Practice Makes Imperfect

It seems a bit nonsensical to say that I have been fortunate with my cancer as of late.  For some time now, things had been going along as close to what a normal person (i.e., one not cancer-afflicted) would experience.  Although I cannot honestly say that a single day passes without thinking for at least a moment about my cancer, it was mercifully not at the top of my list of worries each day (which, because of who I am – including who I was pre-cancer – is quite the extensive list to be certain).  But as with any other area of life, when one gets out of practice one’s performance suffers. 

And so it was that I found myself last night, for the first time in a long time, frozen almost out of the blue by all of the worst fears and nightmares that all of us with cancer have but try ever so hard to push away from our conscious awareness. 

It all started innocently enough – with what by all appearances seemed to be a head cold.  (By the way, I don’t know if there is another type of bodily cold one can get; if you know, please drop me a line.  I am always looking to increase my knowledge of human maladies.)  The issue, however, was complicated by two factors.  First, this (head) cold had been with me for the better part of seven weeks.  It waxed and waned a bit, but it never fully resolved.  And before anyone hypothesizes that it is in fact Covid, recall that I am married to a physician who seemingly enjoys swabbing each of the members of the household after a solitary sneeze.  Thus, I had an ailment that, for any normal individual, should have lasted no more than about ten days, whereas I was pushing 50. 

Exacerbating greatly the problem was, as per one of my recent posts, the chronic cough by which I am plagued.  One thing that will not provide any succor to a persistent cough is a respiratory infection that generates all types of extra viscous fluids in the throat and upper chest.  The coughing had in fact become so incessant that I was tempted to drive myself to the hospital fearing that I needed some supplementary oxygen.  (Although my wife can be a bit wearisome with the Covid swabs, she does have some more useful gadgets around the house such as a blood oxygen meter which showed that such extra O2 was not really necessary.) 

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Diagnosis Unknown

Among the countless new – and unwanted – experiences that cancer escorts to one’s doorstep are mysterious ailments.  Naturally, as all of us age (whether one be cancerous or benign (read: lucky)), these seemingly difficult to diagnose problems can crop up.  The issue for those of us with cancer as constant companions, however, is that we never know whether mystery problem X is merely a nuisance or cancer in one of its innumerable disguises.  And once one has had cancer for any length of time, one naturally has to assume – or at least strongly consider – that the problem is indeed cancer-related. 

Thus, I find myself, nearly a decade after my initial cancer diagnosis, with a vexing problem that no one seems to be able to address.  More specifically, roughly around the time my cancer was most unwelcomely ushered into my daily existence, I developed a regular cough.  This cough announced itself principally when I was sleeping, which is of course the perfect time for an already horrendous sleeper to be accosted by such an ailment.  Because the problem, initially, seemed to be one of me while supine, it suggested that it might be a simple case of acid reflux, or, for those who love acronyms (and who doesn’t?), GERD, which needless to state stands for GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease.  (I personally prefer to call it simply reflux because (i) I find pronunciation – not to mention spelling – of gastroesophageal – rather challenging and (ii) my dance card of diseases is pretty much already full what with cancer and all, which is quite the jealous illness.)  Yet various primary care doctors (i.e., GPs – another acronym for the reading public), otolaryngologists (or ENTs, for one more) and gastroenterologists who concluded this was merely reflux, ultimately did what all doctors initially confronted with this do – prescribed anti-reflux medicine.  When that naturally did not solve the problem, the bolder (and less proactive) among these MDs did what all doctors seemingly do – upped the dosage.  But, of course, no relief was forthcoming.  I continued to cough away night after night (or, since I am a huge proponent of naps, afternoon after afternoon as well). 

At this point, having become rather discouraged, I reluctantly raised the issue with my oncologist.  Upon hearing of this problem, she assured me that this was likely just allergies, which as I was to then learn, were another bonus health problem that one gets with my form of leukemia.  Since this is merely a blog post, I do not have the space to enumerate all, but add this new problem caused by cancer – which of course is a bit of a problem in and of itself – to skin cancer, colon cancer, susceptibility to mosquito bites (yes, really) and a general inability to combat even the most mundane of illnesses. 

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nancy’s point 2021 summer blog challenge

I am so glad that Nancy is once again conducting her summer blog challenge because, as the photo above may have intimated, I have been in a bit of a dry spell when it comes to writing. So while this won’t unfortunately stem from whatever creativity I may — or may once — have possessed, at least I am writing. So many thanks, Nancy.

  1. Who are you? Tell us your genre, how long you’ve been at it, who or what inspires you or whatever you want us to know. All great questions, of course. Who am I? I wish I knew. Can I come back to that one — possibly in the 2023 or 2024 summer blog challenge? I doubt I will have a complete answer by then, but maybe at least some ideas. In terms of genre, is cancer a genre? If so, then I guess that is it. My sub-genre, if that is a thing, is complaining about — hopefully humorously — trying to co-exist with cancer. In terms of inspiration, that one actually is easy: It’s all the others out there who are also afflicted with this rather inconvenient unrelenting disease but keep on writing and posting and blogging. They help me keep going (even if I don’t give them the due they deserve.) I also find British mysteries on Netflix — and some on Prime — to serve as a reason to get up in the mornings.
  2. What’s been your biggest blogging roadblock this year and did you come up with a way to get around it? I have found that this year, since I have been working much more at a paying job (law — yuck) that it is really interfereing with my blogging. Not just because it is a huge time suck, which is what happens when one gets paid by the quarter/tenth of an hour, but also as it just erodes all creativity within me. I am just not that artistic I guess as I find that reviewing contracts and negotiating financing documents really does not inspire me to say anything witty.
  3. What’s something you accomplished with your blog this year that you’re proud of? Well, despite the lack of creative output lamented above, I still sometimes get an occasional view or even a “Like”. That always surprises me. But I do like surprises (not really, but those are good).
  4. What are a couple of your best blogging tips? This may seem trite, but probably the best one is just to keep at it. Just keep typing away. One never knows where it will take a person. And at least for me, despite my paucity of postings, it always makes me feel better, more grounded and more connected. (Can that count as more than one tip?)
  5. How do you handle negative feedback or comments? I immediately delete any such criticism. How dare those people! To be truthful, though, I try to stick to my own rather personal experiences, but which I believe to be rather universally trying. Thus I usually don’t get any negative feedback. Or maybe people just aren’t reading them.
  6. Share a link to a favorite post you’ve written RECENTLY (since last year’s challenge perhaps) that you want more people to read. Given my lack of productivity, Nancy is not leaving me with much to chose from. But one that does qualify — and which I liked (but maybe am the only one who did) is this one:

