Warrior Princess

February 27, 2007

It’s Expensive Being Me

Filed under: Breast Cancer, Things Can Always Get Worse — ggirl @ 4:55 pm

“Grief is depression in proportion to circumstance; depression is grief out of proportion to circumstance.  It is tumbleweed distress that thrives on thin air, growing despite its detachment from the nourishing earth.  It can be described only in metaphor and allegory…Grief is a humble angel who leaves you with strong, clear thoughts and a sense of your own depth.  Depression is a demon who leaves you appalled.” ~ Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon:  An Atlas of Depression
I saw my psychiatrist yesterday, just to check in with how I’m doing. I came away with a new antidepressant. Good news, bad news. I knew that something had to be done. I’ve been having significant symptoms of depression since my surgery, though I don’t cry as much as I did the first five weeks. I’ve been unable to concentrate, not interested in food, sad, tired. I’ve lost about ten pounds since before the surgery. I’m still in some pain and I think that I tend to cry when I’m in that part of the day (after 11:00 a.m.).

On the other hand, my goal is to decrease the amount of medication that I’m on. I will probably never be able to completely stop taking antidepressants. The years and years of repeated, intense trauma have left an indelible mark. There’s a genetic tendency for depression in my dad’s family. Well, there’s a genetic predisposition for just plain crazy in my dad’s family.

I’m okay with that. I’d just like to not have a handful of pills to take every day. That won’t be happening for a while yet. I just have to work on taking care of myself, physically and emotionally. I have to continue to eat, whether or not I feel like it.

I haven’t felt like eating in a very long time. My doctor asked me if there was some way to make food more palatable. The answer is no. I may be hungry and I may be having something I generally like, but once it’s in front of me, I completely lose interest. I can’t continue to lose weight.

All of these drugs take a toll on my budget, too. To quote another Texas girl, “It’s expensive being me.” In so many ways.

February 26, 2007

The Path of Wildness

“What would the world be, once bereft of wet and wildness?  Let them be left.  O let them be left, wildness and wet; Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.” ~ Gerard Manley Hopkins

The Good Boy is gone. I came by yesterday a couple of times and he was shockingly thin and lethargic. I petted him for a while and was grateful for the purrs. I had an appointment with my psychiatrist today, so I got up extra early so I could come check on him. I couldn’t stand the thought that he might have needed food and wondered where I was. I checked again when I got back from my appointment.

He was strong and gentle. He was courageous and intelligent. His chose the path of wildness and he chose to allow me to help him. I was honored. He would disappear for a few months, a few days or even for a year and then turn up, hungry and vocal. He could have chosen to hang around and be fed. No need to hunt for his own food. He chose the path of wildness.

Since the time he was just a kitten, he would cross the busy street outside my office and head off into a field that surrounded the old airport. He could be a real cat there–hunting prey, beholden to no one. He must have had many adventures, but I know nothing about them. He chose the path of wildness.

After many years, he allowed me to pet him. His demonstration of trust and affection kept me going through some very tough chemo times. He was there for me and I tried to make sure he could always rely on me. We understood each other.

When he started looking really sick, I wished so much to do something for him. But he chose the path of wildness and that path can be hard and lonely. When death came, I’m sure he met it with dignity and courage.

He knew I loved him. I think he loved me. I’m deeply honored that he allowed me to be his friend.

February 23, 2007

Walking Shoes

Filed under: Breast Cancer — ggirl @ 3:55 pm

“All God’s children need traveling shoes.” ~ Maya Angelou


I woke up this morning thinking of my grandmother. One story in particular. My mom said that my grandfather would never allow my grandmother to have shoes. And that when one of my aunts, when she was a teenager, gave her mom some of her own shoes, my grandfather was enraged. The story makes me so sad. My grandfather was never around and so my grandmother had no one to rely upon to feed her enormous brood of kids. They all sharecropped; it’s all a woman and kids could do in the 1930’s. I can’t imagine what picking cotton would be like without shoes. I don’t know why I woke up thinking about that. It could be I was dreaming about her, I suppose.

