You know, I’ve gotten a lot of comments since my diagnosis about how wonderful my attitude was. Several folks along the way have commented on how awesome it was that I was not only able to maintain my sense of humor, but to also use it frequently in relation to the many varied issues that come up with cancer treatment. (I make no claims to be a comedian, but I have seen quite a few people crack up at my response to some of the things that have come along.) Apparently, one of my most popular sentiments relating to cancer is a t-shirt I designed on Zazzle that says, “I beat cancer and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!” “One more MRI and I’ll stick to the fridge!” has also been popular. Then, of course, there was the infamous “lint roller” trick to dealing with those last stubborn head hairs that just didn’t want to let go. I can’t take credit for the original idea. It was actually a trick someone on the Cancer Survivors Network mentioned. Still, if using a sticky tape lint roller on one’s head isn’t utterly absurd, then I just don’t know what is.
Anyway, a lot of people seemed to be impressed by my attitude. Frankly, it came solely from my utter trust that God was in control. I mean, what’s the point in getting all worked up over something that we cannot do anything about? It’s cancer. Throwing a temper tantrum won’t do a single thing to help it. Being furious that it came knocking at your door won’t do anything but make you and everyone around you miserable. Cancer (along with countless other illnesses and troublesome issues that come up in our daily lives) is no one’s “fault.” Being mad about it just makes it harder to deal with. Plus, if you believe much of the current data, a good, “positive” attitude actually helps us heal faster. My point? It wasn’t really so much me having a positive attitude as it was me flat out trusting God.
I should interject here that my faith and trust did not just wipe out all my natural concern about the situation and about what the future holds. I mean, I’m human. The moment my Dr. got that frown on her face while doing my breast exam and started focusing on that one spot sent a shock wave through me that I will never forget. We all dread hearing that word. CANCER. It’s one of the major health terrors of the past several generations. But, I can honestly say I never panicked. I can’t ever really remember even “breaking down.” There were a few (and I stress few) tears, just moments when the enormity of the situation kind of overwhelmed me. Ultimately though, I just sat back and let God lead the journey. I was on the path and there was no point trying to find a shortcut, a trail off the the path, or balking like a stubborn donkey and forcing God to drag me forward. It simply was what it was and forward was the only way through it.
Yikes! This is not where I planned to go with this post! Funny how that happens.
I did my best to find the humor in all the absurd situations a cancer patient can find themselves in. It is my nature to seek out humor and to use it to help me cope with difficult situations. I just can’t help myself. Then again, I can’t help but notice that God has seen fit to place me into a LOT of situations throughout my life that, even if they weren’t at all funny at the time, would wind up being some of the most hilarious moments of my life when I look back.
Case in point: And I mention this because it just came up a few days ago in response to something posted on Facebook by one of my favorite comedians, Chonda Pierce. Here’s what she posted:
Yeah, I have absolutely NO idea what her husband was doing on a boat with a chainsaw. I mean, try as I might, I simply cannot come up with a reasonable scenario where this would make any kind of sense. But then, as I replied to her, I also have a husband who has not been gifted with what I consider to be a “normal” measure of common sense. While my darling husband has never had any serious mishaps with power tools, he does have a rather dubious history with fire. I should point out that he grew up in a home with a wood stove. He ought to be more than capable of grasping not only how one works, but the utter lunacy of, say, throwing kerosene into one that is already lit!
Have I mentioned that my husband is a genius? Literally. He was tested in school. He has an understanding of and appreciation for mathematics and physics that I will never, ever be able to match. And I’m no slouch in the intelligence department, either. Yet, though he is perfectly capable of grasping the finer points of the inner workings of space and time and things like singularities and string theory, he cannot seem to wrap his brain around the fact that one does not need highly flammable fluids like kerosene, gas, or lighter fluid to start a fire.
So, many years ago, (before I’d fully grasped his utter incapability when it came to fire) we were living in a home we rented. We had bought a wood stove from his parents when they decided to switch from wood to oil heat. Our rental home had a large living room and large kitchen that shared a good sized open doorway. There was a location just inside the kitchen area that was meant to hold a wood stove. We did use kerosene heaters to heat the house when it wasn’t too cold, but once winter set in fully, we switched to the wood.
Anyone who’s ever had a wood stove will be aware that they generally have two settings. Hotter than lava and off. We literally had times when that thing would be going that we’d open the front door – in the dead of an Indiana winter – to try to cool the house off a bit. (I’m smiling now as I look back on this. We laugh all the time about the joys of having a wood stove. Despite the sometimes tedious difficulty of regulating the temperature, there is just nothing quite as warm and comfortable as wood heat.)
