I’m sorry, but it was very, very hard to be Thankful this Thanksgiving. I am, of course, enormously grateful and thankful and blissed-out over the success that medicine has had in extending my life four and a half years after my cancer was discovered in June of 2007. As I look back over the year, I know just how lucky I am, luckier than friends lost along the way, and as my children are now in school and settled in small desks next to their own friends, present and future, I am lucky, we are lucky, and grateful.
but the grateful this week is overwhelmed by the unceasing pain. I have not left my bed or downstairs chair since the chemo last Thursday, and at least four days (Sat, Sun, Wed, Thurs) have been lost entirely to the constant burning pain of the knot in my spine, just at my waistband. All week, I sit in my chair downstairs with family, desperate not to lose another day to bed. We talk, we read together, my fingers play with my Kindle Fire as family members come in and out of the room, company changing as the lighting does, throughout the hours of the day. The pain is so intense I can barely see my loving family through it. As my children climb onto my lap for snuggles, they push the shoulder this way or slide on my leg that way, and the knot on my spine cries out in pain. I do not push them off. I mask my gasps and shift the children just a little to one side or the other, burying my head in their hair and hoping that they don’t hear, and that their brother doesn’t see my pain as he looks up from his talk with Grandma across the room.
They do hear, of course, and they do know, and they do listen, and they are on guard this week, running to my side when they hear a gasp and burying their heads in my chest as I grunt to get up from the chair. They need reassurance, and I give it to them wordlessly, the only thing I can give today, this week. A hug. A pat. A snuggle, a smile. With or without words, telling them always Mama loves you.
The guilt of not working on the big projects and finishing the things that need to be finished is everpresent. I can’t decide, my body can’t decide, whether to rest for now so that I can recover and be healthy to finish each project when I feel better or to push forward and finish it right now so that it gets done in my lifetime, and so I have kind of a mid-illness crisis when I do get control of the pain, however briefly, and I don’t know whether to spend my time working or resting
but I always know to spend my time with my children, reading, or talking, or playing Yahtzee, Connect 4, and matchbox cars. This is right, no matter how good or bad I feel, and I push myself to have these good times this week for them, for me, for family. I push myself past the pain and into the love, as long as I can, and when I can push no longer I rest, asking my pallative care physician to increase the medication. He does, questioning no longer, adding more medicine Thanksgiving night, as if this were the normal thing to do on the evening of a happy, family-centered holiday. More pain control. More meds. Will it work? For how long? I don’t know, but I hope that it will work, and as I sleep I relax a little, the knot loosening, and I smile. It worked. It worked on Friday, and for part of the day today, and each day was a quiet day well spent.
At the end of the holiday, I am still grateful for the years given to me after the diagnosis, and the opportunity to be my children’s mother, even on the hard days. To do research and to enjoy my work. To push for good and to support those doing good. To come back to the church and to seek for ways to use my talents on the days that I can stand to stand. To be there for friends and family and children, and to make each day count.
I am so tired now, though, and now, I must rest again.
A favor to a friend, Susan McCorkindale, and in gratitude for the clinical trials, care, and pallative care given to me – if you live in the D.C. area and are interested in national health care issues, from health care reform to navigating cancer care: what every patient needs to know, please consider attending the FREE symposium next week at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center: “Fighting a Smarter War Against Cancer: Linking Policy to the Patient.” It’s a great lineup, and the speakers are top-notch, from Senators, to Law professors to pharmaceutical companies, researchers, doctors, nurses, and pallative care. Check the schedule, and see if you can attend all or part of this amazing opportunity at Georgetown.