People say that I am “a tough bird,” “scrappy,” and “resilient.” If I seem unemotional at times, it is because pragmatism is my survival mode.
Everyone thinks I am fine because I have always had to be strong. I have always been the one with a good head on my shoulders. I have always pulled up my own big girl panties and dealt with the challenges in my life. I realize now I have passed my most difficult internal moments alone when everyone believed I was okay.
I have never been able to roll over and let someone else lead the way. I have never had that option. Perhaps the truth is that I have never allowed someone to lead the way because I have always believed I had to do it myself.
In today’s blog I will get real and share the other side of my cancer journey – the emotional side. Ever since I was diagnosed with high-risk chronic lymphocytic leukemia, I have not been able to have a fully engaging cryfest. I have wanted to cry, because I understand how therapeutic it is for your body and mind to get those tears out. At times I think I should watch the movie “The Notebook” again to release my emotions. I figured out that I must have difficulty crying because deep down I am afraid that if I start crying, I may not be able to stop. There are days when I feel like I have used up my quota of tears in my life, and there are no more to shed.
Being diagnosed with cancer is a grieving process. We are grieving about the life we no longer have. We are grieving about the unfairness of it all.
Clinical complete remission was a good place for me to be. I could go through my life not focusing on the cancer all the time. I could look at my life with fresh eyes and be grateful for all my blessings. I could really live.
Then the cancer progressed. Yes, as my blood brother George says, “It’s a bump in the road.” I got my shit together and got my plan in place for the next treatment. I was ready. I was ready for any side effects, since I have spent years in a Phase 2 trial which is all about side effects. I looked forward to getting ‘er done.
Then it happened. The 41-minute conversation I had with the pharmacist about the toxicity of the drug changed my perspective. I have been one of those people who tried to live a clean life. I never smoked. I never took drugs. I only drank a glass of red wine once in a blue moon. I always tried to live a healthy life. And there I was … coming to terms with the fact that I cannot put this cancer drug in my weekly pill box because it will contaminate the rest of my vitamins and medications. I must wash my hands before I take the pill and it is preferred that I dump the pill from the bottle to a paper cup before it goes in my mouth. I must wash my hands after I take the pill and God forbid that I accidently touch my eyes. What in the hell am I going to be putting in my body?!? And this is my best option, according to the experts. There are days I want to drive down Central Avenue with my car windows rolled up and scream at the top of my lungs!
Many of my blood sisters and blood brothers on this journey have been able to do well off cancer meds and not had to move on to another cancer treatment. Because I drew the Bingo card for high-risk CLL, that does not apply to me. And I started the whole grieving process again of “Why? Why me?”
I fully understand that the thoughts I play in my head affect my body. I get that. Sometimes I just must give myself grace and know that this is the journey I must take in my life. My life has purpose. I know I am not done with what I am supposed to be doing on this earth. I want to keep living, but I am also not afraid to die. When it is my time to die, I want to do it doing the things I love.
I suppose part of the frustration is that the movie of my life I play in my head is not the reality of what I must live with. I know others have it far worse than me, but for today I am going to allow myself to be the focus. I am allowing myself to have a pity party. Believe me, I do not want anyone else to pity me. I can do that very well all by myself.
Others tend to lean on me, but sometimes I am the one who needs a shoulder to lean on. I just need a little kindness right now. I sometimes ask myself why I feel like I reach out to others, value, and love them more than they do me. If I stopped reaching out, maybe I would be faced with the stillness of silence. Maybe that is okay.
I have always been the giver in life. Lately I have been asking myself “When is it my turn?” Maybe it will never be my turn and that’s just how life is. Maybe that is okay.
I am waiting for the light to shine on my life again. Today is just one of those days. But I am exhausted now, and a few tears are starting to fall. Tomorrow will be another day … God willing.
Dr. La Verne