One of the most disappointing aspects of having an incurable form of cancer, in addition to pain and death, is that “treatment” really just means putting Pandora back in her box for a time. How long? No one really knows, but definitely not indefinitely. So unlike many cancer sufferers who are able to claim victory over their disease, cancer patients like me do not know any such feeling of relief or triumph. Instead, we are left in purgatory; hopefully the nausea, abused blood vessels and ever-present taste of aluminum bought me some more time. But otherwise I am no closer to being cured than beforehand. In fact, the chemo itself can cause blood cancer, which really just seems unnecessarily redundant.
About the only thing that enduring chemo did give me was more neuroses. In addition to wondering whether every little ache and pain could be a sign of my cancer’s resurfacing (spoiler alert: it’s not), I somehow have managed to become hyper-anxious about all manner of random things. My oncologist described this ramification as “survivor’s guilt.” I am not sure if I am buying this explanation. For one thing, I am not a survivor. Yes, I survived chemo – although if that were ever a question no one shared that concern with me, but I haven’t rid myself of the cancer. In addition, I don’t feel guilty about not dying. Call me narcissistic.
A psychiatrist with whom I spoke (who may or may not be my shrink) had a slightly different explanation of my unbridled nervousness: PTSD. That made more sense to me as going through chemo was very stressful, it is now post-chemo, there was a high degree of trauma involved (particularly the first day when I thought I was dying, but which passed while I fortunately didn’t) and there is no order to my life now whatsoever. Unfortunately, however, her recommendation was largely to do meditation and other relaxation exercises. Ironically, though, you have to be relaxed to do a relaxation exercise so I can never get anywhere with those. Someone needs to invent a pre-relaxation relaxation exercise to help us Nervous Nellies transition.
I guess in some ways, I did gain something from the chemo. I would say that I gained wisdom from the experience, but the chemo brain that has resulted has definitely lowered my intelligence so I think that was pretty much a zero-sum gain. I also did “gain” a normal level of white blood cells, but that was really addition by subtraction – and by subtraction I mean subtracting 344,000 white blood cells (for those keeping score at home). Yet I don’t really understand what addition by subtraction means – it sounds like it violates the laws of math and science, just like how one gets more cancer cells by dividing. In what other realm can one get more of something by dividing? Apparently when it comes to cancer, the laws of physics need not apply.
I cannot, however, blame all of my latest anxiety on the chemo. I have always been somewhat of a nervous person – after all, look at my surname: “Neurman.” If that doesn’t portend neuroses then I don’t know what does. (A friend of mine, who speaks fluent German, once told me that in that language my name means “new man.” I’m not German. But I appreciate his efforts.) In fact, being anxious is what made me a not-so-terrible lawyer: An irrational fear of mistakes can propel one to great heights within the legal world. In retrospect, I guess going through the chemo did bring me some benefits. But I still think they could have thrown in a t-shirt.