I did not grow up with a wood stove, per se. We did have a fireplace, however, and somewhere along the way my brilliant mother decided to purchase an insert for it. This was, essentially, a wood stove that was designed to fit into the space of the fireplace. It was sealed up like a wood stove, meaning it had gaskets around the doors and a damper and various air vents to regulate the air flow and thus the rate of burn. It also had a nifty blower system that forced the hot air from the cavity around the insert out into the room. Now we lived in Mississippi, not exactly known for it’s frigid winters, but that wood stove saved my parents a lot of money on the utility bill in the winter. And it was how and where I learned how to build a fire using novel things like newspaper and kindling. (No kerosene or gas.) The wood stove my husband and I had was merely a significantly larger version of that fireplace insert. I started it regularly with no difficulty at all.
Another feature of wood stoves is that, so long as they are sealed up nicely, you can bank them at night when you go to bed and there will still be plenty of coals waiting for you the next morning. Generally, all you have to do is rake those coals a bit to get them a little air, then toss some smaller logs on them so that it starts burning actively again, then you can fill that puppy up with some big hunks of wood to keep it going for hours. This is all contingent upon making sure there’s plenty of wood in the stove the night before, however, and on making sure you almost completely close all the vents so that it doesn’t get too much air and burn too fast. Make that mistake and you wake up to a cold stove that has to be completely re-lit. Apparently, that’s what happened one cold morning.
We had a water bed at the time. We were too cheap to buy one of those fancy dresser drawer stands for it, so had the base that consisted of nothing more than a simple frame to support the bed. This meant the bed was fairly low to the floor. Which was fine. We were both a lot younger then and had no trouble getting in or out of the thing. I shudder to think what that would be like these days! So, Hubby gets up before me. I don’t even remember him getting out of bed. My first memory that morning was coming slowly awake and frowning as an odd smell hit my nose. While I was sniffing, trying to figure out what it was, I heard his voice right beside my head. He was calling my name in a soft voice, gently waking me. I opened my eyes to find him kneeling beside the bed, his face mere inches from mine. His first words when my eyes opened? “Honey, do I still have any eyebrows?”
Yeah, that was right about the time that my sleepy brain kicked into gear and figured out what that smell was. Burnt hair. (You need to realize that my husband is one of those truly hairy men. He had a full beard in something like eighth grade and has only shaved that beard off completely like once in the more than 2 decades that we’ve known each other.) Needless to say, his words brought me fully awake. He did still have eyebrows, though all his facial hair was a bit singed. It seems that he’d gotten up to find the stove too cold to fire up by just tossing wood into it. So, in his profoundly brilliant and logical mind, he came up with the notion of pouring kerosene on the wood before putting it into the stove to light. It lit just fine, then promptly went right back out as soon as all the kerosene burned off the surface of the wood. Apparently, his next logical leap was to determine that it must have been getting too much air, making it burn too fast. If he could just repeat the procedure with the door shut, then it would burn slower and thus actually catch the wood on fire. The problem, of course, was how to actually start the fire with the door closed. Clearly this is a logistical problem. So he put some kerosene into a mason jar he’d taken from the kitchen. He poured some of it over the wood INSIDE the stove, put a bit more kerosene in the jar, then got himself ready. He first tossed a match into the stove, which lit the kerosene. Then he took the jar of kerosene and flung its contents into the stove with the intention of slamming the door closed right behind it.
I wish I could convey my expression via these typewritten words. This all happened somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty years ago and I am still torn between the desire to laugh myself senseless and to smack him with the nearest heavy object. Needless to say, his plan did not work. Though he has a complete understanding of the laws of thermodynamics, he was incapable of applying those in any practical way, it seems. Because the result of his “plan” was a massive fireball that came shooting out the door he was, of course, kneeling right in front of while trying to slam it shut. He said he was quite sure it shot well into the living room. Fortunately the only flammable thing in its path was him. (Excuse me for a moment while I pause to laugh again.)
