Friday, January 29, 2016

Three Years Post-Surgery: Now vs. Then

Hello everyone!

It's been quite a while since we connected. Basically an entire year, give or take a few days. My apologies for that. I was chugging right along with this and suddenly life reasserted itself and I let things slide, at least as pertains to our communication. I'm going to try to get back into the swing of things here so our connections are not so few and far between. I appreciate your staying with me after all this time. Thank you!

In any event, as the title states, I passed my three year anniversary of surgery on January 25, 2016. At last check I am still clean and clear, thank God. Seems like an eternity ago when all this started... Which is odd for me. Usually major things in my life feel like they were a long time ago but also within the last five minutes, but not this time. Not this memory. This one almost seems like a dream. If it weren't for the physical evidence, the scars and whatnot, I might actually start believing it really was a dream. With no background in psychoanalysis and knowing no one that is a therapist, I can only make logical stabs at why this might be. The first and most obvious one, cancer is scary. Even after three years I still do not want to think about it. Maybe somewhere deep in my psyche I think that if I think about it too much it will come back. I know its quite possible that it might come back, but that is a medical thing and has nothing to do with thinking about it too much, but I also am a strong believer in mind over matter. I believe that your mental stance is a big part of recovery as well as protecting you from future "attacks from our not-so-friendly neighborhood disease." From any disease or problem for that matter. How did I come to this conclusion? It took a while. I had to take time to heal and get some distance for perspective. Granted, its only perspective from my particular journey and each journey is different, but as I have said in the past, there are common threads. I'm hoping this is one of them.

Mentally I think I am still attempting to cope with the whole issue. Is cope really the right word here? Hmmm. Understand? Process? Come to terms with? Get a handle on? Yeah, I think cope is the best fit. Some days I totally forget about it for while. Those are the best times. When things get done without the mental "stop and evaluate the situation to make sure you can do it" thing.  I hate that but do it almost all the time. Here's the thing, I am one of those types that will try something a couple or three times.  If I am not as good or better at it as anyone else in the vicinity, I look at it as a failure on my part and I rarely do it again. Been that way as long as I can remember. Why? Who knows. My parents were not the driving force behind it. They always encouraged me to keep trying and get better. Somewhere in my little head, the idea hatched that if I am not as good as or better than anyone else around me that does it, I am not going to do it anymore. I actually get embarrassed if I'm not that good. One of the many personality quirks that hang around here. That trait almost stopped me from writing this blog, but the information and message I wanted to give was too important to just let it go. But I digress...  Getting back to the stop and evaluate statement from before, I find myself doing that at almost every decision. Physical work like mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, cleaning out the rain gutters, rearranging furniture... I don't have the strength or stamina I used to have. So whenever I have something physical that I want to do my brain pauses and an internal conversation starts between different parts of my twisted little mind. It might go something like this...

Brain sees the task,
"I need to clear the snow from the driveway and walks."

Old pre-cancer thinking responds (with a little help from the ego),
"Let's do it!"

Post-cancer thinking responds,
"Um...  that's pretty heavy work, even with a snow blower. Should we think about getting someone else to do it?"

"Heavy schmevy! We've done this a thousand times before. Just go out and do it!"

"But we're not as strong as we used to be. What if we get started and can't finish it?"

"Just DO it!  Geez!"

"Ok fine...  but you know what will happen if we can't finish it, right?"


That is a little snip of a typical inner monologue for me when it comes to anything physical. Bottom line is that to this day I second guess myself on almost everything, especially since the surgery.  It majorly sucks. I'm learning to deal with it... sorta, kinda.

Some parts of being this way with things of a physical nature are much harder to deal with than others.  What happens is I will start doing whatever it may be, then immediately start looking for things that I'm doing wrong or not as good as I used to. Putting pressure on myself to correct it. I'm sure you can imagine it doesn't take long to get to the point where the pressure is just too much to seem to do anything right, so I just stop. Sad, I know, but it is the truth. The lesson here is this; you can only be you. You can only do what your body allows, so allow it to do to the fullest potential that it can and be happy with that. NO Pressure is needed. As a 52 year old man its silly for me to compare myself to anything I was doing when I was say in my early to mid 20's. Very few people I know could stand up to that kind of comparison against themselves.  If you are one that can, more power to you (and I want lessons!).  If you are like me, and likely most other people, a completely healthy person in their early 50's wouldn't stand a chance compared to their younger selves, let alone after a major illness and surgery and all that the cancer entails with chemo and radiation and the like. Now see? I can say that, and I fully believe it and I think everyone should think that way...  everyone except me. I can't think that way. I must have been absent the day they taught that in "how to use your brain" class... but I am still trying.

