Rage Against the Dying of the Light

My dad has cancer.  Yesterday I spent 13 hours finding out my dad has cancer, waiting while he had a biopsy tumor extraction, and recovered from surgery.  Trying to process everything yesterday while trying to be strong, have courage, be brave, be a duck.  Water off a duck’s back, floating on the tumultuous surface, I don’t know. Trying to deal with it. Waiting. Waiting. Praying. Hoping. Coping.

 

Of all the things I’ve ever worried about in my entire life… my dad getting cancer did not make the list.  I am caught flat footed.  It takes the wind from my sails.  I am wholly unprepared for this.

 

I don’t know what to do, what to think. My poetry brain has kicked in to try and cope.  No drinking, smoking, self harm, nonsense or shenanigans.  Healthy coping mechanisms.  Read. Write. Create poetry.  Meditate.  Count.  Breathe. Breathe.  Breathe.  Remind myself to breathe again. Keep breathing.  Make lists. Shove the feelings down deep.  No, try to feel.  Nope, too hard to feel.  Ok shove those feelings away.

Hands shaking, anxiety weighted in my chest.

 

Realize: He found out last Friday.  Told my mom Saturday night.  Mom told Husband Monday night.  I found out Tuesday morning.  Why am I the last person to find out?  Bad enough it’s happened.  Now the lies.  Betrayal.  As if dealing with the cancer was not bad enough now I deal with deceit as well.  What do  I do now?  How do I start to deal with all this?  How do I cope? What do I do now?

 

Will I ever escape the rage I feel inside?

After the Before

Author’s Note:  Let me preface this entire post with the knowledge that my mom is alive and well and cancer free.  (I hate it when awful stories get told only to find out after all the worrying for the characters that there is a happy ending after all.  I don’t mind those sorts of stories as long as I know they end happily, thus I’m sharing this ending.)  This blog post is a story I wrote my senior year of high school.  It is the only story I’ve ever written where I allowed myself to discuss my family’s battle with cancer. 

When I was about 2 my mom, 29 years old, was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in one of her breasts and the lymph nodes under her arm.  The doctors told her to make peace with the world and that she would not live to see me graduate college, get married, or even start Kindergarten.  My mom is a fighter and she fought her way into the case studies for Tamoxifen (now a standard part of breast cancer treatment) and had chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries, and a mastectomy.  She had check ups twice a year for the next five years.  After five years she was pronounced cured.  She continued annual check ups at the cancer center.  After ten years she was pronounced really cured and at some point along the way her cancer was downgraded to a stage 3 (because she survived).  She continued yearly checkups because she had been in the case study.  At year eleven she was pronounced still cured.  Between year eleven and year twelve she didn’t notice but a lump the size of a pea grew under her armpit in one of her lymph nodes. 

At her yearly check up 12 years after she had first battled cancer, the cancer returned.  She was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.  Once again the doctors told her to make peace with the world and that she would still not see me graduate high school, go off to college, or any of the things we had finally allowed ourselves to look forward to sharing together.  They said this cancer was tricky because it had been dormant for 12 years and then become very aggressive to have grown a lump so large in so short a time.  Again, my mom fought with all her strength.  She did more chemo and had more surgeries but this time there was no radiation because she had had the largest amount a person can have.  My freshman year of high school was her diagnosis.  My sophomore year of high school was her surgery.  My junior year of high school was her chemo.  My senior year of high school was the waiting and I graduated a semester early and went to community college- just in case. 

The doctors were wrong: she saw me off to formal dances, my first date, graduation, college, moving into a dorm, studying abroad, and recently getting married.  She is one of the success stories and I love sharing the hope that her double cure inspires.  But I don’t like talking about it, or thinking about it.  I still practice magical thinking… if I don’t talk about cancer or think about it then it won’t come back again…. Regardless of what will happen, right now she is happily living her life cancer free and my dad always tells her how she’s more lucky than cats who get nine lives and even more lucky than frogs who croak every night.  We all do the best we can to live life to the fullest because we know how short and precious it is.  Enough commentary. The story:

 

After the Before

***

After

 

My skin is very white.  When I get cold, my skin gets even whiter, except for the scars.  The scars are vivid, dark, and obvious.  They show up, slashing across my hand and wrist and itching in the cold.  They were not always there.  Before she got sick again, my hands were clean.  Now, they’re stained with my anger.  When we got back to our house, the sickness hovering over each of us, I went into my room, in the closet, and punched my hand through the wall.  Four times.  The plaster exploded around me and chunks of it stuck to the hair on my arm.  I broke two fingers and dislocated another.  I’m still not sure what exactly cut me, but something did.  I had three jagged tears above my wrist and my hand looked like I had lost a fight with a garbage disposal, or put it through a wall a couple of times, which I had.  My parents had to take me to the hospital.  Back to a hospital for more waiting.  The last place any of us wanted to go.  It is always cold in the waiting rooms of hospitals.

