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Friday, April 7, 2017

In the Empire of the Sick

Time for an update on the Cosmic Crapshoot of Life.

For those of you who don't know the back-story, the short version goes something like this: diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in 2012, still under treatment.  (For a longer version see here.)

It was one hell of a surprise to me.  Look, I smoked and drank for years.  In fact I was a raving alcoholic and only got sober a few years ago.  Surely, if I am going to get cancer, I thought, it would be lung or liver cancer.  Nope.  The universe has a sense of humour.

The hardcore treatment for this was a full mastectomy, chemo, and radiation - the Full Meal Deal. And, yeah, I got fries with that.

Fast forward to the present day.  I am still in treatment.  I take medication every day and I get a thorough checkup every 6 months.  My close acquaintance with mortality has meant lifestyle changes:  I jog, do Crossfit and I stopped smoking for almost a year.  

So, after being such a good girl, what a shock to discover that I now have osteoporosis.  Brittle bones which my oncologist and radiologist attribute to being too thin (yes, skinny is not healthy apparently) and my cancer medication which causes bone loss.  Good to know.

The other side-effects of the cancer medication are depression and paranoia.  Over the past year or so I've had moments where I was definitely driving in the crazy lane.  I tried therapy, went to AA meetings, ran and did Crossfit until I was exhausted. I finally threw up my hands and asked my oncologist to please, pretty please, take me off this medication.  No way, she said.  It's the only thing I have left in my arsenal right now to keep the cancer from coming back.  It finally got so bad in Brussels when I was in school that I cracked and asked a GP for anti-depressants.  That did the trick and I am so glad I surrendered and took the pills.  Sick is one thing; sick and crazy is something else.

So, that's the situation so far.  The important thing to me is that I'm still here.  Even better, I have packed a lot of living into the past couple of years:  activism, blogging, reading, traveling, studying, and exploring a part of the world I thought I'd never see again.  Can't complain about that.  Though every time some well-meaning idiot person says, "Well, you just keep exercising and eating right and  maintain a positive attitude and you'll be fine!"  I really want to say something vicious.

What I do instead is explain very gently that I am not driving this car.  I am sitting in the backseat.  I stand by what I said back in 2012:  "Acting under the illusion (or being forced to) that things can be different if you just apply enough willpower or make the "right" decision is not necessarily in your best interests, and certainly does not lead to serenity.  Part of dealing with any life-threatening situation is right-sizing your ego and having a clear understanding of when it is  appropriate to drive yourself and when you'd be much better off letting someone else take the wheel."

Worked for little ol' Miss Daisy and it works for me.


Shirl Morrigan said...

Hey, Victoria. Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing so honestly. And carpe diem seems like an appropriate response. So great to have met you right at the time of your diagnosis. And some side effects, that you are addressing, beats the alternative. If I get seriously ill, you will be one of the first people I consult.

Ellen said...

Great post!

Inaka Nezumi said...

"I got fries with that."
Great line.

Lack of control is said to be the greatest source of stress. Learning to accept lack of control over outcomes seems key, though hard.

Andrew said...

Getting to acceptance is hard, and you have done so with courage and grace. I also have the same visceral reactions to well-meaning but meaningless advice to "think positive" etc. Not that simple, and yes, we are not in the driver's seat, cannot control the arrival time at the final destination, but have to learn to appreciate that we are still a passenger and able to be active and engaged.


Victoria FERAUGE said...

Shirl, That's right. I met you and Rowan nearly 5 years ago. Wow. :-)

Ellen, Thank you.

Nezumi-san, In AA we are told that God may or may not exists (and I know a lot of atheists in the program) but sure as sh&* her name isn't Victoria. I am not in charge. What a relief that was for this type A corporate drone control freak. was so lucky to have the program and sobriety before I got diagnosed.

Andrew, Thank you and reading what you have written helped me. A lot. Even when I was deep in my dissertation I alwasy checked me email and saw your posts and it made me happy.

Christophe said...

Hi Victoria,

I should have subscribed to the feeds. I just noticed you started writing on your blog again for about a month and I have some catching up to do!
Great post. I especially like the conclusion
"Part of dealing with any life-threatening situation is right-sizing your ego and having a clear understanding of when it is appropriate to drive yourself and when you'd be much better off letting someone else take the wheel"
My wife started the year with a bang. We almost lost her to a pulmonary embolism... out of the blue. Luckily, she survived.
One difficult aspect you do not mention is the fear of the disease coming back. How to best deal with that? My wife is pretty laid back, yet there is this anxiety of another PE happening again.

Thanks for sharing and glad to see you back!


Victoria FERAUGE said...

Christophe! How wonderful to see you here. How are you? I am so sorry to hear about your wife. My roommate in Brussels also had one a few years ago. Very frightening. I am so glad she's OK.

Being afraid. Yep, I get paralyzed sometimes by the idea that next checkup will means I'm off to Happy Meal Land once again. But this is where letting go comes in. All I can do is take my meds, get regular checkups and go about my life. There is a very good chance that it will come back. But if it happens, it happens and I will deal. It's not under my control and I find my serenity when I recognize that fact.