Feeling So Lucky
My next doctor’s appointment is tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. I originally had an appointment for last Wednesday, but the hospital recently sent me a letter to inform me that my appointment was changed to another day of the hospital’s choosing. This is what happens when you take treatment at the county hospital. No one calls to inquire about your availability.
After all of the angst involved in making my October appointment, I am just relieved not to have a conflict with my teaching schedule. I am teaching Tuesday and Thursday mornings this semester. I wanted to avoid a Monday or a Wednesday conflict, and who can blame me?
Much and little has changed since October. My chief physical complaint remains my seriously burned bladder. The radiation’s effects on my bladder continue. It was about a week ago that the pain was so bad that I had to grip my knees to keep from screaming. The pain ran from my bladder to the tips of my toes. Most days I do not think much about the pain. It has become such a part of my day that it has to get pretty bad to be noteworthy. I stopped recording pain levels for each trip to the bathroom right before Christmas. Nothing much changed from day-to-day or month-to-month. I decided that it might improve my outlook if I stopped recording the pain and tried accepting that change was not imminent or even likely.
I think the change had some positive effects. I hardly speak of the pain now that I no longer track it. It has not altered the pain to ignore its constancy. But I am fairly certain that by speaking of it less I have been better company to friends and family. Like me, they must have found it difficult to discuss a problem that does not go away and has few prospects of doing so. I considered the hyperbaric chamber as a possible tool for repairing my bladder, but do not now have the time or inclination to go for hours of lying in some tube infusing my body with oxygen. I may feel differently in the summer when I teach fewer classes.
My bowel also suffered from five weeks of radiation. It is not the same. I take over-the-counter medicine every day to address the remaining effects. I can eat whatever I want, but I really don’t want to eat nuts now that I have undergone so much radiation. It can be a cause of discomfort rather than pain. I have stopped taking yogurt every day. I no longer take probiotic pills. I will just say that I am a different person inside.
For awhile I hated the way my own body smelled. I no longer find my own smell so unpleasant. I cannot say for sure whether anyone else has noticed a difference. No one else ever remarked on that smell of burnt flesh that seemed to hang around me.
My skin is no longer scarred by my external radiation burns. Instead, I am covered with a non-itchy, red rash that seems to be a side effect of my bladder medication since the manufacturer changed. I have the rash over most of my legs and torso, particularly the inside of my legs from ankles to thighs.
My skin was so dry after chemotherapy and radiation that I had calluses on the tops of my hands, but they have gone away.
My fingernails still have bubbles and odd ridges. My toenails have gone back to normal.
My hair has changed again in the last three months. It is not quite as thick and not quite as wavy. But it remains darker and more “silvery” than it ever was before. My eyebrows are thicker and longer. I have to trim them. I never did that before cancer. I have longer eyelashes than I ever had before, but no longer as many eyelashes as I had in October. I miss those eyelashes.
At work at DePaul’s law school, things have not improved. The law school has decided not to use for the LARC III class I have taught every fall and spring from Fall 2005-Spring 2012. Now I teach only Transactional Drafting. Last year the law school did not use me to teach that class. In the fall of 2012 I was asked to only teach it. And they paid me as much to teach it as they used to pay me to teach LARC III. This semester they cut my pay in half. I am told that the higher pay was the mistake. I do not really know what to believe. There are some investigations of this matter ongoing, but no resolution appears to be in sight.
I am not leaving because I make some people at the law school uncomfortable. They are not entitled to discriminate against me for having cancer or for asserting my rights to be free from discrimination for a disability. The result of all this is that things have not changed positively at the law school. In fact, my boss no longer seems to hold meetings of the drafting “professors.” I just started the spring semester last week. It was the first time that my boss did not call a meeting before classes started since I became an adjunct professor in 2005. In fact, last semester she omitted to tell me when she wanted to review my grades for my fall class. She only gave me a deadline for turning in my spring semester syllabus after I inquired about one. I do not know her motivation for holding no meetings since August as she only once considered holding a meeting since then and cancelled it, but I wonder whether she has decided not to even see me since she learned that I formally complained to the EEOC and the university about being terminated for having cancer.
I am putting off thinking and speaking about what really matters. I will be undergoing at least one test tomorrow to determine if cancer has returned. I am nervous about that. I do not think that it has returned. I think positively about this topic. Cancer has not returned. I am positive about that!
I did not know that I had it in the first place, so I should not expect to be able to discern it now; but positive attitude is an attitude and not a scientific condition.
I bought a lottery ticket this past week. The Powerball prize has surpassed $100 million. As I drove away from the 7Eleven I wanted to imagine winning the prize, but I encountered the external dimensions of my absolutely outrageous positive attitude about cancer.
I could not bring myself to articulate a wish for a winning ticket–not in words and not in thought. I got as far as “I wish . . . ” and was paralyzed. I could not complete the thought. I just kept thinking that I already was so incredibly “lucky” to be beating cancer that I shouldn’t want anything else. That’s silly, isn’t it? It is silly to think that if anything else fabulous were to happen to me that I might lose my life. It is like a superstition, except that my superstition is not that my favorite sports team will lose if I change my socks (I do not have a favorite sports team, so I can joke about that). I have this dreadful sense that I should not want for anything now, which makes the extension of my life silly, right? Seriously.
I have not seen the movie that is out about a family that survived the tsunami in Phuket. However, I saw on TV the author of the book on which the movie is based. She said that she and her family, having survived that cataclysmic tidal wave, have asked, “Why us?” If I recall correctly, her son asked, “What for?” Surviving can be the cause of guilt, can’t it? I have been so aware of the fact that so many people succumb to cancer that it sometimes overwhelms me.
That is a challenge, isn’t it? If you want to stop feeling so frightened of your own vulnerability to a return of cancer, then maybe you have to decide what to do with your new lease on life.
I have no answer yet to the question: “What for?”
I have been feeling so lucky to be alive that I have been keeping myself from moving on in any significant way.
I have faced so many fears in the past fifteen months. I am afraid to face my fear that I could jinx my own recovery by wanting anything else for myself. I will have to address that and put my positivity to new uses.
But, for tonight, as I face the prospect of seeing my doctor tomorrow, I am going to give myself a little more time to just feel so overwhelmingly lucky that I can express no other wants or desires. For tonight I just want to think that, notwithstanding uterine cancer, major surgery, five weeks of radiation, six weeks of chemotherapy, employment discrimination, and all the travails of slow, slow recovery, that I am so damned lucky to be alive that I don’t need anything else.