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Reality checks come in threes November 8, 2009

Posted by PAS in survivorship.
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An example of early-style Staunton Chess Set

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When the reality (and eventual finality) of a stage IV diagnosis comes calling, it just keeps ringing the doorbell.

I started my morning by reading Kairol Rosenthal’s latest post on Everything Changes – where she asked readers if cancer had ever intruded into their private spaces. That led me to Alli’s blog, RedHeaded Bald Chic, where she wrote about the heart-breaking realization that she can no longer safely care for herself. She is sacrificing her independence to the progression of her ovarian cancer. She’s moving back into her parents’ home, into the bedroom she had as a girl, until her cancer means she can no longer climb stairs and needs the reality of a hospital bed on the first floor. Check.

Next, I checked forums – on Colon Talk someone let us know there was a new entry in Joe’s blog, where he’d left an update about his wife L, a stage IV rectal cancer patient with advanced mets who went into hospice care a couple weeks ago. L’s body systems are shutting down, but she is still in terrible pain and raging against dying. The hospice workers suggested that her inability to accept her reality, to accept that her body can’t keep up with her desire to live beyond her diagnosis is making it harder to control her pain, making these last days more difficult. Fighting reality is making it harder for them to help her. Check.

Finally, I popped into MyCRCconnections – although I’m a CCA buddy, I can’t access that site at work so I only read the whole board on the weekends. Catching up, I saw a thread started two days ago by a woman who has decided to stop chemo until after the first of the year. Her latest chemo regimen (her third) is taking more out of her than she can handle, more bad days than good days. She wants to spend the holidays with her family and take some vacation time with her husband and she wants to do those things away from the haze of chemo. Her doctors have told her that, since she’s out of drugs, they have no other options for treatments. If she progresses on this one as she has on all of the previous chemos, then at best she’ll have a few months. She’s struggling with her wish to have as much time with her family as possible.

Her thread was maybe the hardest of the reality checks. Two years and change ago, she found TheSemiColonClub, a yahoo! group I moderate for colorectal cancer survivors – newly diagnosed and confused, searching for reasons why and desperately convinced that she would do the chemo for her stage III diagnosis and be able to continue her life as if she’d never had cancer. Was it diet that did her in? Lack of exercise? She resolved to do both. I remember once she asked about her chances for progressing to stage IV, and we talked about the stats, about the fact that not everyone in stage IV dies the year they’re diagnosed, and not everyone is stage IV when they die.

Then she had the first recurrence, and the second. Now she’s out of drugs, and almost out of choices – and staring hard at reality. Check.

As every scan approaches, I check in with the reality that cancer could come back, that my day-to-day reality of remission could end at any moment and move into the reality of a cancer patient dealing with active disease – again. Every scan could color that picture in more clearly, making it easier to see the pitfalls and the rough road ahead. I can’t think about the course of the road every minute, but I’m always traveling it, and the reality checks in the world around me only make the road more certain. Because despite the work and the plans and the projects, the training classes and the dog shows, reality can change in a heartbeat. It’s unemotional, unpredictable, impartial, unforgiving, intolerant, impatient.



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1. Whidbeywoman - November 8, 2009

This post brought tears to my eyes. A difficult read but a good one.

2. Aftercancer - November 9, 2009

Well said. We never know when it may come back to haunt us or someone we’ve gotten to know because of the road we’ve travelled.

gaelenscafe - November 10, 2009

Thanks, Aftercancer and Whidbeywoman. It does seem that difficult news – and the reminders that ‘this could be me’ – come in series. I’m mystified by those who say, after treatment, that they want to walk away from cancer. Cancer is now integrally woven into my life. I carry the physical scars, the emotional changes, and they don’t separate out. Cancer is now part of me – and where ever I go, there I (and cancer) am.

3. uberVU - social comments - November 11, 2009

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This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gaelen2: Reality checks come in threes: http://wp.me/pxOen-4G

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