Friday, July 25, 2014


I have reached a point in my recovery, where I rarely become angry. When I do, I am able to count to ten, remain silent, or speak without heat.

Since this last operation, I find myself more short-tempered with all the appointments, visits, chemo treatments, dressing changes for my PICC line (a catheter inserted in my upper right arm and left in for the entire duration of the chemo, six months) trips to get bloodwork, and waiting waiting waiting to be able to do all of the above.

On Tuesday I had to go see a chemo oncologist for my regular bi-weekly checkup, to make sure I was healthy enough for the next treatment. I was sent from pillar to post to try to get the dressing change, because I kept being told by ward and clinic clerks "Oh, we don't do those here, go there, and they'll do it for you." I went back and forth several times before suggesting that one clinic clerk come with me to tell the other, that someone over there was supposed to do my dressing change. I then waited for another hour and a half, so by the time I was called, I was feeling quite annoyed. I'd forgotten to bring a book to read, so was reduced to either Economist magazine, or home decorating.

When I did get in to see the doctor, I was short with her, and said that I didn't appreciate being kept waiting for an hour and a half. She gave me several reasons, and we talked about it a bit, but I was annoyed, and stayed annoyed throughout the 10-minute visit.

At home that night, I felt that I owed this doctor an amend. So, knowing that the chances of me being able to catch her long enough to make an amend face-to-face were slim to none, I wrote her a two page apology.

This morning she called me at home to thank me for my apology, and we talked for a bit. I'd explained what is going on for me, how I'm struggling with the limitations imposed upon me by the second surgery, and waver between acceptance and anger. She revealed that her daughter had undergone the exact surgery, and asked if she could refer me to another specialty doctor who might be able to help. I agreed, apologised again, and we parted on good terms.

I felt the enormous relief that comes to me after I've made an amend that I know I need to make, and I also found my eyes welling up with tears. Had I not been willing to make the amend, we would most likely not have ever spoken about the limitations, we'd just have discussed the cancer. God puts these people into our path, and it's our choice to either turn away, or turn towards them.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Hair, and Sponsors.

I've always found it fascinating, the amount of money and time that our culture devotes to telling us about how our hair can be softer, bouncier, lighter, carefree, sophisticated, playful....the list is as endless as the advertisements.

I've had hair down to my butt, and I've had hair an inch long, and now I have hair about 1/8" of an inch. It was starting to fall out just a few at a time, 10 here, another 10 or so there, so I went and had my head shaved.

My sponsor and I went wig shopping last week, and found a wig which looks very much the way my own hair does. Dark brown with a bit of grey through it. Wigs have come a long way in terms of looking natural, even when they are 100 acrylic. My sponsor and I had a great time in the wig shop, trying on Dolly Parton look-alikes, and all sorts of strange colors and styles, and laughing ourselves silly. We even got the saleslady into it after a while, she was picking out some hilarious styles for me to try and then the three of us would stagger around the shop in giggling fits, with the saleslady never getting past saying more than a gentle, "Oh dear, I think that's not you!" while my sponsor was more upfront,  at one point making me howl by saying firmly, "That's hurting my eyes, you need to take that one off."

I went wig shopping with my sponsor because I knew it would be fun with her. I'm not terribly broken up by my hair loss, I don't love it, but I'd rather laugh than cry, since it's part and parcel of the chemo I'm getting. By shaving my head early into the process, I gained a little control, and that felt good.

Wig-shopping with my sponsor was a pleasure. I feel completely safe with her, I can relax completely, say exactly what I'm thinking, and get good honest loving feedback. And lots of laughs. Just thinking about her brings a smile to my face; she's great fun, and excellent company. My first sponsor down here was wonderful while we were in that relationship, and I feel a heartfelt gratitude for all of the help and support she gave to me, and now we are friends, and talk on the phone once in a while. We've talked about what happened, she's apologised, and I hold no grudge or bad feelings about it, but it did affect my ability to trust her, and it was time for a new sponsor. So it goes.

