Today I celebrate my third “Cancerversary”, the anniversary of the day when an ER doctor asked, “Did you know that you have a mass in your stomach?” I use the word “celebrate” because I look at cancer as a positive event in my life, and I’ll discuss that more later but first I’ll address how I’m doing physically…three years after “Dorothy” entered the woods with a little red & white dog at her side….
I had my annual CT scan and blood work on Monday and the report was good…no sign that the cancer has returned. My oncologist, however, was shocked to see my condition. This morning I weigh 105 pounds and I’m a svelte, size “00”, the envy of most women my age. While I have to admit that I’m not unhappy about my appearance…fully clothed…I know what lies beneath: ribs, spine, pelvis, veins, tendons, muscles…all clearly defined. Earlier this week, I hit my all-time low – 104 pounds – down 13 pounds from my weight on January 1st of this year, 8 pounds less than I weighed when I went back to work in May. Now, instead of seeing Dr Cui on an annual basis, she wants to see me every four months.
In the past week, I’ve also experienced three severe incidents of acid reflux during the night, burning my throat and esophagus, leaving me in extreme pain. This is a situation that has developed since going back to work and increased in frequency in recent weeks. Allowing this condition to continue could lead to Barrett’s Esophagus and potentially esophageal cancer so I’ve been in contact with my gastroenterologist this week to discuss my treatment. He’s switched me from the inexpensive generic, Omeprazole, back to the expensive, Protonix, and I need to make an appointment for another EGD to assess the condition of my stomach and esophagus.
I’ve also visited my neurologist recently and I’m happy to report that it’s been more than a year since my last grand mal seizure…thanks to large doses of Keppra and Topamax that I take twice a day. While I’ve been seizure-free, I could not say that I am neurologically 100%. My ability to eat and my ability to concentrate are linked, making it difficult to eat at work and contributing to my struggle to maintain my weight. If I eat while on my break, I’m uncomfortable and I find it difficult to concentrate on my work for the next two hours so, for eight hours/day (spent on my feet) plus 2 – 2.5 hours commute, I eat very little. When I’m at home, I eat as much as I can, but my stomach can only hold so much and if I eat too much, I have to lie down and sleep for two hours.
Work is obviously taking a toll on my health so I reduced my availability this week from seven days/week to six days/week. I’ve spent half of my income this month on medical bills and prescriptions…and I still have $1400 in medical bills sitting on my desk, prescriptions waiting at the pharmacy, bills to come and appointments to schedule. I work to pay for my medical care…and, in the process, I make myself worse…..
Beyond the physical….
I chose the picture above because, in spite of the stark conditions and the perilous perch on which it stands, this tree somehow continues to grow and the sun continues to shine. The tree looks out on a vast ocean of possibilities, it looks below to the solid rock upon which it stands and above to the sunlight which gives it strength. Like this tree, I have weathered a lot in the past three years and while my body has weakened and at times I am emotionally frail and drained, my soul is hardened steel.
At the heart of Buddhism is the Budhha’s teaching of the Four Noble Truths and the First Noble Truth is that life is suffering, “dukkha”. “Dukkha” is something that we all share and it is that which brings about change. Change is often not a comfortable experience and it can happen suddenly or it can be a slow, evolving process with an uncertain future. Acceptance of change and the patience to accept change in its own time are two of the ways that I’ve grown over the course of the past three years. “Dukkha”, properly understood, presents an opportunity to grow, to change…and that is what I have been given….
I have also been given Grace from God. I’ve always been a very spiritual person and the last three years have been three years of great spiritual growth for me. My faith is the rock on which I stand, the sunlight that lights my days and the wind beneath my wings…..