Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Cancer Chronicles - Take 4


My car is usually a source of power for me. Something that I can actually control. I like the feeling of being strapped in by my seatbelt and speeding down the road. All those horses at my beck-and-call. But not today. Today my car has become a tomb of anguish. The essence of my bad news shrouding the glass like steam. Smothering me.

I made my way home in a stupor mixed with panic and a side of shock. I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t know what to do. I aimed my car home and just let it get me there.

As I entered the freeway, I fumbled for my cell phone and called the first person I could think of. My oldest friend Karen. We’ve known each other since the summer before 1st grade and she's the closest thing to a sister I've ever had. 30 years of friendship under our belts. Her family was my family. More so since my parents moved out of state and I was left on my own in San Diego. I’d spend countless holiday’s and family occasions with them and I loved them deeply. Our parents are friends as well. I had no doubts about calling Karen first. I was wrong.

She answered and I managed to stumble through the story. I hadn’t relayed much of the past 6 weeks of tests and such to Karen since she’d watched both of her parent’s battle cancer in the previous 18 months and I knew it had been very hard on her. Particularly her mother’s bout with breast cancer. The chemo has almost gotten her. Karen’s dad had fared much better with prostate cancer but I can only imagine the toll it had taken on all of them.

Despite those facts, Karen was the only person I wanted to talk to at the moment. I was greeted with an icy reception after I dropped my bomb. Immediately perplexed, I knew I’d calmed down and was delivering the news with the most nonchalance I could muster and did not expect being treated the way I was. There was a half-hearted “that’s too bad” given and not much else. No offer to come up to my house or even an invitation to go to hers.

I was blown away. This being the single worst thing I’d ever been told and the one person I turned to pushed me away with frost and indifference. I so badly needed human compassion and companionship, and it was clear from the first minute that I was not going to find it in my best friend. Our relationship was never to recover.

I’m jumping a little bit ahead here, but this part of the story warrants further explanation. You might think Karen’s reaction was a direct result of her being over-saturated with cancer in her life. I gave her that benefit of the doubt too. I called on another friend that night who rushed over to my home with 2 bottles of chilled wine and sat with me for 3 hours as I proceeded to cry, get drunk, talk in circles, and gear myself for what was to come.

I called Karen the next day and the next, and when the frost turned into a glacier, I knew it was futile for me to continue to reach out and I stopped. She did show up at the hospital the day I had surgery and my first question was “what are you doing here”. She them admonished me for not telling her my surgery had been moved up from noon to nine a.m. I was in no position to fight but through my lovely drugs I was giving her a big fuck you in my head. Our contact was minimal in the following months until I phoned her on my way out of town for Thanksgiving.

It was a strained discussion to say the least, but we both agreed we needed to get together when I returned home to talk things out. She then admitted that her attitude towards me in the previous 4 ½ months was not due to her being overwhelmed dealing with parents. She explained she’d been a bitch to me (her words) because she compared everyone to her mother and what she had gone through and no one’s problems came close. She’d simply not wanted to hear me "complain". She didn’t want to “hear it”. I was stunned. She might have been lying, but it’s the lie she talked herself into and I was the one she not only abandoned, but admittedly treated like shit. It made my whole experience exponentially worse. We never did have that talk.

**Digression: I have since learned that being the one on the cancer side of the fence comes with a host of intricacies that you don’t realize when you’re being the comforter rather than the comforted. It’s difficult to know someone who’s been branded with “the C word”. And most people don’t know what to say, how to act or what to do. I fully understand how awkward and scary it can be, since I’ve seen both sides.

There were times when I was too exhausted to have one more conversation with a well-meaning friend only to spend my time and carefully metered energy attempting to make the person on the other end of the phone feel better as opposed to the other way around. Some people are overcome with their own fears and are usually unaware that they push the conversation into a preconceived direction. One that is meant to pacify their own agenda.

Within days of my diagnosis I received one such call where the person told me in a single breath that it was OK for me to be afraid but I HAD to remain positive. Every subsequent statement by me, expressing those fears, was cut-off mid-stream with increasingly agitated comments that I must remain POSITIVE. Alright, thank you for the advice, but when exactly the fuck do I get to have the fear part?? Huh? WHEN? WHEN DO I GET TO BE AFRAID YOU ASSHOLE? CAN YOU PLEASE SHUT YOUR OWN PIEHOLE FOR JUST A FUCKING MINUTE AND LET ME ABSORB THE FACT THAT 3 DAYS AGO I WAS TOLD I HAD CANCER AND I’M CURRENTLY SHITTING MY PANTS EVERY SECOND OF THE DAY.

