6 Months

Its absolutely amazing to me how fast time flies when you are having fun. Andrew is in Houston at MDAnderson again for his 6 month series of tests and scans, and I am at home holding down the fort and taking care of the kids and our zoo. To say that I felt absolutely sick to not leave the house with him at 4:05am this morning, is an understatement. Andrew is so strong, and he assured me (why the heck was he assuring ME?) that he would be fine on his own, and yet I feel strangely empty and scared tonight. And, yet, we both know and trust that his appointment with Dr. Swisher tomorrow will be cause for great celebration and a wonderful reminder of how fortunate and lucky we truly are.

The past 6 months have been a bit of a blur. Cancer is very strange that way. Time almost stands still at times, and yet when health returns, and normalcy appears, its easy to resume life as you knew it before and time begins to evaporate again. That said, its far too easy for me to talk about this, as I am NOT the one who has had cancer. I am NOT the one who has had massive thoracic surgery. I am NOT the one who has had part of his lung removed. I am NOT the one who has lost a father to the same cancer that I have had to fight. Its far too easy for me to talk about how the last 6 months have been. Quite frankly, its far too easy for me, as I am NOT the one fighting cancer. I am merely the spouse…

And, yet I will tell you that Andrew has been nothing short of amazing since his lung cancer diagnosis. He recovered from his surgery with such grace and such strength and as soon as he was able, he was walking the dogs, and hiking our local mountain, and then in short order, skiing at our local ski resort. And then before I knew it, he was skiing at altitude and pushing the limits of his lung capacity, and celebrating with quiet joy how far he had come in such a short time. All the while, feeling “different”, all the while knowing that his reality was forever changed. All the while, quietly aware that each day was a gift beyond anything he had ever been able to comprehend prior to last July.

Of course, we feel that tomorrow will bring nothing but great news. We have no reason to think otherwise, and yet cancer is this persistent shadow. Life goes on, and joy returns, and yet there is always this shadow. Sometimes its more noticeable, and sometimes, you can’t see it even if you try. Yet, its always there. A dull and sometimes even a dark shadow…

Just last week we lost a friend to cancer. A young father with an incredible zest and joy for life, and a very, very dear friend to two of our best friends. Why him? Why was this Steve’s story? Why is this Andrew’s story? Its been a horribly sad time to mourn the loss of Steve. And its also been another reminder of how fortunate we are…even if there is perhaps some guilt imbedded in our gratitude. Yet, our gratitude is DEEP. And we sincerely share in the collective grief for Steve’s passing.

So, I am here in Boulder, and Andrew is there in Houston. And I feel so far away from him, despite our consistent contact today. I know where he is. I can see it. I can feel it. I can smell it. And quite frankly, in all of MDA’s incredible amazingness  and magic, its a hard place to be, even worse alone. Cancer is not something I would wish on anyone, and I am also deeply grateful for our experience and journey with lung cancer, thus far. We are truly the lucky ones.

Love,

Brooke

 

 

November 10, 2013 – I am…

I captured the following stream of consciousness in a brief 15 minute window of calm –

raw

aware

sensitive

afraid

feeling

joyful

relaxed

present

at ease

grateful

eager

clear

tired

accepting

receptive

creative

curious

resigned

lethargic

anxious

excited

tweaked

reflective

pensive

shocked

open

secure

happy

introspective

appreciative

sore

calm

thoughtful

optimistic

energized

3 weeks out…the time warp continues

3 weeks ago almost to the minute I was wheeled out of the post-op holding area and into my room at MD Anderson on the 6th floor where I joined the other thoracic patients residing on two wards.

