December 7, 2013

FINDING THE PONY: Thinking about cancer, attending a happyalooza

Jim Arnold

I’m tired of thinking about having cancer. I mean, I wake up thinking about it; I fall asleep thinking about, and think about it during most of the hours in between.

It wouldn’t be so bad if there was some point to all that thinking. There isn’t. It’s not as if thinking harder will change anything; or thinking longer might lead to some new happy place. Nope. It’s just good old-fashioned, wheel-spinning, energy-consuming, time-wasting thinking.

It reminds me of conjugating verbs in French class: I work, you work, he/she works, we work, you work, they work. Great. But if you don’t know how to use the verb in everyday speech, it just becomes that much more useless knowledge cluttering up your brain, like Cary Grant’s real name, the 21st vice president of the United States or the seventh man to set foot on the moon.

In my case, the less I’m able to think about other things, the more I feel like that guy with cancer who writes about it, and little else. Would it have been a better decision not to write about it? Should I have chosen to go through it quietly, telling just people who needed to know only what I wanted them to know? Would I be forced to think about it less?

No. In fact, hell no. It’s only when I sit down to share with you what’s been going on, that the thinking seems to take any useful tack. Writing about it makes me focus on this bit, that bit, this thought, that feeling, that specific part of my treatment.

The rest of the time the thinking is just so much noise: “I have cancer. I have cancer. I wish I didn’t have cancer. But you do. Yes I do. How’d that happen? Don’t know. Guess it doesn’t matter. I have cancer, cancer, cancer.”

Spending so much time thinking about having cancer makes it harder to consider other roles I still need to fulfill.

I’m a husband, father, stepfather, grandfather, whether I have cancer or not, and Christmas is coming.

I trust I’m a friend to my friends, which requires thinking about them, considering their needs and issues. I have to find think time for them, somehow.

I’m a co-worker who, according to the cards and emails I’m receiving from them, could be counted on to lighten things up and make sure we could laugh at ourselves. How’s that working out?

I haven’t been able to go to work for weeks because I am unable to focus on much of anything but myself.

The one person who would have reveled in all this thinking would have been my mother. She was always after me to think more/harder/better/longer. She thought virtually any situation could be helped by extra thinking. I remember she’d quite often suggest the value of an extra thought: “If you think yerrrr goin’ to do that yerrrrr own rrrrrrrrridiculous way, ye’ve got anotherrrrrrr think comin’, so ye do.”

It’s become clear that this fight is going to go the full 15 rounds. I was naive to think otherwise.

• • •

The five weeks since my last face-to-face meeting with my oncologist have seemed excruciatingly more than 35 days. But we met with the oncologist at last and were able to talk about results rather than the disease.

The chemotherapy is working! The biggest marker of progress, as he had said it would be, was the number of proteins that my bone marrow was putting into the rest of my system. The first time it was measured, the number was 4,800. It’s supposed to be zero. This time it was 700. Still a significant number, but ... The doctor was happy, our nurse was happy, Sheri was happy, I was happy. It was a regular happypalooza!

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