“Millions pray for all we take for granted.”
A friend posted this the other day, amid the updates about the crisis in Syria, and I have been trying to keep this in mind when I find myself sliding into a pool of self-pity.
Chemo has been postponed one more week so my shingles can resolve. Yet the news is good(ish). After weeks of numbness, nerve pain and a strange lightheaded and dizzy feeling that I was fairly certain was an ingrown twin gnawing on my brain from the inside, I have been told my symptoms are probably all been related to shingles. My blood has been examined, I have had brain and spine MRIs and I had an EMG test, so I am relieved that even though I still feel pretty bad, everything looks pretty normal. Though it could take months for the shingles symptoms to go away, there probably isn’t lasting nerve damage.
I finally have some answers after two months and two ER visits, and so many appointments. Though the shingles rash showed up only a few weeks ago, it’s possible my symptoms dating back to October have been related to that. I have had some alarming symptoms over the past four years, from lymphoma tumors in my chest to the painful pancreatitis from my neuroendocrine tumor, but the numbness and nerve pain has freaked me out more than anything. The rapid decline in mobility and comfort has been the scariest thing. After improving for a bit, the nerve pain and twitching got worse this week, but the doctors say this is normal. I have an anti-convulsant called Gabapentin that I can take, but I have been avoiding it because it can make you spacey and wobbly, both of which have been already been side effects of the shingles for me.
I am actually looking forward to starting chemo on Tuesday, once I am done with my shingles medication. I feel like it will give me permission to take it easy. As I always do, I have been trying to cram everything in before chemo—from fun things like seeing people and having last hurrahs to things I need to do like errands and cleaning—and I think I wore myself down a bit when I need my strength for the coming months. As always, I feel a bit desperate, as if I’m trying to suck the marrow out of life before the unknown. Though the treatment doesn’t seem as bad as my previous chemo, I have a new nagging thought: What if I never feel better?
Though my boyfriend reminds me that it’s possible, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be “cured” of this cancer. When doctors talk about living with a disease, the flipside of that statement is the pessimist’s view that living with a disease means you’ll eventually die from it. Some people say you don’t know what will happen, and this is true, but alternatives I can think of sound even less appealing. I could get run over by a bus. No thanks. I’ll take cancer. The doctors say I could have decades left, but I also worry about what I’d leave behind and what I thought I would do in my life that I haven’t (and most likely won’t). I find myself nostalgic for when I was recovering from the stem cell transplant and when I was recovering from the Whipple procedure, as physically tough as those times were, because I felt I had more hope. I still do, sometimes, but it’s slippery and harder to grasp these days. I hope that the side effects from the shingles clear up and I stop being so twitchy and weak, and the nerve pain finally stops.
Some chores make me sad, like cleaning the bathroom and doing the dishes. It makes my mind wander to dark places. My grandma would sometimes get depressed by ironing. Some tasks take your mind to regrets, missed opportunities, nagging worries. I was doing the dishes earlier, blubbering to myself and inexplicably repeating, “I don’t want to die.” Some chores, however, are the opposite, perfect for therapeutic reflection. Gardening makes me happy. A few weeks ago, I planted some bulbs in my community garden plot. It’s always an act of optimism, putting the bulbs in the ground and hoping for beautiful flowers in the spring. The year of my transplant, I missed the flowers when they bloomed in April but people sent me photos. I’m nervous as to what this spring will bring. As I planted, I thought about accepting limitations and found some peace with my latest diagnosis. I thought about the trying to grapple with the unexpected and accepting things as they are.
When I got home, as I threw away the bags that the bulbs had been shipped in, I noticed something. I had ordered some daffodils, as well as three types of tulips—one white and the other two in pastel shades so my garden plot would be full of complementary colors. When I opened the box in the garden, I had noticed that the description of one set I had ordered—a variety of soft purples and pinks—were described as “orange with purple flames.” Eager to get the planting done in the chilly December air, I hadn’t paid much attention. Then I saw a note attached to the bulbs: The company was out of the bulbs I’d ordered so the nursery had sent me these instead.
In the spring, orange tulips with purple flames will bloom among my soft pastels and white tulips. It is not what I planned, but it will be beautiful still. It was a perfect lesson for the day. I hope I can apply it beyond the garden.