I remember feeling as if I were observing someone else living my life. Hovering out of my body in close proximity. Connected and yet distinctly separate. I remember how loving and present Brooke was, every ounce and fiber of her being focused on me. The full magnitude of her energy concentrated on me like a tractor beam. I immediately liked the energy of my night nurse. I felt a sense of relief that I had someone who was gentle and kind looking over me. And even through the haze of the anesthesia I felt at ease that I would be in good hands when my loving Brooke went home for the evening. The nurses at MD Anderson were amazing. Maybe I just got lucky with the four primary nurses assigned to me, but I doubt it. Based on what I have observed at MD Anderson it is a trait that runs throughout the organization. And the nurses are the cornerstone of that care.

It was late. Much later than we had anticipated or planned for. Brooke is not a person who does well after about 9 pm in the evening. You would not have known it that night. She lit up the room, and probably the whole ward, with her energy, kindness, and smile. I distinctly recall that the nurse and Brooke insisted that I get up and walk the ward. Within hours of a major thoracic surgery they had me up and moving. It was quite a spectacle. Walking along attached to my “totem pole” of IV’s, pain med dispenser, catheter, chest tube and collection unit…not to mention my stylish gown flapping in the breeze. I felt as if I were going to topple over at any moment. They told me later that the nurse trailed me with a rolling chair in case I collapsed. My head was swimming with narcotics, and the headaches and dizziness were intense.

That first night was awful. Constantly being woken up by beeping respiratory monitors. When I fell asleep my respiratory rate fell to concerning levels. And then the constant poking, prodding, checking, etc. Sleep was low on the priority! I started to experience a sense of time moving at an odd flux, fast and slow at the same time. I was able to get discharged relatively quickly, 4 days, yet it felt like 8.

3 weeks out I find that sense of time warp continues. Some times the days seem to drag on, and then even within the same day I wonder where the time went. I have not done much. I ventured out of the house for the second time today. And I over extended myself. Sometimes I think I am feeling great, and then 20 minutes or an hour later I am exhausted and moving across the room or walking upstairs seems like a big effort.

The headaches are really getting to me. Debilitating, they sap my energy to do much at all. They seem to function as a barometer, receding when I am feeling stronger and surging without warning when I push too hard.

I am tired of being tired. I told Brooke it often feels as if a heavy wet blanket has been draped over me. I keep trying to focus on patience, sometimes I feel settled. Often I feel I have little patience for patience! I can’t get over this weird sense I have around time. I have what seems to be a cloudiness and fog lingering in my head, particularly my frontal cortex where I feel it most. I have an urge to be “making progress, taking action, moving forward” except I feel blank when I try to discern what actions I want to take. Perhaps it is a form of anxiety? In reality I feel just as strongly that I don’t want to take any action at all. I wake each day motivated to tick off some items on my “to do” list. Yet I can’t seem to pull the list together. Kinda odd for someone who has been making those lists daily for the last 15 years. And then the day seems to melt away, and by evening I am exhausted and hoping the headaches don’t come back. Someone asked if it was depression? I don’t think so, I am not depressed, sad, or withdrawn. I feel grateful, I enjoy the beauty of the day, and underlying my physical malaise I feel a twinge of excitement for some unknown adventure awaiting me.

The people I have seen or spoken to very kindly say I look or sound great. I appreciate their support. Yet it is weird, it makes it hard when a bit later I don’t feel great. I have to be careful not to judge myself, question the validity of how I am actually feeling. Chastise myself because I know there are many who are facing much harder challenges than me. Then I remember to give myself a break, my experience is just that…my experience. There is no specific standard  I have to meet. I have always been my own worst critic.

“This is a time for patience and careful attention to inner truth. Attempts to force a change, rather than allowing it to come naturally, will only cause misfortune. If one remains balanced, modest, and independent, good fortune will come to hand.”

– I-Ching

 

 

Contentment

Which is more vital

fame or health

which is more precious

health or riches

which is more harmful

loss or gain

the deeper the love

the higher the cost

the bigger the treasure

the greater the loss

who knows contentment

suffers no shame

who knows restraint

encounters no trouble

and thus lives long

– tao te ching (verse 44)