisdom of others who've gone before us on this path.

I was most dismissive of the idea that with all my moving I was trying to effect a geographical cure; I always had an excellent reason why my present abode was completely impossible. But in Al-Anon I learned that wherever I go, I take myself with me, and if I'm not willing to spend time and energy improving myself, I will be continually looking outside myself for answers, and finding none.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

CYA, and Awfulising.

An aspect of modern medicine that I've found increasingly distressing, having been at the receiving end several times over the years, is the practise of many doctors to give one the worst possible scenario or outcome of whatever it may be that they are diagnosing us with. In this way do they "indicate the desire to document one's lack of culpability for foreseeable negative outcomes" or, to put it another way, "make sure that they cannot be blamed or criticized later for something."

I understand that this may be a result of increased litigation when things go wrong, and that it's most likely only fair to be honest about possibilities, but what I find disturbing, is this being done at the early stages of diagnosis, before tests such as CT scans, MRI, ultrasound, etc.

3 times in the last 3 months people I know have received an initial diagnosis which has scared them witless with the severity, only to be told after the testing is completed, that it's not nearly as bad as first thought.

So I wonder, what is gained by terrifying anyone with the possibilities of the worst possible outcome?
What good does it do to tell a person who has just suffered a spinal injury in an accident, that they may never walk again? Couldn't this wait until testing has proven the spinal damage to be that extensive and permanent?  Is it really necessary to give that information to someone whose spinal canal is still so swollen from the accident that no real long-term information can be gleaned until the swelling subsides?

What good is accomplished by telling a newly diagnosed cancer patient that they may have to have disfiguring surgery, before testing to stage the cancer tumour has begun?

My first sponsor called this "awfulising" and warned against it in all areas of life. She would interrupt me when I was engaged in a bout of awfulising, and state firmly that what might happen was beyond my control, I could do nothing whatsoever to change the outcome, why was I torturing myself with various ghastly possibilities? What did I get from doing this?

I used to quote the hoary old phrase "Expect the worst, and one might be pleasantly surprised" not knowing that by expecting the worst, I was robbing today of its pleasure, to try to arm myself against what a tomorrow might never bring.

Had I not had 29 years of membership in Al-Anon, the two months since my diagnosis with cancer would have been a very different experience. I'd have worried, fretted, agonised, stressed, and kept myself in a fever of fear and terror, continually presenting myself with hideous scenarios of what was going to happen to me in cancer treatment. Because I've had the years in 12-Step, I knew and know, enough to let that behavior go as a waste of precious time. I can push the reality out of my mind, and enjoy the moment. I can laugh helplessly with my beloved partner or another friend, I can work as a sponsor for those who seek my assistance, I can feel heartfelt and powerful gratitude for the wonders of my life today.

One sponsee used to try to have "what if" conversations with me, in which she would invent terrible outcomes for the alcoholic, and feel almost as much agony in the contemplation of those imaginations as she would have had they taken place. I finally declared that "what if" conversations were now off-limits, and I wasn't going to have one more of them with her. Her response, after a moment of silence, was an endearing giggle. This woman is newish to program, but her sense of humour is a gift and a treat. I admire her for it; by the time I came into Al-Anon, my sense of humour was long gone. I was completely unable to laugh at my own insanity. I took myself far too seriously, and wanted everyone else to do the same.

We know that we are getting somewhere in working this program when we can begin to truly laugh at the nuttiness of our old thinking. When we can stop wanting others to sit silently while we catalogue our woes, and then tell us how well we are doing in shouldering our burdens, when we can honestly take an interest in another person, rather than pretending to do so in order to have them listen to us, we are beginning to grow.

Awfulising is self-defeating, tedious, tiresome, and boring for the listener. Who wants to hear a litany of complaint or negativity? How are we sharing experience, strength and hope? That's the question of the day.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

It's A Great Life If You Don't Weaken.

A week ago, a very dear friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. I'm shocked, in the same way that I was shocked when I received my own diagnosis. This is the woman I turned to when I put down the phone after having been told that my friend had died in May, 2012. I remember dialling her number, blinking hard to try to clear my vision from the flood of tears. I spoke with her for only a moment, and she came right over. We went out and walked for a long time.  I sobbed helplessly and she comforted me, in her soft and loving way. I don't know what I would have done without her, both then, and when I left the marriage after 17 years.

When I was frightened and anxious, her strength, humour and support were a blessing I clung to. When life has been going well, her delight in my good fortune has been an added fillip to my gratitude.

I recall the very first time I met her. I was new to the city, and to the Al-Anon group meeting. She smiled at me, and nodded, a tiny movement of her head that somehow made me feel welcome and contented. I liked her immediately. She's about the same size I am, small, slim, and beautiful.  Her spirit, great kindness, and wicked sense of humour, make her delightful company.

I count her as one of my dearest friends, and I wish that we lived in the same city so that I could be there for her the way that she has unhesitatingly been there for me. I hope to drive up for a visit before I go for surgery in early December.

Another very close female friend has been told that she is facing possible health problems, and I feel so helpless. I talk to her, look at her beloved face and wish that I could do something, anything, to make it better, but I am only a fellow traveller along a frightening road. Illness is something we much each muddle through as best we can, even with the help of those who love us, we cannot do what isn't humanly possible. We can't turn back the clock to an earlier, more light-hearted time, when serious illness was a possibility we thought of, if we thought of it at all, as something perhaps to be faced many years in the future, not now, when we're still healthy. Or so we thought.

Since my diagnosis on Aug 10th, I've known 3 other women facing serious illnesses. I feel old today. I have nothing to offer but my own faith, and attempts to give loving support.

I'm going to go debone some chicken, and then work on my painting. I'm feeling the need for some creative time to counteract this morning's sadness. This too shall pass.