The Dawkter's Wife - It's all champagne and caviar now … dahling

Surviving Cancer,The Loony Bin

December 1, 2010

On the first day of Christmas…

my therapist said to me ….

Oh, ok … it was yesterday … but it sure sounded good framing it like that!

I spent some time dissecting why I had felt so anxious all weekend, how badly I had coped with it (ie multiple trips to Burger King and McDonalds to Go Large for the a quarter pounder with cheese value meal or the classic chicken sandwich meal …. I mean seriously, nothing sooths my heart like biting into one of these two sandwiches which I first stuff with french fries!) and my feelings about doctorfriend.

Here is what I got out of it.  I know you all will be surprised because I have vomited emotionally over these topics for years on this blog … but here I go with another dose of dawkterdoctorswife upchuck:

My diagnosis with cancer happened around the holiday time (no big surprise here that it would resurface during this time, right?)

I have gotten through any sad feelings that I might have about it in real life (aka, not on my blog) by telling myself 1. Be happy that you’re alive and quit moping  and 2. Focusing on giving, gifting and doing for other people.  Each year, I have come up with an elaborate, personal gift to make for doctorfriend (who from now on is no longer going to be called doctorfriend…she is Barb … plain and simple.  She was my doctor … she became my friend … it didn’t work out … but she is not doctorfriend .. she is Barb) to show my gratitude for her role in saving my life and as a way to celebrate December 15(the day that she saw me in the office and initially diagnosed me) instead of feeling sad about it.  Last year, for example, I spent weeks going into our pottery shop to paint a large cookie jar to look like a RumTopf.  It was the most difficult project I have done … but it ranked up there pretty high in the fun factor. Every time I went in for a sitting to continue painting, I imagined how happy she would be to have her own RumTopf.  I baked cookies and cakes for neighbors and for Barb and her nurse, spent hours canvassing the town looking for the perfect gifts for my children and my husband … I just put my whole heart into preparing for Christmas and if anything reminded me of that time, I just baked a little more … decorated a little more … shopped … a little more.

Then this year came around.  Did I try to plan something to make for Barb?  I’ll be honest with you here in the comfy pages of my blog.  Yes.  I planned out a needle point project and bought the supplies.  It’s all still sitting in the back of my car.  It is hard for me to imagine that this year, December 15 will come and go … without this celebration that I have carefully crafted through the years.  I won’t bring her a Christmas card with my Christmas letter, or bring in baked goods or a special gift. It will be a day where I will have to allow my heart to feel some sadness before … ok, I’m planning on inviting the neighbors over for a Christmas dinner/celebration of life…feeling joy. December will not be a month where I secretly plan how to erase my sadness by filling up that space with giving and doing. It’s time for me to allow myself to genuinely just feel … what I feel.

I think this is why my gut reaction over the last week or two has been to walk past the Christmas decorations in the stores.  I don’t want to <em>do</em> Christmas this year.  I want to let it pass us all by.  I always shop on Black Friday … even if there are no good deals to get me out the door.  It’s been a tradition.  This year, I decided that I was not going to participate.  My brain had other plans.  I woke up, couldn’t fall back asleep and hit one store before coming home.  It didn’t feel like black Friday to me and instead of being sort of excited by the crazies, I felt a little put off.

You might be asking yourself a few questions, like … why are we still talking about this …why didn’t you just grieve all of this before, or good grief woman it has been five years, why can’t you get over it.

Don’t worry, these are the kind of things that I say to myself a lot. Like … every time I start to feel bad.

Here are my answers (see, no need to send me any emails to ask me these things!).

1.  We are still talking about this because it was a huge life changing event for me.  It was frightening, it was horrible, I spent months not knowing the outcome for Zoe because of all of the problems that I was having with the pregnancy, I spent months not knowing if this would be my last Christmas with my children…. I don’t think it will ever just go away or that I won’t have times where I think about it with sadness.  Just because I’m happy with the fact that I had a good outcome does not mean I can’t allow myself some grief.

I remember so vividly the days leading up to Christmas.  On December 23rd, I had not yet started treatment and the tumor (though diagnosed a week earlier) had continued to grow.  My face was terribly swollen because the blood couldn’t flow down properly anymore and I could barely breathe. I stayed up all night sitting at the computer because I couldn’t lie down at all.  There was no position that I could get into that allowed me to breathe anymore.  My breathing was suffering even sitting.  I felt like I was being choked to death.  I was.  My dear friend, Kelly was planning a visit to see me on Dec. 24th and I considered cancelling because I felt like I needed to go to the hospital.  I really couldn’t breathe anymore.  I didn’t want to miss out on this special time with her … and I didn’t want to be in the hospital on Christmas.  I was afraid that it might be my last Christmas and I couldn’t stomach having my children remember it like that.  Kelly left in the afternoon, and instead of going in to the hospital, Thomas and I set up a system where he would check me regularly to make sure that my lips weren’t blue.  We made that our new trigger to head to the ER. It’s funny how things like that work…..we just kept raising the bar.  I did not want to miss Christmas.