An End to the Silence

As those legions of you who await each of these blog postings with bated breath are certainly keenly aware, it has been quite some time since I have posted anything.  And while I have had an occasional tweet and recorded a couple of podcasts with my priceless friend Rudy Fischmann, I have had very little to say.  About cancer or otherwise.  But certainly not much to offer about our old nemesis cancer. 

I had been, to be frank, somewhat troubled by my lack of anything.  As both a lawyer and blogger/wanna-be writer, I usually think that I have a great deal to share that is of vital importance that the rest of humanity cannot possibly exist without which being enlightened.  Thus, I was worried that civilization as we know it might come to an end as a result of my failure to post these invaluable blog postings and other musings.  (And, to a lesser extent, due to a largely uncontrollable and mismanaged pandemic.  But that is just a secondary issue.) 

Yet when I stopped to think about why I was engaged in this long silence, a couple of thoughts came to mind.  First, and probably foremost, I was just tired.  Tired of thinking about, dealing with and generally co-existing with cancer.  I am not sure if healthy individuals can fully grasp this, but once one has heard the words “You have cancer” there is no going back.  Remission, NED, “cure” – it really matters not.  The exposure to cancer is enough to alter your path irrevocably.  Cancer is always there – sometimes front and center, sometimes making you sick, sometimes making you panic, sometimes just lurking in the parts of one’s mind that consciously we try to avoid.  But there it always is. 

In my case, however, of late I have been relatively fortunate (heavy emphasis on the word “relatively”).  After my last oncologist visit, I was given dispensation to extend the time between visits to a whopping five to six months.  This, to put it in context, was after years of ever-decreasing respites between such examinations.  And naturally this is a positive development – my wonderful and highly-skilled oncologist determined that she could manage to get by without seeing me as frequently for the time being.  I was all too willing to comply. 

But all good things must come to an end, and so it is with my hiatus from having my lymph nodes prodded (or at least scrutinized via Zoom).  I now am procrastinating, dreading calling her office to schedule the agreed upon next visit.  In a strange way, the longer time between visits has made the thought of the next appointment more overwhelming than when they were a regrettably near-regular occurrence.  I guess this is a good problem to have, but it is a problem nonetheless.  The other day, as it dawned on me that I needed to see the doctor in a couple of weeks, I was seized by a moment of panic that, while an all-too familiar feeling from my not-so-distant past, was one that I had been spared for some time.  My mind, perhaps because I had gotten out of practice of keeping it away from its most negative tendencies, slipped past my guard and went to those terrifying places that all of those with cancer sadly know too well. 

And this made me both apprehensive and angry.  I think the cause of the apprehension really needs no further explanation, but perhaps I should shed some more light on the anger I experienced.  One of the problems with a temporary reprieve from 24/7 cancer is that at a certain point the realization that the reprieve is only temporary becomes all-too apparent.  The life I had been managing to lead for the past few months now was potentially subject to revocation.  And, more troubling still, the dreams for the future that had been able to take root during this period of calm could be extinguished in an instant (or, to be more precise, in the time that it takes to count my lymphocytes).  Thoughts about kids’ graduations, vacations to be taken, golden years to be enjoyed.  All of this seems, unfairly, at best premature to contemplate. 

Contemporaneously, I have noticed that I have become seemingly much more adrift.  This may seem inconsistent with what I stated above – wouldn’t it seem logical that freedom (albeit temporary) from the constant cancer-centric thoughts should liberate me to focus on pursuing other aspects of life, whether personal or professional?  For many, I am sure that is in fact the case.  A partial break from cancer allows them to devote otherwise involuntarily diverted energy back to their careers or avocations about which they are passionate. 

Yet I have had the essentially opposite experience.  Admittedly, the passion that I felt for my profession pre-cancer was of the negative sort – i.e., why on earth did I ever pursue this career?  But beyond that, my ability to find attachment to meaningful activities or pursuits has somehow avoided me, particularly in the time post-chemotherapy.  Many who have been through similar treatments and diagnoses use the experience to motivate themselves to do things that, frankly, they may have been too hesitant to do before.  A sense of “what do I have left to lose?” takes over, and probably quite healthfully.  But for me, cancer made my world infinitely smaller.  Tasks that would have been not worth a second’s thought pre-cancer have become overwhelming.  Devotion to anything beyond my immediate family (which does, of course, include the dog) is just beyond conceivable.  So without these goals or passions or whatever one should properly term them, I am largely just existing.  I am, however, existing, surrounded by my two beautiful sons and exquisite wife – and, again, the dog.  And that is enough for me for now.  I like to think that some day – hopefully some day soon – I will rediscover that part of me that was a high-achiever and motivated to do more.  But I just don’t know when or, honestly, if that will ever happen. 

So for now I must compel myself to pick up the phone and make my next appointment.  I will, of course, be well-medicated during both the call and, especially, during the exam.  But where I will go from there only time will tell.