Last night, I had decided to talk about my experience with morphine in the hospital. I was watching a television program about methamphetamine addiction and it reminded me that I thought a lot about addiction during the first couple of days after surgery.

I was a teenager in the 1970’s, a time when all kinds of drugs were around in college and when lots of kids used them for a variety of reasons. I don’t think I ever knew anyone who had heroin or used heroin, though I can’t be sure about people using. I always knew that heroin would be the death of me. I was always hyper vigilant and revved up. The possibility of letting go and relaxing was very inviting. Too inviting.

I never used heroin. After my surgery, though, I had morphine to control the pain. It never controlled the pain, though. I remember thinking, “Why do people like this stuff?” It just made me feel mentally sluggish. I phased in and out of consciousness, making it difficult to carry on a conversation or focus on any activity, including eating. Of course, I’m sure I wasn’t using as much morphine as recreational users.

When they made me get up and walk around the nurse’s station, I was on a combination of morphine and dilaudid. I kept passing people who commented on how I looked like I was feeling no pain. It really made me angry because I was in excruciating pain. It just wasn’t reflected on my face.

I’d get about three-quarters of the way around the circular open hallway, thinking that I was straight in front of my room. It never failed. Then I’d look at the room number and realize I was still a long way from my room. I only made the trip a couple of times before they discharged me.

When the nurses told me I was going to have to get up and walk the third day after surgery, I shook my head at them. I just didn’t think that was going to be possible. As nurse after nurse kept insisting I was going to have to do it, I gradually managed to wrap my mind around the reality of the situation. “It’ll be okay,” I said, “I have a high threshold for pain.”

The first day I walked around the nurses station, I encountered the nurse to whom I had made that comment. She looked at me with a lot of compassion in her face, smiled and said, “You’re doing good. High threshold of pain.” For some reason, that felt very comforting. Far more comforting than the morphine ever was.

February 22, 2007

I’m Just Not That Nice Anymore

I had a dentist appointment yesterday afternoon and I have an appointment scheduled with my psychiatrist for Monday morning.  I’m so tired of seeing doctors.  After these appointments, I won’t have another until April 17, when I’ll go back to see my plastic surgeon.  My oncologist is in May and my oncology surgeon is in June.  It would be great if I could get all of these appointments jammed in together in one week just to reduce the travel time, but that doesn’t seem to be possible.

Recovery is going well.  I’m almost all healed in both areas.  The tummy incision is still healing on the inside, so I still have to be cautious about what I do.  I’m still having some pain, but it’s very bearable. My depression seems to be lifting. I’ve managed to crawl out of the deep, dark hole into a slightly sunnier hole.

I had a conversation this morning with a co-worker who’s having some pain issues about how I’ve dealt with all of this, physically and emotionally. Without using the name, I told him that I practiced mindfulness meditation and that helped me get through most of the past year and a half.

Paying close attention to physical and emotional states definitely helped me get through the frequent anxiety attacks after diagnosis.  It was also useful during chemo and radiation therapy.  “This is what it feels like…”  experience skin, muscles and bones one tiny bit at a time.

“I don’t see how that helps,” he said.

I told him I don’t know how it helps, either.  It’s a paradox.  We all have to find our own way of dealing with intense, ongoing physical and/or psychological pain.  It’s not magic, unfortunately. I try to stay focused on the moment at hand.  Even if it’s a really crappy moment.  I have to confess, though, that the week after my surgery was not spent in the moment.

A couple of years ago, I would have scurried off  to find on the web some techniques for coping with pain and send my co-worker the urls.  I’m just not that helpful anymore. This co-worker would like a panacea that requires no work on his part and I think that, if he can’t put some effort into it, neither can I.

I don’t think I’d offer help under any circumstances.  Sometimes you have to know when to take care of yourself.  Sometimes that takes all the physical and emotional energy you can muster.

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