Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Writing with Cancer

I know that many of my readers are aware that I have cancer. I have kept you updated and let you know delays caused by the disease and by fighting it. My recovery counselor said something yesterday that really impacted me. In the course of the conversation, I realized that I hide the true depth of the impact from everyone. I don't want to talk about it with even my family. I think to talk about it means that I would have to accept it as real and not part of some story. I realized that I am the story. So today, I am going to get personal and let everyone have a glimpse behind the mask as a professional, as a writer, and a mom.

I love this banner.  It is striking and shows me and my bearded dragon that I have had until recently. It is not a totally honest photo.  See this photo is pre-cancer.  It was before seven surgeries, chemotherapy and steroids.   The changes just physically caused by cancer have been hard to admit to.  My hair has thinned greatly.  My eyelashes are all but gone.  I can't walk far without full body neuropathy.   Here is me today with no make-up, alterations or fixes. These pictures are only about three years apart. 

I think the biggest change in my life that cancer has caused is more of a personality change.  I used to stress about little things.   I used to be a bit judgmental.   I was missing moments that were important in life trying to achieve just one more thing that would increase my standard of living or my financial well-being.

Today, I am grateful for each day.  I am on the right side of the dirt and very aware of how close I came to being under it.  I realized that my opinion on things should only matter to me.  In the big picture, a lot of the things I would stress about, fret over, or reign judgement down upon just didn't matter.  The biggest change, I really don't care what other people think about me.  I know I am a good person.  I am fun, caring and worthwhile.  Another's opinion otherwise is their opinion and I do not have to allow it to impact me.  In this way, cancer has freed me from the oppression of opinion, should have's, and expectations placed upon me. 

On the downside, a mask went up almost immediately that has been somewhat of a survival response:  A big brave smile and an I got this attitude.  My children very much have the opinion that: "It's mom, she will be okay."  I haven't discussed much about the fear of dying.  I don't fear death.  I have a strong spiritual belief.  I fear the process of a slow lingering death.  I fear the pain that limits me where I have not been limited before.  The biggest thing I fear, my children's well being when they finally realize that mom was not okay.  There are a couple people in my life that have had real access to what lies beneath that mischievous grin.  I lean on them more than is probably fair.  

The hardest thing has been my daughter.  There was damage done by a divorce in 2006.  I have been working so hard to mend this bridge.  She has the Mom will be okay point of view.  Getting past that to really know her and let her know me when we are so alike has been an uphill battle.  I don't think she realizes that with each surgery, the chance becomes greater and greater that I will not pull out.  

People who have not had cancer impact their lives do not realize how much it is a family disease.  It affects finances (I had to quit counseling work), relationships, living arrangements, how you eat, sleep and play.   It infects everything.  People don't know what to say to you.  So people with cancer will often answer how are you doing with.. just fine.  The truth is, we are often not just fine.  We are scared, hurting and fighting for our lives.  Especially those, like me, who have had the cancer metastasize.

Another thing that many cancer patients live with is a sense of personal failure and guilt.  When you learn that your particular type of cancer is do to your lifestyle, it puts a whole different spin on things. Yes, we all know that smoking, alcohol, lack of exercise and what we eat can protect or injure us. You live with a... it won't happen to me kind of faith.  When it does happen to you, you are smacked in the face with the fact that you could have prevented the pain, the fear, and the uncertainty of your future. This is not true of all cancers, but mine is the type that is impacted by environment, exercise, water intake and my diet.  Even having cancer, changing this is hard.  One can get caught up in a thought process of .. oh well, its too late so might as well enjoy, but to attain remission and hold it, that is not true. 

Writing has become harder.  When I have to take pain meds or the whole body neuropathy is particularly bad, I can't be creative. The writing is forced if I write at all.   It has also become therapeutic as I can put my anger at cancer into the hero or my perceptions of the evil of cancer into the villain.   It was hard to read that I am putting out the books to slowly.  Writing over 120k words takes a great deal of work.  But more so, rereading and editing over and over for hours and still missing some things is exhaustive.  Independent authors do not have the money for the level of proofreader that traditional publishing provides.  

Despite having shared all of this with you, I wouldn't change the past.  I am a better person today.  If you have read Outcast and then Pseudo-Dragon, you know that I am a better writer.   I have downsized my life and am actually much happier with the changes to where and how I live.  The one thing that I would change if I could, when I have surgery on August 4th to remove the last tumor, I would make it truly the LAST tumor!