Wednesday, 19 February 2014 10:00

Cry more, pee less

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It's about perspective.

Yesterday was not my best day. In fact it was at times so bad that I had a series of large and small meltdowns all day long. With no warning whatsoever I burst into tears when I got out of the shower and was sobbing just hard enough that I woke up my partner and greatly concerned my loyal pooch Dahlia. She always know when daddy is sad. I probably should have taken a Xanax sooner, but I just didn't want to resort to that because this wasn't a big deal. Or shouldn't have been. It was only a doctor's appointment for Pete's sake and merely a routine follow-up at that.  

I like the whole staff at my oncologist's office. They are all very nice, professional people. The doctor himself, Peter Weiss, is kind and gentle in his approach. He likes my goofy jokes and we make each other laugh. The heavy lifting is over. Treatments ended last summer a few months ahead of schedule because I was in great shape and responding like a champ to chemo. Two plus years of it and a whole bunch of radiation beams in my head later, I was over the whole thing. It was scary and horrible but now cleanly in the past. So why did I get so worked up? I used a lifeline and called in an expert. A survivor.

I've known Cindy Prost for a dozen years or perhaps longer. She is currently the president of the Arts & Education Council. Of the many "St. Louis - small circles" A&E is also the landlord for the office of my own day job at Cinema St. Louis. I first met Cindy sometime in the early 2000's at the St. Louis Art Fair, of which she was the executive director at the time. Local non-profits get to share net proceeds from concessions booths that they staffed and managed at the event with their own volunteers. I was wandering towards the main office to collect something for our booth on opening afternoon when I came upon a delivery man from the Post-Dispatch dropping off a palette full of event brochures. The bindings snapped in too many places and the stacks of slick-covered magazines spilled all over the street and sidewalk. A group of staff, volunteers, and I started picking them up and tidying up the best we could for distribution around the grounds. As order was restored, Cindy turns to me, realizing that I was not part of their staff or official volunteers, and said, "Well, who are you?" We have been friends ever since.

She's a busy person and spring means that A&E is at the beginning of their workplace giving campaign, in addtion to all of their other fundraising, building management, and grant-related responsibilities. I called her office from my car on the way in to work and left a rambling message that I was having anxiety attacks about going to the doctor and was this normal or was I being overly self-defeating? Moments later she called from her cell. She herself had done a very long waltz with after-care following her own bout with breast cancer over 10 years ago. She calmed me down and explained that yes this is a very normal, natural, human response and that it took her over 9 years to not get freaked out about any minor health issue or doctor's visit. The cancer and related science experiments are over, she explained, but the fear of "will it come back?" and repeating all of that is very, very real. Super! Good to know that I can still have normal, natural, human responses to anything. 

So, will it come back? The short answer is that there is no spoon. Nobody can say. The whole freaking point of all the chemicals and laser beams was that it won't. That would be my first choice as well. However, my health is in a good place. I have lost weight, got in better shape by swimming, (mostly) eating better, and my mindset is forever changed for having gone through it all. Yesterday the pleasant nurse practitioner said that my bloodwork was looking awesome. While I still have to have ongoing follow-ups for a while (maybe years), she even offered to allow me to wait until 2015 to get my next series of expensive scans and tests to peer all up inside of me. I sure could use a break from the expense and the way it makes me feel. The parking lot at Barnes is a lot like a video game and the race for the crowded elevators is always a fun game. 

Each and every time I go back, part of me will hope for the best and will myself to have better test results than the time before. Another part will freak out and wish with all my might that some dark cloud or mass won't appear out of nowhere. I can feel my blood pressure rising to the point of making me dizzy even typing this. I can't and won't live my life in fear though, except apparently on the days of my quarterly visit to the oncologist. 

Now a few final words on perspective. I was, and am, lucky. I am happy and alive and in better physical health than before I got cancer. My prognosis is at the top of the charts. My life is pretty sweet and amazingly I may one day be able to get married in Missouri the Red State. Incredible. I reminded myself that no matter how bad I make myself think things could be, there will always, always be people in better and worse situations than my own. My friend Rachelle is a divorced, single mom raising two teenage sons. One of them is Jacob. He has cancer and has been going through a very potent regimen of chemotherapy for the past six months or more. He has been very ill and hospitalized more than a few times along the way with fevers and infections. His mom is terrified but he keeps marching on like a good little soldier and enduring it all quietly and calmly. Even though my treatment protocol lasted a long time with some powerful chemicals shoved into me, I never reacted or felt anywhere near that bad. Sometimes I felt lousy and sorry for myself but I was never put in the hospital and never missed work for more than an afternoon. Right now I have some health to spare and I'll happily send some your way Team Jacob. Good luck young man! Remind your mom that it will all be okay.

I saw the end of "Postcards From the Edge" the other night on cable. Shirley MacLaine (the character based on Debbie Reynolds) was in the hospital after a drunk driving episode and car accident. The delightful character actress Mary Wickes plays her elderly mother who sets them all straight. She calls her daughter and granddaughter (Meryl Streep as the character based on Carrie Fisher) spoiled and selfish. Feelings and fragile egos are bruised causing a few brief tears to be shed. She laughs and proclaims, "Oh, go on and cryYou'll pee less, as my grandma used to say." I will remember that the next time I am freaking myself out before a trip to Barnes. And about young Jacob. 

It's about perspective.

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