 

 ***

Before

It is always cold in the waiting rooms of hospitals.  We are waiting.  The walls are waiting, the uncomfortable chairs are waiting; the puzzle is waiting.  It has been the same puzzle for years.  We are all waiting.  The recycled air drifts around the families and patients too slowly to create a breeze.  The shifting of pain stiffened bodies; turning of outdated magazine pages, and the constant wheeze and coughs of people breathing the stale air are the sounds that fill the space between the floor and ceiling.  I think it is a requirement of working here to have noisy shoes.  Most of the men have tennis shoes that squeak at either the left or right toe.  The women have high heels that meticulously click-click-click their way into your brain behind your eyes.  The clicking is driving me mad.

I tap my foot in impatience.  I restlessly flip through an old cooking magazine without seeing the pictures, let alone the words.  My butt hurts from sitting for too long.  I wish my mom would be out soon so I could move around a little.  She doesn’t usually take so long.  I look at my dad to see if he’s as uncomfortable as I am.  He’s calmly flipping through a Time magazine from September (it’s December now) and has a scientific looking National Geographic waiting on the seat next to him.  I sigh as a squeaky-shoed-college-aged guy dressed in green scrubs hurries past.  He glances at me, keeps walking.  I throw my magazine on the table and stand up.  I restlessly move to the low rounded table with the magazines and grab some that look less painful then some others.

I hear the clicking of the woman who escorts patients to see the doctors.  She walks up, reads a name incorrectly off a metallic stern looking clipboard, walks a few clicks away and says the name again in the same nasal voice.  Some ancient looking, pain ridden patient is helped to their feet by a concerned family member.  They follow the clicking woman down the white hallways past cheerful portraits of wildflowers as the woman makes an effort to create conversation.  Not everything about this place is hopeless; don’t get me wrong.  Laughter sparks from hushed conversations among different people.

As a little child, I used to wander among the people waiting, offering to share my toys and asking if the patient had hair.  I would proudly tell them about my mom, who’s real hair is waiting until she gets better to come back, who has a very pretty collection of hats and a fake head to hold her pretend hair while she’s not wearing it.  I would tell them about how if I was good, I would get to borrow some hats.  I would smile and tell them about the secret stash of hot chocolate I could get from the nurses and offer to get them some.  Sometimes, I would bring water to my parents, and read a magazine with my dad while my mom was seeing the doctor.

There is hope to be found, if you look for it.  I didn’t notice as much while I grew up, as I do now.  Now, it seems much more important, not only to me, but to my family and to the families of other patients as well.  Without hope, there would be only sickness, and that is no way to live.

Besides hope, there is also tired and old and the waiting.  That was mostly what I noticed then.  Everyone who’s here, except for the workers, seems old.  I, at 17, am old.  I have been old since I started coming here with my family at 6 years of age.  The waiting has that effect on people.  As the minutes march into hours and the hours multiply, I begin to get nervous.  No, not nervous.  Anxious.

Anxiety.  It feels like it blasts from nowhere.  It tackles you.  Slam!  You’re floored.  There is a four hundred pound sumo wrestler sitting on your chest.  He’s sweating on you.  You can’t breathe.  You can’t move.  You’re stuck.  Your vision clouds with a black smoke of panic.  Your heart tries to beat its way out of your ribs.  Your hands tingle.  You’ve lost control.  Slam!

If that analogy does not work for you, imagine this one.  Picture a wicked May pole- something that can stand straight up with the support of tautly pulled strings.  Now, replace the May pole with a knife, a very sharp, very pointed knife with a very shiny, very black handle.  Attached to the handle are strings of barbed wire.  The knife is slammed into your breastbone hilt deep.  The barbed wire is injected into various places across your chest.  Now, as you become more anxious, the knife is twisted and pushed deeper into your chest.  The barbed wire is pulling parts of your chest towards your heart, while the knife is brutally twisted, making a tight circle in the bone and muscle.  Your world narrows to this pain.  There is no literal knife, so you can’t bleed.  Instead you sweat.  It’s as if you just washed your hands, but didn’t dry them and instead of water and soap, it’s salty sweat.  Your brain focuses only on the pain; it can’t control your vision, which quickly fades to black.  Rapidly you lose control of your hands.  They become a tingling sensation too far away to control.  This is anxiety.  This is what I feel.

