A lot to get through and I’ve been bad about writing here this week, so apologies in advance for the long post.
Starting Tuesday night I got hit with an enormous amount of abdominal pain, about a 6/10 on the scale. This lasted until about Thursday night and involved calls to my GI doctor, Dr. F, me starting Prilosec OTC, very little sleep, and me mentally spiraling downward into a place where I was actually Googling methods of committing suicide.
It feels weird to type that. This all feels weird. Four months ago I was a totally different person. Then someone told me I had a terminal disease, even though I felt fine. I had tests and was poked and prodded and sucked and cataloged and talked to and convinced that I have this thing, that it’s slowly but surely eating me away from the inside and eventually is probably going to kill me.
I’ve tried to maintain a positive attitude on things, usually via my typical black sense of humor. It’s been almost impossible — I’m still in a horrified, “this can’t be happening” state of mind. I was and still am grieving for myself, for the life I feel like I have lost. I’m constantly wracked with guilt over the impact of this now and in the future for my family and friends, etc. I started seeing a therapist knowing that I am not equipped to deal with trauma on this level, though, and although I couldn’t (and still can’t) summon hope and a “kick ass” demeanor quite yet I got as proactive as I could with my treatment. I even got a bank safe deposit box and had a will made, put it all in there, and started writing letters to my not even 2-year-old daughter so in case I die from this she can at least have something from me to know who her father was.
And because it’s my only shot, apparently, and still not feeling bad whatsoever physically from this, I start chemotherapy, and WHAM. Now I fucking feel like a cancer patient, or at least what I figure one feels like. I get this brutal temperature and have to immediately start antibiotics, followed by a holiday trip to the ER. I’m tormented constantly with thoughts that my body is rejecting the treatment, that my organs are failing, that I’ll have to switch drugs so one less method to battle this and that much less life I get.
The temperature goes away, I have a day of peace, and WHAM. The stomach thing.
Chronic pain, and the thoughts that accompany it, have a way of putting things in a frightening perspective that I could never have come close to understanding before experiencing it firsthand. Is my stomach, which has troubled me for years, finally falling apart in the face of the chemotherapy drugs? Why won’t the pain go away? Is there another cancer in there, the highlights the doctors wanted me to follow up on after chemo started but assured me was probably nothing?
Sitting on the couch, in dull agony, sleepless, far beyond any internal coping mechanisms and feeling a *click* in your head that says “fuck this, I am not spending the rest of my life dealing with this,” the tension in the house so thick you can taste it’s metallic taint in every sip of water (which you’re afraid to drink too much of because of the stomach pain, but have to drink a ton anyways because with the drugs you’re on your kidneys can easily fail if you don’t). Stressed because Ariana hasn’t slept all week and you feel like this is seeping into her, that she keeps hugging you and saying “daddy hurt” and it breaks your fucking heart because now my pain is fucking her up as well and the guilt is overwhelming. Realizing if this is what life is going to be like now that you have life insurance, and a will, and you can make everyone’s life easier right now.
Sitting on the couch, thinking these thoughts, wondering if there’s enough prescription painkillers and muscle relaxants in the house to do the trick, wondering if you have the courage to go downstairs, load up a rifle and pull the trigger. Wondering if you could get through Cabelas to pick up a cheap shotgun and a small box of shells, how you’d contain the mess to contain the trauma, etc.
That’s a place I’ve never been before, not in a real sense. I mean I think everyone ponders this stuff at some point, but to really start building a decision tree, to see the squares mentally and the lines and arrows between them, to tickle the edge of a plan …
My therapist and I met Friday morning, and after I related this all to her she asked me what pulled me back from the edge of the abyss I was standing on. I told her it was a combination of things, most of which I read that night on my phone in tears with my daughter and wife oblivious in the kitchen next to me. Things like:
Or maybe by not killing yourself, you save a number of people you know the sort of unbelievable heartache that is 100 times worse than whatever you are feeling now? Is that alone enough reason? You might be thinking that those near to you will come to terms with what you are about to do; that your pain is much worse than theirs will be. But the legacy you leave those people is not only the grief of your death, but guilt for the rest of their lives that they couldn’t help you feel better. They will feel responsible. Or else hurt, confused, angry or remorseful.
Make no mistake. Suicide will have a devastating effect on those around you, and the effects will stay with them the rest of their lives.
Oddly enough that is from a website devoted to how to kill yourself.
Anyways, I tucked the suicide prevention hotline number in my phone, thought through things, and decided that this is NOT MY FAULT. It’d be one thing if I had been out banging hookers on the side or shooting heroin and had contracted AIDS or something — but I didn’t do this. It was done to me, either by someone’s God or the shittiest roll of the dice I could get one day or who knows the fuck why else, and although I doubt I will be able to ever not feel guilty over it’s impact on those I love, I will not leave them a legacy that they might have failed me (even if that couldn’t be further from the truth).
Plus my mother would blame my wife and probably sue her. That’s a whole different Oprah, however.