That kind of thing leads directly into the emotional side of things. Emotionally, I try very hard to put up a crack-free, seam-free, happy-go-lucky front at all times. I use humor and laughter and joking around as a crutch and as a deflector. Most times I am that way...  well maybe not crack- or seam-free, but smooth enough. Much better than I used to be to be sure.  Back in the beginning, if you read previous entries in this blog, you'll see how much of a wreck I was. I was a total ass in pretty much every manner, at least for a while. I was wearing chain mail under armor, behind a shield, behind mask after mask, behind several walls I had built up to try to protect myself. Thing is, all it did was isolate me and make me feel worse. People can only beat their heads against those walls for so long before they have to stop and tend to their bleeding head before they try again, if they don't leave all together. I was lucky and have people around me that are even harder-headed than I am. We all have people like that. Our support systems, our lifeguards, our guardian angels, our family and friends. I plead with you to not let it get that bad for you. Don't be like I was. Don't get totally closed off and closed minded. Open up. Talk. Yell. Laugh. Cry. Ride out the feelings like a surfer on a wave. If you stand still in an onslaught like that with wave after wave after wave, you are bound to crumble and implode. NOTHING can withstand that kind of pounding. Regardless of how strong you think you may be or how strong the walls you thought you built. They will crumble and fall. Trust me, I know. I was literally seconds from that on quite a few more occasions than I care to admit. To this day, three years plus later, I still will be sitting down doing whatever and suddenly a wave of sadness will smack me in the back of the head and I will start to cry. It doesn't last. I won't let it. I can't let it. I have to be better. I have to be strong. So I fight it back and press it down and internalize it very quickly. But it happens. Pretty much every day. A lot of times more than once a day. Is it better than is used to be? Yes. Will it ever stop? I have no idea. Wish I could be more positive there.

Feelings and emotions seem to be deeper and stronger than they have ever been. Maybe because after a life changing illness you tend to see things differently and take less for granted. That sounds so very much like a "canned" response, but it really is true. You look at things differently. Enjoy things more. See the beauty in things and less of the negative. Love deeper. You get more emotional. I was never a crier (again with the crying?) at movies... at least not until after the surgery and recuperation. Now I do. I still do my best to hide it. Why? Not really sure.  Maybe it is the male upbringing about boys don't cry. I'm sure those closest to me, like Lea Ann and our kids, can see it. They just have the decency not to throw it in my face. Hopefully your people are like that as well.

The moral of this whole entry is just this... Even after three years of recuperation and healing, there are still many things that this cancer and all it did to change my life that need to be tended to. There are mental things, physical things, emotional things, psychological things, all kinds of things... that I am still discovering and learning to deal with on an everyday basis. The same will likely be true for you. Your path will differ from mine. No doubt. No two paths are the same in these cases. Not even for the same person if they have to travel that same way more than once. But there are enough similarities that I hope I can get you to see and look at and understand so that you don't feel so alone. So that you don't feel like no one understands. So you don't think you are the only one in the world feeling the specific feelings you are having or had. I know. I understand. I went through it, both as a family member and caregiver, then as a cancer patient that is trying very hard to become a cancer warrior. I want everyone who is reading this, patient, caregiver, friend, family member, nurse, doctor... anyone, to become a warrior too. There can never be enough warriors. Whether you win the battle or might be losing it, being a warrior means you fight the best fight you can for as long as you can. It also means that you are allowed to lean on the other warriors around you. No army of warriors can stand as individuals for long. Not all of us can be Rambo or want to be. I'd rather be surrounded by my fellow warriors and be able to fight by their side. Win with them. Lose with them. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Lean on them. Rely on them. Hug them. Help them when they fall and accept all that that back in return.

So I am asking you... Please be a warrior with us. What do you say?


Unknown said...

Glad your back, and doing well, keep the blog going, 20+ year survivor here, spouse lost his battle a year ago, but he stayed active til the end, none of us know what the future holds, could get hit by a bus yes a survivor, caretaker and RN , I have your back warrior

Anonymous said...

Brian, my husband is almost three years from surgery as well. Thank you for sharing your perspective it is helpful to understand what cancer survivors think and feel. My heart goes out to all cancer patients and any families going through a debilitating disease.

Brian Brown said...

My pleasure. It never hurts to give information. It may help others see into the mind of a survivor. The situations are not exactly the same, but the underlying meanings might be similar. :)

Brian Brown said...

Thank you! Its great to see a 20+ year survivor reading along, it gives me hope. :) But I am sorry to hear about your spouse. My heart goes out to you.