This is what I feel now.  Now is Friday afternoon at 4:00 on December 16th.  I am down in the city with my parents sitting in a section of the hospital.  The cancer ward.  I’m not sure that “ward” is the correct word, but it fits.  I watch my mother’s doctor stride by followed by a flurry of college students who wish they were her and had her job and are as good as she is.  It is almost funny to watch because they almost always tower over her.  She is tiny.

Everything about her is tiny; she is, after all, only five feet one inch tall.  She clicks her pen in time with her heels as she enters the room.  Her starched white doctor’s jacket hangs precisely to mid-thigh.  The long sleeves are rolled to create cuffs revealing a very expensive looking shiny gold watch on her left wrist.  The color nicely matches the gold of her wedding band as it reflects light off the diamond of her engagement ring.  Her pressed khaki pants have matching creases running up the sides of her legs.

Her hair is short; it balances upon the tops of her ears and carefully lay over the top of her forehead and plays with the collar of the jacket at the base of her neck.  Each piece seems to be hair sprayed in place to create the least possible disturbance to the patient while still managing to look styled.  Her thin steel framed glasses perch on the bridge of her tiny pointed nose.  Behind them, her eyes are tough and by looking into them you can tell she’s spent many years watching patients die.  Despite the hardness in them, there is also kindness.  She isn’t a touchy feely doctor who will hold hands in a circle with her patients and sing Kuhm By Ya.  She is a good doctor though.  The best.  That is one of the things I like about her.

Maybe I also like her because when I was a child I could look her in the eye.  She seemed to be on my level despite her constant shuffling through color coded pages on her clipboard to check and cross reference her ideas and comments, even though she was right.  She was always right.  Even with all her knowledge, she always had time for a child and that made her special.  I respect her more then any other doctor I’ve met, believe me, I’ve met a few.

 

 ***

Somewhere in Between

 

I knew something was wrong as my dad and I walked into the confines of the stark white walled room.  Even before Is aw my mom, I could tell she’d been crying.  The doctor’s face was grim.  I didn’t know what grim meant before I’d seen that face.  Grim.  The eyes were forcibly opened by sheer will, they were gleaming with unshed tears; the lips were pressed firmly together, perhaps to keep from speaking the truth and making it real.  The color was gone from her face and her hands were shaking.  I had never seen her like that.  She had always been cheerful and relaxed during the family information time of the checkups; then again, my mom had been healthy for the last twelve years.  I had seen at once that everything was wrong.  My anxiety tackled me again but this time I had to keep it in check because to be anxious was to admit something was wrong.  I had kept trying to tell myself everything was fine, even though I knew it wasn’t.  My whole world was collapsing.

Looking back I don’t remember the words.  The doctor drew an elaborate complicated drawing on the sanitary paper covering the examining table that we took home and explained to the relatives and friends while they tried not to sob.  I remember I knew everything was wrong.  The doctor’s eyes were crying, but she was not allowed to cry.  My dad became stoic and I could tell he was broken, but for my mom and me, and for himself, he had to remain strong.  I felt like my entire life had been in a shoebox and suddenly, for no reason I can understand, someone had taken the box, violently shaken it, and had tossed the contents out into a stream of whirling chaos.

The ceiling vaulted away from me, the walls leaned in to take its place.  Everything shrunk and expanded.  Reality was far away.  It was outside of us, outside the room, outside of the cancer ward, outside of the hospital.  Chaos remained.  Chaos with the name of cancer.

As we were leaving, the doctor walked us out.  My mom went to wait outside while my dad got the parking slip endorsed.  The doctor was talking with him.  As my dad started to leave I couldn’t move.  I had to hear it from her.  I had to understand.  I needed her to tell me it wasn’t real.

“So… so does this mean my mom’s cancer is back,” I asked.  I tried to look her in the eye but I couldn’t see through tears I refused to shed.

“Yes, I’m sorry.  It does.”

