How do you live with this?

Many people have asked us this question, or something similar.

There’s not an easy answer, although we’re finding out more about how every day.

To start with, we’re scared, we’ve cried, we’ve spent long hours late at night in bed discussing serious aspects of the situation. Most of you don’t know about this because it was just the 2 of us (well, the five of us if you count the dog and the 2 cats); I’ve mentioned it briefly in the blog, or at least obliquely, but haven’t gone into great details about the hair-ripping and teeth-gnashing (this time I didn’t have to shave my head. . .).

Do you see what I did there? I answered the question as best as I know how – we live with this by making it funny. Brian and I have always spent a lot of our time making each other laugh, and I think we just don’t know how to deal with *anything* without laughing.

On Saturday afternoon, Brian took me over to the ER for the usual chest pains, this time with a side of compression and mild panic attacks at feeling as if I couldn’t breathe. As we sat there in the room between doctor and nurse visits, one of the nurses came by and closed the door – at that point, I realized that we’d been laughing and joking, and probably disturbing the sick people in the rooms around us. Who but us, I asked Brian, would go to the emergency room and act like we’re out on a picnic?

(Side note: there was nothing detected in my left lung, and the doctor said “If lying down flat feels bad, don’t do it.” And yes, he did say exactly those words, but not in a mean way – basically there’s nothing they can do for something that has generic symptoms and no obvious cause, and for the most part, the symptoms were gone by Sunday evening. So we don’t know what the problem was, but unless they get more specific or much worse, it’s yet another waiting game. Sorry, didn’t want anyone to be worrying.)

At this point, I suppose I could write a scholarly article on the value of laughter as the best medicine, but all I really know is that when Brian and I laugh together, even about something as scary and serious as liver mets, it pushes back the darkness a little, and makes my heart feel lighter.

And of course, we live with this by depending on our awesome friends and family, and the doctors and nurses, and the kindness and generosity of the people we work with who call, visit, send cards and e-mails, and who laugh with us about the absurd and silly stuff as well as the scary stuff.

Just today, my girlfriend Sharon, who was scheduled to pick me up after chemo, showed how much she loves me by making sure I was taken care of when she was more in need of some tlc than I was. Due to a change in plans, my chemo got rescheduled to next week, so I ended up calling her 2-1/2 hours early to come pick me up. She wasn’t ready, but said she would be there as soon as she could. Knowing that even if she took ten minutes to get ready to go I would see her in 20 – 25 minutes, I said no rush. An hour later I wasn’t sure if I was more concerned or grumpy, but was definitely a little of both. Just then she pulled up. As I got in the car, she apologized profusely, because right after I’d called, her 87-year-old father’s assisted living facility had called to tell her that he was being sent to the ER. She just dropped by to tell me that her husband was on his way from his job to give me a ride home while she went to the ER to be with her father. I, of course, was mortified at having felt grumpy, and told her that Brian could have canceled his appointment, or I could have taken a taxi, or something; but she wasn’t having any of that. She needed to make sure I was taken care of, and her husband was a real champ to come get me. I owe them big-time.

And finally, one of the bad ways that I live with this is to cocoon. I tend to keep to myself, don’t reach out to others, and end up spending a lot of time alone. Now, I’ve always been this way, so it’s not something that changes easily; and in some ways, the quiet solitude is good for me; but I also can get too deep into my head and start feeling depressed. So thank you for keeping tabs on me, for calling/writing, etc. I’m working on trying to be better about reaching out; but you may have seen how I dealt with it at work – I wasn’t feeling well, and was worried about what the mass on my liver meant (I had a pretty good idea, but there’s always hope). I worked from home a lot around doctor appointments, when I was in I kept my door closed so I didn’t have to run into a situation where I had to tell someone about an undiagnosed problem, and when it was confirmed and I had started treatment, I basically dropped out of sight without a word to anyone but Shi-Yi and HR. That was pretty anti-social of me, but I just wasn’t up to dealing with the emotion of telling people about my third round of cancer, and this one much more grim than the previous two.

So we deal with it in some exceptionally great ways, but also we tend to isolate ourselves, which isn’t good. Probably much like so many others both before me and dealing with it now – is it just that we don’t know anyone who is dealing with something so bad, or that they deal with it so well, that we just can’t see how well they’re dealing with it? Maybe some of each. . .

p.s. It’s not too late to donate to the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer fundraiser. Just use the link on one of my previous posts to get there. The walk is over, but the need goes on.

1 Response to “How do you live with this?”

  1. 1 Carrie
    May 11, 2010 at 8:32 am

    Julie, I am so thankful that you and Brian are in my life. What strength you both have shared in the midst of your suffering. I am so thankful for the small ways myself and others can show our love for you both.

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May 2010

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