Of course I didn’t say that, but I was thinking it. I had people tell me they “promised” I’d be alright. Sorry, but you can’t do that. I had doctors tell me they were “sure” it wasn’t cancer. WRONG. I've been told that I gave this cancer to myself. Nice. I know we all have to deal with that shit on a daily basis, but if you ever find out a loved one has been diagnosed with a serious illness, please, do your homework and learn about their situation and what you can do as a bystander. Ask the ill person what they NEED. It’s stressful for everyone, but being armed with some knowledge and being a good listener goes a long way and is by far the best thing you can do. **

I made it through the weekend, beginning to tell my friends, and I got through the phone call to my parents with relative ease. I was already getting sick of having to tell people. It’s a strange conversation and as I previously mentioned, is tiring. I went back to work the following Monday and started making arrangements and appointments. (I was to learn fairly quickly how this was going to change every single aspect of my life).

My endocrinologists office didn’t have an appointment until the following Friday and didn't seem too concerned about my diagnosis. That’s when I lost it again. I wanted to be seen right away and find out what the hell I needed to do. I had a psych professor in college who refused to let anyone use the phrase “patient”. People are clients, paying clients, and should be treated as such. I’ve never forgotten that, and in my current state of panic, managed to retain that mindset. I was squeezed in that morning. Fucking with me on a good day is stupid, fucking with me when I'm freaked is deadly.

The doctor was obviously irritated at my constant stream of tears, but I needed answers and he had them. We went over a few details and a surgeon was recommended. I was sent up a few floors in the building to the surgeon’s office and thankfully was treated with better care there. I was still a bawling mess when the next doctor walked in and he did his best to calm me down. He was a no-nonsense Englishman but managed to reassure me that I’d be in good hands and all would be O.K. I had no reason to believe anyone yet, although I had no choice but to put my trust in him, so I did my best to do just that.

I’d have to have my whole thyroid removed and a round of radioactive iodine therapy. I still didn't know much about thyroid cancer or its treatments, but thankfully, my very good cyber-friend Heidi got online and started doing research for me. Sending me as much information as she could. She found an online thyroid cancer support group called and I began reading everything I could get my hands on to prepare myself and be the informed patient I am. I owe Heidi more than I could ever repay.

Reading about illnesses, symptoms and side-effects is a double-edged sword. It's important to learn all you can, but it's also frightening as hell to read about everything that can go wrong. There were many times when I didn't think I could take one more minute or read one more personal account of hell.

The surgery was scheduled for the morning of July 30th. 9 days away. The entire process, from finding the lump in my neck, to lying on a table being carved open, was 6 weeks.


FlowerPowerGoddess said...

That was one scary moment in time, I swear I paced the entire time until you called me after surgery, Babe and me, back and forth. I can still hear the click, click of her toenails on hardwood floors. That sound will always remind of 2 things, thunderstorms and your ordeal.

Anyway, you owe me nothing. I find when going through certain health issues in life it is sometimes better to turn to people who have been through a bad illness themselves and I know you needed thyroid cancer people for support and info too. 'Cause unless you are bleeding from a head wound, some people just don't get it.
Love ya

Becka said...

She didn't want to hear you complain? What a bitch!

I'm sorry, I know she was your friend, but does she have no human compassion at all?

I'm glad H was there for you when you needed a true friend.

Ginny said...

I had to learn the hard way about the "you're gonna be OK" line. Where did everyone pick this up? Was it in some Jerry Bruckheimer script that I am not aware of? Hey! How do you know everything is gonna be ok? Guess what? You don't!

whitey said...

Stuart Smalley can kiss my ass.

Bitter Betty said...

fg - You're always right. But I do feel a debt to you and probably always will. Love ya chica!

becka - despite our history, she was always a bitch, I just didn't know it could go to that level. It was and will always remain a painful chapter. But I have awesome friends to make up for it.

ginny - I learn everything the hard way. And I don't know why people say the dumb things they do. Wish I could figure it out.

whitey - I'd like to see you kick Stuart's ass. Then I'd fuck you for doing so.