Thursday, June 26, 2008

Circling the Wagons

I have a sneaking suspicion that people are being nice to me because they’re afraid I’m going to die soon.

People are cooking me meals, and sending me gifts, and offering to buy me plane tickets to fly all kinds of good places. My best friend from college, on her way to a family reunion last weekend, made a brief overnight stop in Philly, her three year old and all their gear in tow, allegedly to visit, but I’m convinced she just wanted to make sure I’m still breathing. She is suspicious of this whole Internet thing and probably thinks some poser is ghost writing my blog.

If only. Writing—or ranting, rambling, call it what you want—feels like way too much effort, much like everything else lately. I don’t return phone calls or e-mails or read the books people are sending. I skipped a summer solstice party last Saturday night that I had been looking forward to for a month. The thought of getting showered and dressed was exhausting, never mind the drive, or the small talk. Better to stay prone with back-to-back episodes of The Wire, my latest addiction. I’m like one of the junkies on the show, shutting out the daylight, the rest of the world, except for my TV and my couch, my latest drugs of choice. Benign compared to what they’re pumping through my body.

Here are some other things I don’t do: Pay my bills on time. Look for work. Write thank you notes. (Who knew cancer was such a gift-receiving opportunity?) Buy gifts or cards for other people, even people who do it for me, even people who are having birthdays. Work on my book. Deal with my insurance paperwork.

There was no rebound after the last round of chemo. It made me sick. It made me tired. Really tired. Dr. R says that’s normal. There’s a cumulative effect. Some people say it takes a year to feel normal again, he told me. I had resigned myself to the fact that my summer is toast. Now it’s my entire year?

My friends who are sailing the Pacific just sent an e-mail saying they had reached the Marquesas. “You’ll be back out there soon,” said another sailor when I told him the news. Back? Feels like I was never out there. That was some other woman, some other lifetime.

2008 is a bust.

All I want to do is be around the people who know me best, who let me be cranky and don’t care what my hair looks like.

I couldn’t even get to chemo on schedule this week. Being sick after the last treatment prevented my getting the immune-boosting $3500 Super Shot on time so everything got pushed back. No big deal, said Dr. R, probably just as well to have a few extra days to recuperate. I took recuperation seriously and did next to nothing for two weeks and two days.

So now I go for my last treatment Friday. That’s right: My last round of chemo is tomorrow. Please don’t cheer, it will make me bristle. I’ve got my split of Veuve, a gift from the well-intentioned girls during the Sex and the City weekend (it comes in its own pink purse, the Clicquot City Traveler. Again, who knew?) for this exact occasion, but I’m not ready to break out the champagne (not for this, anyway) and celebrate anymore than I wanted to freak out when they first told me I had cancer. It’s too long of a road and right now it’s still uphill.

Here’s the thing: People say it’s okay to break down, and have weak moments, and cry, and complain and be angry, but see, I’m on to their tricks. Because you know what happens when I do? They try to cheer me up! They remind me that treatment is curing me, tell me that it’s almost over, insist that radiation won’t be so bad, no matter how anxious I am about it now. When did everybody become such an expert in radiation? Cheerleading is very annoying when you’re trying to unload, especially when you’ve been lulled into letting down your defenses.

It’s nobody’s fault. Most people mean well and want to be supportive. It’s only natural to want to help, look on the bright side, try to make your friend feel better. I’d probably do the same thing, even as I’m trying valiantly to honor my own pace. It’s a catch-22.



Anonymous said...

first of all, u never sent cards on time. second, i did need to see you(thanks for the honorable mention). and what is so bad @ watching tv and chilling? i did that for years for absolutely no reason- allow yourself to just be, heal, mourn, whatever? cancer is tough, to say and deal with, so just be. we all love u

Anonymous said...

Nope, I'm being nice because if you don't die I want to publish more of Margie Smith [Ed.]

Anonymous said...

Hey Sweetie! I woke from a dream about you at 1 this morning. You were smiling and looked so pretty. Remember, I'm not scared for you, just angry for you.

It'll be okay.

Love you lots.


Katie said...