Thomas went to the Christmas Eve service at church with me …. and by the end of the evening, my breathing was finally getting better.  All of the steroids that I had been on started to reduce the growth and inflammation.  By the time December 27th came and I had my first chemo session, my face was no longer as swollen and my breathing was much better.

Christmas though … was terribly, awfully, horribly stressful.  I have really tried to just put it out of my mind.

finally, we are talking about this because of how dramatically this has changed my health in  general, that this isn’t something that I will ever get over.  I have  decided though that I don’t want to try to just pretend like it didn’t  happen and act as positively as possible about it.  I want to be able to  let it …. be … in my mind.  I want to feel sad if I feel sad,  remember feeling afraid and  not try to shop my way out of it … I want  to just embrace the feelings that I have so that I can put myself back  together and find a quiet place in my mind over all of this.  If it uncomfortable for someone to hear about, I’ve decided that it is their problem, not mine…

2. Why didn’t I grieve it then?

After I was diagnosed I couldn’t afford to be afraid or sad.  Shit … I had to put one foot in front of the next and march forward for my children and husband … for my parents … for the people around me who felt so devastated and afraid.  If I had broken down or shown weakness, I felt the house of cards would have just fallen down around us.  I also needed to be strong for me.  After it was all said and done,  I had a preemie baby, four traumatized children and lingering health concerns to deal with.  For the first year or two it really was a continuation of the forward march.    By the time that life settled down enough for me to look at this, a few  years had passed.  Then I was all “Holy Shit, Can you believe I had  cancer when I was pregnant with Zoe” and people were all “hey, did you see  the Vikings game this weekend?”.


Here’s a biggy.  People don’t actually like patients who are sad or hurt or afraid….health care professionals and friends and neighbors.  I don’t know if it’s because they don’t know what to say or can’t handle the emotions themselves, but generally speaking, you are encouraged to “stay positive, because positive people do better”.  If you show up to the schools and keep volunteering, you are amazing.  If you cancel and take naps, you just are weak. Don’t we all want to be viewed as positive and amazing?

We knew a couple who went through terrible marital trouble after the diagnosis and after treatment was over.  They were <em>those</em> patients though…you know the ones…they sometimes fought in front of the doctor, the wife cried and was angry when things went wrong …. they became the less desirable patients …. the bad patients.  I didn’t want to be them.

No social workers or health psychologists ever showed up to help people through what is most certainly a dramatic and frightening experience.

And another thing?  The people around me just couldn’t handle it…they did their best, but they couldn’t manage their own feelings and most certainly would not have been able to handle mine.  My first day of chemo was an 8 or 9 hour affair.  The Rituxan had to be continuously started and stopped.  I was drowsy from all of the medications to stop the allergic reaction and I was sort of … emotionally spent.  I also left the treatment feeling like my lungs were full of fluid and like I was …. maybe drowning in fluid.  While we were driving to the pharmacy after this was all said and done, Thomas got paged.  He had to run in to the hospital (of course….because…and I don’t mean this in a hurtful way…I am often second to medicine.).  How did we handle this?  He dropped me off at Barnes and Noble and got me a drink.  I found a comfortable chair to sit in towards the back of the store and felt so ill because of this heaviness in my chest.  I was all alone for a long time and I worried that Thomas would come back and I would have already died in this back corner alone by myself.  Did I feel neglected?  yes.  Do I still fell upset when I think about it?  yes.  Did I DARE talk about this to any of my friends or imsn peeps?  No way.  They would have just judged Thomas or me or both of us.  In reality, Thomas was just in shock and upset and afraid and he did what he does best … work and focus on what he could control.  He just couldn’t manage his emotions. Do I forgive him?  Yes, I do.  He loves me and even if I had died in that Barnes and Noble, I would have done so understanding why he left me there …. Isn’t that weird?

I think I’ve allowed myself to peek at this grief from time-to-time. Grieving is a process and it isn’t like I haven’t shared some feelings of sadness through this years.

3.  It’s been five years.

Right…I think my feelings are very powerful this year because it is an anniversary date for me…five years….

I’m pretty sure I’ll get through all of this.  This year, I plan on taking some time to listen to my heart and feel…how I feel.

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