Okay, I’m back. He was unharmed by this stunt. His hair, while singed, was not truly burned and returned to normal quite quickly. I did, however, have to get up and start the stove, since all his kerosene had burned off again and there was still no actual fire in the stove. This was the first moment I realized that fire and my genius husband did not mix. There have been other incidents through the years. The most serious being the “brush fire” he started on a windy day on the hillside down below our barn, in a place where our water hose would not reach. I wanted to call the fire department right off the bat but he insisted he had it under control. The milk jug he was running back and forth between the fire and the end of the water hose would work just fine. (Head shaking at the memory.) I watched him for a few minutes, then decided when the fire hit the first cedar tree and sent flames forty or so feet into the hair that it was time to dial 911. I was halfway to the house when I heard him yell for me to call the fire department. They came and put it out pretty quickly, before it could reach our house and just about the same time that it jumped the road below us and tried to spread into the valley. (Funny as this story is to look back on, it wasn’t at all funny at the time and would not have been even remotely amusing if it had indeed spread into the valley below our home. People live there. Lives could have been lost and property certainly would have been because there are no such things as fire hydrants out here. They had to use a tanker truck. They would have had nowhere near enough water to douse a fire that big. Thank You, Lord, for sparing us all that disaster!)
My beloved husband, whom I adore with all my heart, put the blame for that fire on me! He and his brother-in-law, who’d taken part in the starting of the blaze, stood there with the firemen after they’d put it out and explained how they’d told me and his sister that it was too windy to start a fire but that we’d insisted. He was being facetious, but my husband’s sarcasm is often difficult for others to grasp. I have always doubted that the firemen realized he was making a joke. Anyway, for a few years after that, we were recognized around town as “the people who’d had the fire on the ridge.” Literally, we would walk into the local grocery store and while checking out, the cashier would say, “Oh, you’re the people who had that fire out on the ridge.” Ah, life in a small town.
Suffice it to say, that was the day we instigated new rules in our family. Hubby is no longer allowed to start any fires unless he’s under my direct supervision. He has been flatly forbidden from ever, under any circumstances, using flammable liquids like gas, kerosene, or lighter fluid to start any fires. There have been a few instances, however, when he has ignored these rules. Or at the very least, skirted them. This series of shots was taken last year on an outing to a state park.
We had the dogs with us, so I did not realize what he was doing because I was taking pictures of them. Then I turned around and the first image is what I saw. The charcoal had already been lit, but wasn’t going fast enough for him. Of course I felt I ought to snap a picture of it, seeing as it might be the last good shot I would get of my husband. I was yelling at him to put the lighter fluid down as I took the shot, though. You can see in the second shot that he wisely backed away from the conflagration, ever mindful of the singed facial hair of his past. And that look on his face in the last shot is his typical reaction to being caught doing something he knows very well that he should not be doing. Even as I was shooting the pictures, I was reminding him of his history with fire. God bless him, he just doesn’t ever learn.
So, maybe a good part of my sense of humor is a result of my husband’s sense of humor. We do laugh at and with each other quite a bit. I mean, it is a common occurrence for us to laugh so hard we get tears in our eyes. Often those laughs are due to something absurd one of us has done or said. Long story short: God blessed us by giving us both senses of humor that the other appreciates for the most part. I do so wish God would just see fit to gift my husband with a bit of wisdom when it comes to fire, though. Barring that, I simply pray that God will continue to protect him from his own idiocy. Lord knows I love that man to death.
Sigh. (Now I’m feeling all sappy and love struck.) There’s a reason or the wild swings in emotion, though.
Getting chemotherapy has a lot of effects on the body. One of the major ones for a woman is that it sends us into medically induced menopause. That means we get all the joys of hot flashes and such for the duration of treatment. Those hot flashes were brutal. I lost track of how many times I literally thought I was going to up and melt. But, hey, it came with some up sides, too. Primarily, no menstrual cycles.
Not to get too graphic, but my menstrual cycles have never been what I’d call normal. They started kinda late and hit with a vengeance that literally had me wishing I would just die. I can remember being in what I can only describe as agony. Laying in the middle of my bed in a fetal position, praying it would just stop. I remember being at school once when I was in so much pain that any touch on my body, even on my arm, hurt. My mother, whom I flat out adored and respected, did not grasp just how bad it was. She was of the “if you aren’t running a fever and/or throwing up, you aren’t sick” mindset and so I went to school in spite of the pain. You’ve got to understand that this was before the days of the internet where we could research something on a whim. And frankly, she was from the country and the notion was that women have been having menstrual cycles since the dawn of time and they got through it just fine. I do remember more than one person making the joke that if I thought menstrual cramps were bad, then I’d never make it through child birth.
