Tuesday, July 31, 2007


I’m sitting in the dark… literally.

Last night, a huge thunderstorm rolled through the area. Loud, close thunder cracks, long streaks of lightning. The hard rain that followed was the least of it. Violent conditions played out over a short span of about twenty minutes, leaving car alarms blaring, dogs barking, and power lines down somewhere nearby. There’s no electricity at all in the complex where I live – not unusual in this area. I’ve experienced twenty to thirty power outages in the ten years I’ve lived here.

I have no power. Electricity, I’m talking about, but this is a metaphor for my general state of being. I feel powerless.

I am also resourceful. So, while there’s no electricity flowing through these forty homes, I’m sitting in my car, plugged into a cigarette lighter which is charging my laptop. I have no access to the Internet from here, but I can write and I can get some work done.

Which underscores the fact that my life is now, more than ever, full of roadblocks and obstacles. It's not comfortable in the least.

“Well, that’s obvious,” you might think. “You have cancer.”

But that’s not the whole picture. Cancer is simply my number-one priority that can interrupt anytime with a demand to drop whatever else I’m doing or thinking at the moment and attend to it.

And that’s not even the whole picture either... because my life had its share of black holes and disorganized messes to begin with. I’m sure that’s not unusual. Some people procrastinate more than others, but I’m certain everyone has things they just don’t deal with effectively. There’s a whole burgeoning industry of personal coaches, organizers, counselors, mentors, and motivational speakers to help people get control, get organized, and get on with life. I suppose you might even throw therapy into that mix.

This help sector has grown hugely in recent years. Bookstore self-help sections have bloomed proportionally along with it. But even with all the books and recordings, when people feel limited in what they can accomplish on their own, they look outside for someone to challenge and push them to achieve more of their goals. And maybe they seek assistance in hopes of shrinking the actual tasks themselves.

I’ve gone the route of mentors and coaches. They can be very valuable resources. But, in my experience, the value doesn’t result in instantly smaller tasks. The major simplification is in the eyes of the outsider. They can see our problems more clearly than we who have created those problems, we who remain mired in the thick of things.

I've had my own mentors and I've filled the role for others. I know I’m really good at identifying other people’s weaknesses and pinpointing where they need work, while my own pile of unfinished business continues to hold strong. No matter what the outsider sees or points out, the person with the problem is the one who must recognize its existence, acknowledge their part in creating it, and accept that there are options for getting out from under it. A perceptive outsider may see clearly and may even share those insights, but that doesn’t guarantee anything on the road to getting the problem fixed.

The outsider’s skills and strengths and insights might provide a mirror for where we’ve gone off track, pump us with inspiration to take on things we previously thought impossible. But in the end, there’s always work, even hard work, that only one person can accomplish. With an outsider to bolster our motivation, we might more readily take on the work, but we still need to roll up sleeves and dig in. We must wade through the paperwork, set priorities, make decisions, process and organize, and get the messes under control.

Where am I going with this? Why am I rambling? What does this have to do with cancer? And why haven’t I posted new blog entries lately?

Before my diagnosis, I had set some goals. I wanted to make changes to my circumstances to bring more fun into my life. “More fun” is an end product. The tasks I undertook to get there required work and dedication. I studied and evaluated many disciplines, attended workshops and seminars, set up legal structures to handle my new ventures, and invested in real estate. I’ve met some great people along the way, but so far the “fun” part has remained largely elusive. In fact, rather than simplify, my efforts served to complicate my life further, add more things needing attention, make the pile of unfinished business grow.

That’s where I was when I got the most distressing news of all from my doctor on June 11th. And that’s where I am today: inundated with paperwork, bills, to-do lists, half-successful undertakings, organization challenges….

Everywhere I turn I experience anxiety.

People call and ask how I am and I feel compelled to comfort them! I’m delighted to hear from friends, really I am, but I’m also agitated. They ask how I am and what they're asking about is the cancer. I can make a convincing case that my treatment is on track, my health is good, and my prognosis is positive. But that takes energy – energy I need to attack my mountain of tasks. And it leaves out the really ugly part of what it takes to get through day-to-day, simply to survive. Truly, that’s the part that’s demanding all my resources and has got me down right now.

I’m not in a pretty place. I haven’t been blogging most recently because I feel I need all my energy to attack my various problems. I haven’t wanted to stand up here and say “I feel lousy about my situation and I need all my resources to wade through it.” People’s response is invariably, “What can I do to help?” And as far as I can see, there is nothing. I have to do it myself. I have to experience it myself. I have to make decisions and get the work out of the way.

I had a house guest for the past couple of days. She came a long way to visit, to spend time with me and take my mind off cancer. This actually ended up being very painful for both of us. I felt her presence as an intrusion, a distraction from the mountain of work, a demand to comfort and reassure her, an interruption of the rituals that comfort me, a loss of my restorative alone-moments. I was very rude to her. She kept asking what she could do to help and I finally yelled at her, “For starters, you can stop asking me that!”

She was kind enough to look past my snappishness and see what was actually happening. It made her feel helpless, which only made me feel worse. My friend had come to be helpful and I made her feel helpless!

Those incidents are happening more frequently. My sister called the other day, and when her cell phone didn’t connect right away, I growled “WHO IS IT?” into the phone, thinking it was a telemarketer deserving of my rudeness. My ex offered to write a prescription for anxiety medication and I scoffed at him, "The last thing I want to do is sugar-coat my anxiety."

It’s night. I finally have electricity back in my house. Power restored to the physical plant, but control still lacking in my general sphere of existence. There is still so much to do.

In the back of my mind is the treatment schedule. I continue to take nightly Temodar pills until this coming Sunday. My appointment for the next PET scan is set for August 13th and the follow-up consultation with my doctor two days later. So I won't know the effectiveness of this cycle of chemotherapy and what the next steps will be until August 15th.

I don’t expect the anxiety to abate anytime soon.

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