I was just incredibly lucky enough to know someone who I wanted to be my new sponsor, and she accepted. A good sponsor is a friend, a confidante, and for those of us who are long-time members of this program, a lovingly honest reality check. I can write her an email about exactly what's going through my head, and she will hear me, validate my feelings, then offer her ideas. And because I love and respect and admire her, I'm completely openminded to the way she sees it. Already, in the short time we've been sponsor-sponsee, she's been a comfort and a help in ways too many to enumerate.

A sponsor is a gift we give to ourselves in this marvellous program.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Control and Perfectionism.

I was writing to my sponsor last night, and mentioned that I can still be powered by those two engines of insanity - control and perfectionism.

I can detach enough from myself and my emotions at this stage, to be able to watch the way having cancer, and being pulled into the whirlpool of treatment, affects my desire to control, and awakens the old demon of perfectionism.

For now, much of my time is not my own, through hours spent getting chemotherapy infusions, going for blood tests, appointments with doctors, nurses, dressing changes for the PICC line - the list seems endless, but then when I have a couple of days with no appointments, I feel a gleeful freedom.

After so many years in Al-Anon, I've become rather skilled at letting go - this has been of huge importance to me since the diagnosis. I've learned to live in the moment, and to take pleasure from these moments as they happen, not allowing the spectre of what may lie ahead to poison my joy in today.

A friend is coming to take me for lunch today; we haven't seen each other since before I was diagnosed, so she may be expecting me to look ill. I have had to laugh at how many of my friends who haven't seen me for a while exclaim in surprise "You look so good!" Cancer is a loaded word, and with it come many assumptions.

My sponsor and I are going wig-shopping tomorrow - I'm really looking forward to this, she has a wicked sense of humour, and her many years in Al-Anon allow her to see the silliness that surrounds us in daily life. I know that I can be truly myself with her, whether that be me on a day when I'm working my program and managing to balance quite nicely, or on my not-so-program days. Tears or laughter, she accepts them all, and that is a great gift.

I'm grateful for this wonderful program, for allowing me to be having a conversation with Robert, and know to stop and laughingly "out" myself as a control freak, telling him to do whatever he's doing however he pleases, and I will be quiet now. When I'm in HALT, (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) my desire to control can begin to overcome me. I can focus on it, or let it go - my life works well, or I stumble, depending upon which I choose.

Perfectionism is another character defect I have had in abundance. I see that it was inculcated in childhood, when a higher mark was always better, and nothing was ever enough. I was never enough.
That feeling stuck with me through most of my early years in Al-Anon.  Anxiety can cause it to start up in my head again, that feeling of having to do everything and anything perfectly, so that no possible criticism can be levelled against me. Fortunately, again, I've had sufficient experience in Al-Anon that I know not to allow that feeling to override my common sense. I can feel it, validate it, then set it aside, and do what I need to do to look after myself.

Twice since my diagnosis, I have asked to see another doctor, first the surgeon, and then the medical oncologist. I didn't feel comfortable or confident with the first doctors I saw, so got up my nerve to ask for a second opinion. I'm learning that I need to be willing to advocate for myself. Cancer Care here has a wealth of information and help available, but in order to access it, I have to admit that I need some extra assistance, that I'm not perfect, and I can't manage all on my own. What a relief that is.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Reader Asked About Depression.

A reader wrote to me noting that "depression" does not appear on the topic list to the right side of my blog, and wondering if I could please address this topic?

I don't write about depression because it stopped being a state of mind for me many years before I ever started writing this blog in 2009. I don't believe that it's possible for me to feel depression and gratitude simultaneously, and I've had heartfelt gratitude for so long now, that I have a hard time recalling just what it was like to be depressed and angry.

Even this bout with cancer, and the possible cutting short of my life span has brought me to tears of gratitude; I have so much about which to feel grateful. I have my beloved Robert, my brother, and sister, my good program friends, the health care system which is doing its best to keep me well.  I may wake up feeling some fatigue with chemotherapy, but I wake up feeling, and that's a gift.

I believe that our attitude is our choice - I choose whether or not to look for that which enriches and fulfills me, and to let go of what doesn't work well.

Rather than write about depression, which I can't imagine helping anyone, I prefer to write about the positives in my life, and share with you all, joy, freedom and serenity.