All joking aside, I quite literally cannot imagine labor pains being much worse. I don’t blame my mother for not taking it seriously. I don’t remember how seriously I complained about it. I know for a fact that it wasn’t something I’d ever mentioned to a doctor. I just remember that it was a nightmare. An unpredictable nightmare, since it didn’t come on any sort of schedule or remotely reliable cycle. Anyway, I was 18 when I started taking birth control pills. I had no idea at that time that the pills could and would impact my periods. I was beyond pleasantly surprised when I found that they not only became regular, but that the pain not only became easily manageable, but often didn’t manifest at all. It was years later that I learned, either from a doctor or from my own research on the internet that the hormones in birth control pills were designed to regulate the hormones within our bodies that trigger menstrual cycles. Not only that, but the pills were often prescribed specifically to help women with cycles like mine. Who knew?
So I stayed on the pill continuously from the time I was 18 until last year when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 39. It was last fall when my oncologist told me I had to not only stop taking the pill but that I would never be able to take it again. I don’t mind telling you that I hated hearing that. But, the consequences of that fact weren’t of immediate concern. The chemo brought on temporary menopause, which in turn meant no periods. For months now, when doctors asked me when I had my last period, I’ve been telling them October of 2010.
I saw my OB/GYN in June and we talked about when and if my periods would come back. I was very encouraged when she told me that it could easily be months or even years. Possibly maybe never. I was desperately hoping it would be never. Because without the pill, I feared I would be facing the agony I remembered from my teen years. She said that it wouldn’t necessarily be so. But even if it was, there were things besides hormones like the pill that we could do. Still, I really hoped it wouldn’t be an issue.
Then, day before yesterday, I got the gift of my period for the first time in 9 months. In all seriousness, it scares me more than the cancer did. I know that sounds insane, but it’s the truth. I just cannot stress how horrible my periods were before I started taking the pill. And it’s not like I feel comfortable telling everyone who asks how I’m doing that I’m fine, except for the cramps. LOL
I got up and went to church yesterday morning, but then came home after Sunday school because I could feel the pain getting worse in spite of the ibuprofen I’d started taking the day before. It didn’t get too bad. As I told my hubby when he asked me how I was feeling that evening, “I’m not wishing I was dead, yet.” So that’s something to be grateful for. They’re worse, today, though. Still nothing like what I remember, but I can’t help worrying that they’ll get there eventually. If not this month, then the next time, or the time after that. I did research about it yesterday when I got home from church and learned that doctors recommend taking ibuprofen or Aleve or the like before the pain starts and on a regular schedule for a few days whether there’s real pain or not. I’ve been doing that since Saturday afternoon.
It’s crazy to be more afraid of menstrual cramps than cancer. It’s crazy for any child of God to be afraid of anything. But somewhere deep inside me there is a teenage girl who remembers being curled up on her bed, crying and praying for the pain to stop. Lord, help me, I don’t know if I can take it again. So, while I would never realistically wish to go through chemo again, I do miss the benefit I got of not having to worry about a monthly agony.
In the long run, my menstrual cycle is no different than the cancer. It’s beyond my control. I can’t stop it or fix it or wish it away. If the pain gets just as bad or even worse than what I remember, there’s not one thing I can do to change it. I’ll seek a doctor’s help if that turns out to be the case, but it will be up to God alone whether that doctor’s suggestions have any impact. The thing about the cancer is, it didn’t really hurt. Oh, there was pain here and there, days of discomfort, difficulties like hair loss and nausea and that nasty taste in my mouth. There was the exhaustion and the hot flashes, the difficulty concentrating. But somehow, it never truly scared me. Maybe because I saw it all as temporary. It would come and it would go. The treatment would work or it wouldn’t. Either way, I wasn’t in true pain. This, however, is different. I not only hurt, I potentially might hurt A LOT. And I could very well be facing years of hurting badly on a monthly basis.
Funny how some things scare us more than others. (There’s my utterly irrational fear of spiders as a prime example, but we’ll just leave that for another day.) While I am a bit of whiner, and I certainly do not enjoy pain, I do in reality have a fairly high tolerance for it. Or perhaps it’s better described as a resignation to enduring it when there’s simply no other choice. Still, I am praying for God’s mercy and intervention in this situation. If I’m on the cusp or revisiting the terrible pain of my adolescence, then I pray God will help me endure it with grace. Lord knows I’ll need Him. I need Him every moment of every day.
And now, I’m going to go lay down for a little while. Maybe I’ll drag out the heating pad, since the stuff I read yesterday said it can help. The ibuprofen isn’t working as well today. But laying down will give me a chance to get ahead on my bible reading. (I’m still doing the 90 days through the bible thing.) I have been not only staying caught up on my reading, but I frequently read ahead, sometimes even a full day ahead. It just gets kind of hard to stop right in the middle of the story, even when I know how the story’s going to end. 🙂
See, there’s always an upside. Always something positive to be found if we will just look hard enough!