Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ghost of Christmas Future

This holiday season was a manic blend of family we don't see often enough -- but isn't that the case for all of us? -- punctuated by the logistics of toddler naps and last-minute shopping and scheduling time with all three sets of grandparents. Then, we threw in chemo the day after Christmas just for good measure.

I am just now emerging from the fog of this latest round, shaking off the cobwebs that settle in after each treatment and make it difficult to do much more than flip through Pinterest boards when I have a few spare minutes at night. At almost a week out, my intestines seemed to have stopped cramping and my appetite is back, even if my taste buds are not. And I can feel the steroids wearing off, little dying embers as the hot flashes fade away and my emotions stabilize again.

I don't know if it's just the time of year and all the nostalgia it brings or if it's the steroids, but I was especially weepy this year. Is it cliche at this point to say that the holidays are tough? With each one, I can't help but wonder if I'll be around for the next. And I hate that. I want to enjoy these milestones and celebrations without having to second guess cancer's plans or wonder whether the medicine is still working. There's a constant battle in my head between remembering to stay in the moment - No one knows if they'll be here next Christmas! You could get hit by a bus! How's that for cheering yourself up? - and being paralyzed with fear that I have very little control over this disease.

On the other hand, I have to believe I'm going to be okay.

Chris and I were catching up on the last season of Dexter a few weeks ago, and in one episode the main character - a single dad to a toddler - gets stranded at sea with just a piece of driftwood to hang on to. In the voiceover, Dexter starts talking about how it's not true that your life flashes before your eyes as you're close to death. Instead, it's all the moments you might miss in your children's lives - first lost tooth, first day of school, first love. I just about had to leave the room for that scene. But then Dexter got rescued by a group of Cuban refugees on a fishing boat and made it home in time to tuck his little boy into bed that night.

I might be living in a fantasy, but I have to believe my own Cuban refugees are just around the corner, that I'll be around for Quinn for a long time to come. I think there was a famous philosopher (or maybe Dr. Phil? thanks, chemo brain...) who said something about how insane we'd go if we thought about our mortality all the time. So I try to only think about it a few days a week.

I won't go so far as to call cancer a gift, which is a terrible analogy that gets thrown around a lot (maybe by people who are trying to help and don't know what else to say?), but in the days after the Newtown shootings, I kept coming back to the idea that at least I have some more time with my little boy, with my family. It is time often filled with the fatigue of treatment, steroid- and menopause-induced hot flashes, and at least 20 minutes in the morning to paint on eyebrows. But it is precious time that cancer reminds me to appreciate. Of course, then cancer scares the shit out of me about how much of that time is left, and I'm pretty sure I appreciated my life before cancer.

All of this to say that with the chaos and frenzy of the season (that's my excuse, anyway), I still get frustrated when Quinn won't listen to me even though it's the fourteenth time I've mentioned bath time and he's still running around laughing at me, refusing to put his arms up so I can take his shirt off. I get annoyed when Chris checks Facebook after a family dinner even though he interacted with my family all evening and probably needs a little downtime with his 454 closest friends. I say melodramatic things to him, like, "I don't even know how to have a relationship with you right now," for reasons I can't remember less than twenty-four hours later. Chemo is wearing on me; my edges are fraying.

I woke up early Christmas morning to cook breakfast for a small family gathering, tried to soak in the moments as everyone unwrapped gifts, and spent the day watching Quinn and his cousin playing on a new climbing castle - with a slide! I tried not to dwell on the fact that I had chemo the next day. I tried to push aside thoughts of future Christmases and whether I'll be here for them.

Because with any luck (and a clean scan later this month), I'll only have one more round of this crap, ever.


  1. I love your writing. You hit the emotions of cancer right on the head for any patient. Although four years out, I have the same thoughts and fears every day. Although I am not in your shoes, never the less, the emotions are the same. Thank you for sharing so openly and remember how deeply loved you are my friend!!! Deeply loved!

  2. (OOPS, have to sign)

    Love - Paulla Miller

    1. Thanks, dear Paulla. I swear cancer introduces you to every emotion in the book. My goal is to acknowledge each one and move on, but some tend to linger a bit. Clearing them out is an ongoing process. Love to you!

  3. Your writing is an inspiration. Even though it is Dick, not me, ( and our ages are certainly not in your category) I feel those same emotions. When I put up the Christmas tree, take down the Christmas tree, I wonder what my next year will look like. Even though he doesn't express those emotions, I can sense it all in him. Is it better for me to keep up a stiff upper lip; or is it better to let him see my tears flow?
    He just had his 4th new round of Taxol and Carboplatin due to the rise in his CEA numbers and increase in his chest nodes. This treatment seems to be working: Chemo kicking his butt harder this time. In my heart I feel you both will be around your loved one for a long time. My prayers are with you - always.

    Susan Gerbec

    1. Thanks, Susan. I was on Taxotere and Carboplatin - it's a doozy of a combination, to say the least. But I'm glad it's working! In my heart of hearts, I feel we'll both be around for a long time to come, too. Also, a friend sent me this Michael J. Fox quote, which I love: “Don’t spend a lot of time imagining worst-case scenario. It rarely goes down as you imagine it will, and if by some fluke it does, you will have lived it twice.”