Not so long ago, I was in the same dark place that you are in now. The thing that used to scare me the most wasn't dying, it was the possibility of living and never being my normal self again. I felt like a dead person breathing-no feeling, desire, care, anger or happiness, just nothing. A shell of a human. My 8 yr old summed it up best, he said, "Mom, it was like you just didn't care". So happy to tell you, somehow, the real you comes back to life again even stronger than before. I also can relate to the terribly annoying "cheerleading". My big sis Jennifer used to always tell me that by Thanksgiving, this would all be over-which used to piss me off to no end! A hell of a lot of good Thanksgiving (months away) did me now! So, from one Hodgkin's patient to another, I am NOT going to remind you that the chemo drugs are really helping you, and you are one more treatment closer to being done, and your hair will grow back, and you can get through this just hang in there, instead I will tell you that you are right-it royally sucks to be you right now. On that note, radiation really is a breeze compared to the chemo. THAT is hilarious! Being roasted and toasted gives you a whole new respect for that meal you pop in the microwave.

Anonymous said...

god bless the mom w/the 8 year old

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's tragic, you've got a disease that has an effective treatment, and a high probability that it will never come back. Not only that, it was found in time to have such good odds, and you even have a way to pay for the medical attention you are getting.

So you are sick and tired and miserable, just like the masses of people who get cancer treatments every year. And?

It must be tough, too, having all those people who care about you enough to try to cheer you up and send gifts.

A lot of people get a cancer diagnosis and it doesn't involve a few months and then a permamant remission of the disease. It can go a lot worse that what you've got, and you haven't even scratched the surface of what "worse" is like. Temporary hair loss and vomiting?

I am sorry it's unpleasant, and sorry it's interrupting your drinking schedule.

I want to see you do well, but please give some frigging thanks for once and get on with your life.

Anonymous said...

I don't know who you think you are giving out such unwanted and incompassionate advice. I will have you know your comments are unacceptable on this blog.

"Get on with your life" is what you say??? Who are you, and why are you taking your anger out on my friend? Do you even know her? How dare you judge her! She is well aware of her many fortunes in life and gives thanks often. You owe her an apology!

Since you feel advice can just be given to strangers here is some from me. THINK about the impact your actions have! Be nice to my friend!

Kim McCoy

Anonymous said...

I am thinking about the impact my actions can have, if only you were thinking too. She's a nice smart attractive woman with a great support system and a very bright future despite an inconvenient disease.

And the more everyone tries to offer encouragement and support, the more she dismissive she writes on this blog of the support and the more dismissive of what is actually a very fortunate situation despite the fact that the word cancer is involved.

People die from lymphoma and other cancers. She very likely will not. And they sometimes live horribly on the way to those deaths, too. And if you've ever been a part of that, well, then, hair loss and a delay in aspirational drinking really aren't quite the same.

Somehow the blog went from Cancer is Hilarious to something much different.

I have been through this sort of disease with friends, family, and myself, and I think you are just enabling the least healthy mental attitudes possible for a cancer patient.

So I don't know who you think you are to start limiting the kinds of advice people can offer. "Get on with your life" for somebody who is going to live and who is going to start feeling better in the very near future is actually good noncoddling and well meant advice.

Six months of "Oh poor baby" doesn't seem to be doing the trick any more, but you are welcome to keep it up. And for the record I am not angry with her, just overdrawn on your sort of sympathy that likes to regard a treatable disease and recovery from it as a tragedy.

Personally I want to see her get on with her life, which will happen, despite despair to the contrary. That's not an insult, it's actually much needed encouragement.

But then maybe that doesn't fit within your narrow guidelines of what the rest of us are "allowed" to say to cancer patients, or what sort of "anger" is permitted. You don't like it or don't agree, then don't like it or don't agree. You apparently have an inside track that lets you re-write the words on the blog and somehow trump the rest of us who can only read and respond to what is written. My response (to what is written on the blog, not your secret insight) is to say to Margie Smith "I look forward to seeing you getting back to your quite wonderful and fortunate life" not for the least because that's exactly what's going to happen and what is a much more productive focus than the intermittent and soon to recede misery of treatment. I hope that's what she focuses on, I hope that's what she thinks about, I hope that's what her friends think about, what else is one going through all of this for? She wants her life "back" and she'll get damn well get it, too. Good for her.