 

Anxious Reality

I can’t sleep because I’m so anxious.  Things are not bright at the moment.  I have slept less than seven hours the last two nights combined because I’ve been so anxious.  Things that are bothering me/I’m anxious about include:

My dad’s health

My mom’s health

My parent’s relationship

Boyfriend

The Babies (Olddog and YoungDog)

My job

My health

My living situation

My car

Money

MONEY

So, there are other worries also, but these are the ones with resounding echos and repeats in my head.  I am writing them now to get them out of my head so I can try to sleep and let the echos bounce within the pages of my journal.

(Author’s Note: Sadly, I still worry about many of these things even though it’s been 3 years…  I dithered about whether to include this post or not on my blog because it’s very personal and it includes things I don’t like to discuss with people.  I finally decided to include it because I want this blog to be a place where I can be myself and if people in the world see that, even the dark parts, then that needs to be ok.  Maybe someone else with anxiety induced insomnia will stumble across this post and realize they are not alone and it might help them.  I don’t know because I sat down to enter this and read through it and got all anxious myself so hopefully it doesn’t make someone else’s anxiety worse!  I can’t worry about other people’s feelings right now.  It’s time for me to be selfish.  This blog is about me and my feelings.  I try to find the magic in the world because a candle loses nothing by lighting other candles.  I hope that if I go through life as a candle helping bring light to other people that maybe it will burn some of the darkness out of me where it hides because I try not to show it to other people.  I don’t want to add more darkness to the world.  I want to add light.  That’s why this post is hard to write and why I’m stalling by doing this Author’s Note… *sigh* No more excuses.  Here is a glimpse of the shadows flickering behind my light.)

My dad’s health:  My dad has back/spine/neck damage/problems.  Disks 3&4, 4&5, 5&6, 6&7 all have problems.  He was a landscaper his whole life and worked incredibly hard physically (and in general).  There are a few different causes but the terrifying reality is his severe pain and his inability to work like he has for his whole life.  He’s so hurt he can’t even really play XBox anymore.  That really sucks because that used to be his way of zoning out from the pain and giving himself a break.  He needs back surgery on his spine.  The kind where they go in through his throat and fuse his bones together with a metal plate.  He could have had the surgery 5 years ago and so it was that bad then but now its 5 years worse!  He’s scared.  He hasn’t told me that in as many words but I can tell.  He’s gone to a physical therapist and wants another option besides surgery.  There’s not really another option.  He’s scared for his quality of life as he gets older.  I’m scared for him too.

My parent’s relationship: I think both my parents are really depressed.  I worry that they might get a divorce even though they are getting along much better than they used to.  My dad’s unemployment is about to run out and my mom doesn’t make enough money herself to cover all the bills.  On top of that they have medical bills, 2 dogs, and no end in sight.  My dad really can’t work.  Between cutting out the hard or not at all physical labor and having to pass a drug test (he uses pot medicinally to help with his spine pain), things are looking quite grim indeed.

My mom’s health: I think my mom pretty much hates her job.  The nepotism at the library is so over the top I don’t know how she deals with it.  It infuriates me to hear some of the stories about her work.  I hear “library” and think “how awesome!  I’d love to work there!” but then I hear about what it’s really like and yeah it has really awesome elements but on the other hand people insist on doing things the same way they’ve always done them, just because they’ve always done them that way.  That’s not logic, that’s being stubborn and I don’t understand why people are so resistant to change if it’s helpful change.

Cousin: My awful cousin is FINALLY gone to boarding school so he is out of my grandparent’s home.  They seem to be going/have gone BAT SHIT CRAZY though.  When did that happen?  How did I miss it?  Oh yeah, I missed it because they’ve chosen that awful cousin over literally the rest of the family and pushed everyone away.  They are so hurtful and supportive and cruel to my family now and it breaks my heart.  They used to be so loving and supportive and held all sorts of family events and their home was a place of love and celebration.  Yeah, sometimes grandpa would get drunk and yell at everyone but once we got that out of the way the party could continue… “Poor AwfulCousin” is all they care about now.  They did not even get Christmas presents for anyone else.

My parent’s other property in NeighboringTown to HomeTown: Things keep getting worse there.  I still don’t really know just how screwed we are but the more I learn, the scarier it gets.  Every time we think we have good renters the jerks just come and steal them.  Literally they wait until a couple of months before their lease is up and go up to the front door and tell the renters that we are raising the rent (which is a LIE) and who knows what else.  Then they tell them that their property is just like this one and oh hey, is even cheaper a month (because it IS since the used the floor plans that my parents developed and bought the corner lot adjacent to this one that my parents were going to buy the following month and then built the same set up we have and instead of finding their own renters they keep stealing ours and undercutting the rent which they can afford to do because they can afford to do that.)  I really hate people.  I mean, who does that?  What sort of lifelong friend stabs you in the back over a piece of land in a town that looks like it will have good property values in a couple years but right now is pretty worthless and then continues to twist the knife at every opportunity?  I just cannot wrap my head around it!

