by NotDownOrOut

I have another appointment with Dr. H on Monday. She has arranged for me to see a gynecologist (Dr. Y) on Friday as well. That means that I have two more “opportunities” coming up to face my fears that cancer will return. I want to be doing the right things so I will go to the hospital and talk with both doctors, but a part of me feels about as excited as a kid going to the dentist for a root canal.

I still have petechiae. It has faded ever so slightly on my legs. However, my shins are covered with tiny red dots. It’s like freckles on steroids. It’s like sunburn, but patchy.

I dealt with medical creditor matters this week. A collector called my mom’s house and got her all stirred up. The medical services were provided at the hospital that diagnosed my cancer and performed my hysterectomy. I called the collections firm. We have spoken before and I four times mailed to it the information about my having been granted charitable coverage at the hospital. However, when I called this week, the woman who took my call claimed to have no record of my communications. I faxed to the collections firm the charity’s letter and more copies of my previous letters and sent everything by certified mail, too. Today I received a letter and the collections firm informed me that the bill had been withdrawn from collections and my credit report would be updated. Score one for me. However, this was one more reminder that cancer lurks out there making every aspect of my life more challenging.

I have submitted several requests for prices on health insurance since the fall. So far no company has sent me a quote.

I had the closest thing to a vacation that I have had in some time this week. I was down to teaching two classes. None of them were night classes. I looked forward to this break. I had plans to get things done. I wanted to organize my home. I hoped to toss some old papers. I longed to get out and visit with some old friends. I had a novel I hoped to read. I have not read a book for pleasure in months.

I did not get any of these things done. I graded papers. I received more than a dozen requests for assistance with students’ job searches. I managed others’ crisis situations.

I took my mom to the grocery store last Saturday right after I taught a five and a half hour class. My mom has had a baker’s cyst drained and has had swollen joints that have kept her indoors for days. She was dying to get out of the house. So I took her to the store and she wandered up and down the aisles trying to find some food that would help to reduce the boredom she has experienced sitting at home nearly every day since Christmas. She walked up and down the frozen food aisle at least three times very slowly.

A fortune teller once told me I would meet my second husband in the frozen food aisle. I haven’t been there in almost twenty years. You can live quite well on food items from the other aisles. Mom and I walked the frozen food aisle again and again until she found a pail of hot beef with its own juices. I scooted back to aisle two to get a pack of rolls and then over to the pharmacy for something to help clear her ears. Each time I came back she was standing in front of a glass case studying a bag or a box or a pail of something frozen. I could not wait to get her and her groceries back in the car.

On Sunday my landlady’s radiator pan split and the water soaked through her floor and my ceiling. I became aware of it when I thought I heard rain bouncing off a window air conditioner. I got out of bed and went out to the living room to check. It was supposed to snow, not rain. As I approached the front windows I saw the brown fluid seeping out of the crown moldings and a seam in the ceiling. I had to find receptacles to catch it to keep it from running down the curtains and into my rug.

Later in the week my mom called to tell me that she thought she had lost her checkbook at the grocery store. I needed to search my car for it in case it had fallen from her purse after our trip to the store. It turned up (thanks to a prayer to St. Anthony) in her home.

I experienced some comic relief when DePaul University solicted me for a contribution to a student scholarship fund. I am taking home about $100/week for teaching an upper level legal writing class at the law school this semester. The school doesn’t offer me health insurance even though I sometimes teach several classes per semester. It does not pay for my phone, Internet connection, or parking in the Loop. The law school terminated me for having cancer. It has been conducting its own investigation of this act since the fall and has yet to report any findings to me. The solicitation implied that students were more in need than I was and the chair of the scholarship fund drive promised to match any gift I made up to $52, which is such an incentive to give, isn’t it? If the law school means to punish me for having the nerve to survive cancer and assert my legal rights, then it has not judged my character (or my legal acumen) accurately. I will not go away quietly. I will hang on and fight for the right to be treated with dignity and respect.

I met with students this week, quite a few students. I heard from several friends. There was a great deal of angst in their worlds, too. Flu, stomach ailments, migraines, parents’ illnesses, family disagreements, a friend’s marriage was in trouble, financial pressures, fear, anxiety, stress, and pain. One friend’s family survived Hurricane Sandy only to have a fire in their home. Now a “hundred years'” snowstorm heads for their damaged home.

Each afternoon I climbed into my bed when I should have been making headway with my various projects. I just ran out of steam. I would lie in the dark and shiver with a combination of cold and nerves. I would wonder how much more stress I could handle. But I got up an hour later and went back to work. There is only so much time that I can bury my head in my quilt and pray for better times. The business of surviving means getting up and getting back to work.

Tonight I went out for dinner and a movie with Barb because I wanted to do something that smacked of a leisure activity. We saw the new movie Side-Effects. Barb screamed once and laughed uncomfortably a couple of times. I won’t spoil any of the plot surprises, but it was all about pharmaceuticals that promise to make you happy and leave your life in ruins. When I got home tonight I noticed that the petechiae has spread down the insides of my arms. All I could think of is that my post-cancer life is all about the side-effects. There are side-effects of having had cancer–fear and anxiety. There are side-effects of radiation to deal with–a burned bladder, the petechiae, and concern that it is not going away. There are side-effects of having been so sick without health insurance to cover my bills–creditors, collection calls, and charity applications to make and renew. The side-effects affect my life in every one of its aspects. This month I am feeling the effects of the lower stipend I receive now that DePaul no longer uses me to teach LARC III, a class I taught every semester until after I objected to being terminated for having cancer. Despite these side-effects, I am resolved to keep going.

I do not believe that my experience is unique. I think many cancer survivors find themselves in “loops” in which they start to feel better. Then they find themselves preparing for their next medical check-up like they were headed back into danger. Positive attitudes and a great support group can help, but sometimes the strength it takes to face fear makes me so tense that my teeth chatter and every muscle in my body clenches and shivers until I have cramps in my legs, pain in my back and neck, an ache throughout my jaw, and a massive headache. But I get up and do what I have to do because I want to live and life always means handling the good and the bad.

It’s not courage that keeps me going. It’s hope. No matter how dark some of these days have been, they cannot rob me of my hope that better days are ahead.