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous,

Please seek therapy.

You have not only hurt and been insensitive to my friend's situation, but now have attacked me as well.

You act as though vomiting and hair loss is a walk in the park. No one should have to experience that. Everyone of us deserves joy in our lives.

Please lighten up. Margie will be just fine. Give her a minute to finish up her treatments please.

Please end this now. Negative comments have too much strength.

I am sorry for your losses and experiences with cancer. Perhaps with the therapy you seek out you will be better able to cope.


Kim McCoy

Anonymous said...

Yo, self-righteous-one-who-is-emboldened-by-anonymous-posts-to-strangers'-blogs:

Thanks so much for setting us all straight on who is fortunate and who is not. Where would we be without folks like you to tell us hot to feel about personal experiences?

Now, bite me. Bite all of us.

Signed, a supportive, enabling friend who is unafraid to put my name to what I think:
Theresa Conroy

Anonymous said...

I can cope fine, although you might be a little more realistic about death, yours or a loved one's, and the painful path that sometimes leads there, being a bigger deal than temporary hair loss.

It doesn't bother me that you win the Closer Friends With Margie Prize for the day. I hadn't realized that it was a contest, but in all honesty it's nice that you've been there to try to be helpful for her.

I know a tough smart person like Margie will prevail. If that's not your approved message, it's certainly nobody else's cause to seek therapy either. And in fact, you might have a healthier outlook for everyone involved if you tried look at a bigger picture, or at least accept that many people might do that, rather than declaring people who disagree with your chosen message to be in need of psychiatic care.

On a blog that is an irreverent look at one person's cancer, it is a surprise that you take people to task for not speaking in the mandatory hushed tones and instead offering some unfortunately hard won and very realistic advice. I thought it was very important to offer a little of what little benefit of experience comes to somebody who has seen a lot of this. I took a lot of time out of a busy day to compose a message with good intentions. I am sorry you think I'm so wrong. I am displeased to see you assume bad intentions, but apparently we've had very different life experiences. That doesn't make either of us wrong, I don't think.

I am sorry if I caused anyone to be upset. That wasn't my purpose. Really, be thankful for what you have. Be very thankful, all of you. It's not just a feeble line that the medical people use to fool sick people into feeling better. They can't tell that to everyone.

I'll stop replying to you since I seem using the wrong words and causing problems. "Give Thanks" and "Move Forward" aren't normally taken as insults, but if that's the case here, then I leave you alone.

I don't see where I said anything to you that you didn't say to me, and not anything that you should be viewing as an attack either. You are obviously an extremely loyal friend, and naturally feel defensive if you think somebody in insulting your hurt loved one, whether that's the case or not, and I don't blame you for speaking up.

Also please recognize that from my perspective, it feels insulting having you ranking other people's advice as valid or invalid when you haven't been in their shoes.

Best wishes to Margie, and to you, Kim.

Good bye!

Anonymous said...

I think it's interesting that you already assume Margie is getting better. I may remind you that while her prognosis is good, she isn't cured. She hasn't even completed treatment. Save your comments for five years from now when Margie is declared cancer free and perhaps we can have all have a big fat cocktail laughing about how much she whined about missing her wine.

Anonymous said...

I doubled-back to this date to catch up on comments I hadn't read and, wow!, realized I had missed reading this volley of comments worthy of a Friday Night Smack-down.
For so many of life's occasions, we've been coached how to behave, but most lessons are only marginally useful: which fork to use for salad, how to write a proper thank you note, what to politely say when looking at somebody's not so pretty baby...
The really important stuff has no rule book. You kind of stumble around until you get it right - or not. I think one of the bravest things Margie has ever done is this blog. Whether she realizes it yet or not. I would think it's easier to write about the thrill of watching the bulls in Pamplona or hearing the reassuring snap of the sail as the boat catches a good breeze. This is much harder.
I applaud her for being willing to share all this and for letting us figure out how to be good friends- each of us in our own dumb way.
It also might help us have a better idea of how to deal with this, if it comes knocking on our door.
Thanks, Margie.