Sorry if this is all TMI … this blog is the reality of me and my fight with this, and it’s not all bravery and courage and bravado and “fuck this disease.” I’m just not there, man. I try. A lot of people I talk to think I’m there, which means I project it if nothing else. But I’m not there. I’ve had thrust upon me that not only am I mortal (very much so, apparently) but I’m flawed, and weak at times. I barely recognize who I was four months ago before I found out about this, and when I do I just get angry because I was on such a good path on almost every level and I feel like this is my fucking reward. But even that image is fading, getting too distant in the rear view of my life now.
But maybe courage is not so much not being afraid as it is being scared to death and doing something anyways. Because I want to try to be there for my wife, and be a better husband. Because I want to have a relationship with my daughter. I want to live, you know. Not with cancer, obviously. But I want to live.
Anyways, just in case that was not all enough, Friday was a total shit show at RMCC for me. The day already started out badly with Amy and I getting into it that morning and then us both going to my therapist. Although that ended well it set an emotional tone for the day and eroded the walls a bit.
We had an hour to kill so we hit up my favorite coffee shop, where Amy learned thanks to an accidental Edward Snowden -esque barrista that I had been going there and getting the frozen bear drink Amy had asked me months ago to stop getting (due to chemical content of the syrup). I have actually cut those out for the most part but I consider it my mental health drink for the soul at times and have snuck in a few, yes. Needless to say she was pissed, and while I was able to fix it (I really had no idea she’d be angry, since she’s let us cheat on the anti-cancer diet rarely for a desert, etc.) when we got to RMCC we were primed for disaster.
Sure enough we got a temp nurse who had no idea what we needed to be doing, had zero personality, was rude and impersonal, couldn’t understand my orders and then got Amy in trouble by letting her go with me into the blood draw room (a no-no at the Sky Ridge location, apparently). At this point I took over with another nurse while Amy had a meltdown outside the door. By the time we got into the infusion room to wait for my blood test results (they test my CBC levels before administering the Velcade) we had the manager of the location sitting with us and apologizing profusely as Amy related our experience, then the head of all of their nurses, etc. It was insane, and kind of embarrassing, but Jesus — temp or not, if you are working with cancer patients then (a) have a clue what you’re doing, this stuff is dangerous to get wrong, and (b) have some fucking empathy.
I don’t want to badmouth RMCC here — they were amazing about it, and I get it. I know a ton of nurses and I know how the nurse-for-hire game works. Sometimes you strike gold, sometimes you get coal just like non-nursing temps. So I didn’t take it as an example of their quality or anything, I was just in shock — it’s a delicate thing, dealing with this, and dealing with such potent emotions and pharmaceuticals, and until someone told us I had no idea that was a temp who didn’t actually work there. You kind of want your care to be the one thing you DON’T have to worry about dealing with, you know? So not their fault, and the nurse who took over my care in the infusion room was awesome just like everyone at RMCC usually is.
Tough stuff, but there is a silver lining … two actually. One, Amy and I spent a lot of time talking the rest of the day and using the therapist visit as a launching point to fix some things. This is just as hard for her as it is for me, and it’s a learning process that we both have to go through. Understanding that is part of it, and hopefully it will bring us closer together. We talked more about “us” than we have in a long time, and that’s a good thing.
Secondly, so far so good on the feeling OK front. I have a feeling, given the side effects I was dealing with this week, that most of my problems were caused by the Zoledronic acid I have to get infused with once a month as well as the Levaquin I had to take due to the temperature spike (bad on your stomach, apparently). I feel OK today, outside of being a bit hyper and tense (probably due to the enormous amount of the Dexamethasone steroid I take on Fridays). No temperature, I slept well, and fatigue isn’t too too bad. If I’m right the even better news is I’ve had several nurses tell me usually the first Zoledronic acid dose is the worst, so hopefully we won’t be experiencing this again. I’m also sticking with the Prilosec for another week or so as well as something else for my tummy to keep it feeling good and to be proactive about things.
That’s about it for this week … and I think that’s enough, Jesus! Had one tough moment this morning — we came home from our daughter’s swimming class and Amy’s best friend had dropped off a huge box for me. It was a gift package put together by the founder of It Ain’t Chemo, Kevin Hoyt, with a blanket, several tshirts, a backpack, a hat, hand sanitizer, a wristband, pens, etc. and his personal contact information as well. It was hard reading the letter, having the reality of this all slap me in the face — reality does that often, lately. And it’s hard being the recipient of things like this — it’s hard for me, for whatever reason, to realize how much some people care, and Amy’s friend Julie and her family are truly beautiful people and I don’t know how to thank people for things like this, or for the anonymous friends who have coordinated to leave a gift basket for us every day on our doorstep.
I’ll have to check out this organization and make sure to thank and donate to them … I haven’t had any contact with others with cancer since this started, on a personal level, and maybe this is a start.
Anyways fingers crossed for a good week.