Monday, May 6, 2013

The Cancer Blog: Week 15

My Health

This blog within a blog will discuss cancer and all of my fears, hopes and expectations for a positive outcome—full and complete recovery. In addition, I plan to throw in some latest medical research. All cancer patients are interested, to some degree, in research and the latest medical findings; I am no exception. Today is Day 140  living with cancer; tomorrow is chemo session no. 7


There is a deep misunderstanding of cancer, perpetuated in part by the mainstream media, that a diagnosis of cancer is a cheerless death sentence. It’s true that people die from cancer; but people also die from many diseases, and it can be said with confidence that every person will die at some time in his or her life.

What this ignorance of cancer and advanced therapies has done is create a climate of fear surrounding the person who has cancer; friends disappear, others give unsolicited advice; and others do not allow the cancer patient to express the full range of emotions that are part of their human make-up.

My routine has been upset, turned to something else altogether. My sleep has changed, not so much erratic as offering a new routine—my new normal, which differs from the normal of my family. I now awake between 1:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m, quietly closing the bedroom door while my wife sleeps, somewhat fitfully, and make my way, in slippers, to the kitchen for an early-morning coffee; and then a few steps to the living room and to my work station, where I turn on the computer.

It’s here in the stillness of the early morning that I write, later on accompanied by the sounds of birds singing, chirping. I write till I can say no more what needs saying; after all, I call myself a writer. With so many thoughts and ideas, not all pleasant.

So, as it goes cancer patients are never supposed to express anger, lest they upset those around them; cancer patients are never supposed to say, “FCUK Cancer,” lest they offend the weakened sensibilities of the morality squads; and most important, cancer patients are always to appear publicly optimistic, suppressing all doubts and fears, lest they upset the “happy talk.”

Truly, in illness you determine many things, not the least of which is the level of empathy and acceptance among your intimates, your close family and friends, who are sure to disappoint, tightly bound up in their human frailties, fears and self-concerns. The need for such affective behaviour is a drain of energy, and I find it tiring to be in the company of such people. This reminds me of what Joseph Conrad once said: “We live, as we dream alone.”

On another note, I read an interesting article on how stress can shorten the human life-span. Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, in New York City, fount out the following:
It suggests that cumulative stress and inflammation in the body and the hypothalamus in particular signals increased production of NF-kB in the hypothalamus which then accelerates aging leading to decline and death. It also proves that a small crucial brain region may control aging in the whole body.
This is good to know. While I like to view myself as optimistic, such is not always the case; at times I feel otherwise, and don’t sense the need to request permission from others to feel the way that I do. This is one reason among many that I find comfort and acceptance at Gilda’s Club and its various support groups and programs. I also find my therapist at Sunnybrook a great help to my sorting out my feelings and emotions; her therapeutic and personal approach is both a comfort and balm to my tired soul.

To be sure, there is a freedom in expressing true feelings and emotions, often cloaked in societal mores of niceness. To those bothered, or even irritated or annoyed, by strong emotions, particularly negative ones, I say this with the utmost charity and sincerity: “You are the one with the problem.”

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