I don’t have a safe/happy/good reality at the moment and even fiction stories are not helping me block it all out.

Today my mom told me they are considering bankruptcy. The unfairness of IT ALL strikes me and makes my throat ache.  My parents have lasted through cancer, cancer again, a kid (me), a kid going through college (me again), a home business that was on and off again, addictions, people screwing them over, so many obstacles and trying to invest and then cruel and deceitful people finally break everything.  It’s SO unfair!  I know the world is unfair but I don’t understand why bad things always seem to happen.  And why do they always happen at the same time too?  I’m almost paralyzed with fear for was.  What can I do to help?  What will happen to us all?

Pets: OldDog is so old.  He tired to jump onto my bed last time I was home visiting and missed.  That has never happened before.  I picked him up and held him and cried and cried while he licked my arm trying to comfort me.  He can’t help where he goes to the bathroom anymore.  It’s gross but he’s old and can’t help it and we still love him.  I don’t think he’s in pain but I’m terrified he is and I’m just not around enough to really know.  The time is approaching when we are going to have to decide if he needs to go to sleep.  I’m unsure and terrified of what will happen.  He’s been my baby since I was in third grade.  I already miss him so much because I don’t live with him.  I sometimes call the house when I know my parents are gone and leave a voicemail to the dogs telling them what good puppies they are and asking if they want a treat.  When my parents get home the dogs are all excited and barking and jumping around and they know its time to give them cookies cuz I left them a happy voicemail.  YoungDog is so dumb and has learned such bad habits from OldDog that I worry about what will happen to her.  She’s really sweet but such a spazz!

Boyfriend: Things with Boyfriend are alright.  We still love each other madly and are planning on our future together.  I can see now and I don’t know how to move forward.  I don’t know how to get to where I want to be.  There are no sure or right answers to these tough questions.  He has his stupid 6 month lease that he signed since I moved up here, his job that he seems to love (or at least really enjoy) that he is amazing at, and a car, and a life in CollegeTown.

Living situation: I’m in BigCity living with a grandma who’s never there, a goat, a cat, and two dogs that eat better then I do.  I work 10-12 hours a day at $10 an hour.  I can’t afford to move out of this house.  I don’t know if I even want to move out if I can’t move in with Boyfriend.  I can’t afford to live because I make so little money.  I spend a ridiculous amount of money on gas EVERY week because this place is so far away. It’s really super scary trying to make it on my own.  And I am because my parents are not really in a position to help me.  They say they can help if I need it but how can I believe them when they say that but then also tell me about all the financial worries they’re facing?  How do I go on with my family in so much trouble?  How can I just live down here and selfishly try to do what I want when maybe if I moved home and got a job it could help them out? What do I do if they are going to file bankruptcy?  Is it too late to do anything anyway?

Job: My job is SUPER boring and I HATE it!  I literally loathe it. I’m already bitter and it hasn’t even been four whole months yet.  Cycle Counts are interesting but I just need more money.  The Tech test is $130 and getting that much money seems hard to me! That’s pretty surprising because I thought it would be easier by far to move to that position.  The test itself is a lot of math and memorizing abbreviations.  I may get hosed if I do spend the money and then can’t pass the stupid test.

Car: My car is old and is my only mode of transportation.  I live too far from work in BigCity to take a bus or even a series of buses to get to work.  Also with my strange hours the buses don’t even run that early in the morning or that late at night if I was to switch shifts to night shift.  Troubling. It’s all troubling.

My health: My allergies are INSANE!  I have an allergy appointment on Wednesday morning with an allergist in BigCity instead of the one I’ve tried to still see in CollegeTown.  I don’t know the company name, address, or Doctor name at the moment.  I hope it helps me be able to breathe.  I don’t like being reminded of my serious problems with the most basic part of being alive (breathing)!

I took two Benadryl before I started writing this and am finally falling asleep!!!! FINALLY  I have friends but it worries me too.  I wonder about the future and can see where I want us all to be in that future but I don’t know how to make it happen. I wish magic was real so there would be an easier answer or at least more options.  I’ll write more later because I’m going to go sleep like a rock.