Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cancer: How Do I Hate You? Let Me Count the Ways



I woke up this morning with the entire right side of my head stopped up like someone had poured cement into my sinus cavity. I flipped uselessly to my other side, like you do when you're trying to clear the side of your head that feels like it is filled with lead, but no luck. So I got up to come down and make Joey's sandwich for his lunch and get his breakfast and then propped myself up on the couch so that my head was above shoulder level.

I don't feel sick yet. I have that heightened awareness sense you get the day before you know you have a cold and the fact that Justin has bronchitis and a sinus infection to lead me to believe a cold is coming. And the timing really, really sucks.

Today is my 3 month appointment with my primary care physician and it's a huge deal. I followed my doctor from Winchester when he moved all the way up to Maryland to open his own practice because I thought he really was worth the drive. If you have a chronic illness that is kind of unpredictable, you will know how difficult it is to make appointments nearby. Appointments an hour away sometimes require herculean efforts and weeks of planning to get yourself there. And you also know how difficult it is to find a decent doctor who will treat you, well, at all. Chronic pain patients hang onto good doctors like a good marriage - with everything they have.

But that's not exactly the problem. I am up and I will drag myself to the shower later to get ready, so I am already ahead of the game. Usually I would have to drag myself out of bed to drag myself to the shower.

Here's the problem.

My mother's house is directly on the way to and from my doctor, so every time I schedule an appointment, I try to arrange it for a time when my mom and dad will be home so I can visit. I don't get to see enough of my parents as it is and now, with my mom's cancer treatment, I am trying to make sure I see as much of her as possible. The problem is that she is undergoing chemotherapy, which makes her immune system not able to fight back against silly things like colds, so if I even think I might be getting sick, I don't want to take a chance that she might catch it.

The last time I went with a sore throat, I wore a mask and felt kind of silly, but happy that she didn't think I was too great a risk. I had a sore throat, which turned out to be allergies, but I was happy to take the mask to see my mom. This time, we know how sick Justin is right now, and I'm not sure any of us think it is worth the risk. Which means I will be driving that hour and ten minute trip both ways without a stop on the way. Unless I stop and drop the stuff that I have been slowly collecting for her over the last week or so. A book, a couple of People magazines, some homemade applesauce. I think she's going to be getting a special delivery later today. I won't be getting lunch at Mom's house.

So now I must drag my tired butt up to the shower and force myself to face this crappy task without the benefit of a visit with my parents and that just sucks. There are many ways that I hate cancer, but this might be one of the biggest. Because I am sick so much, it makes it hard to know when I am sick with something that is contagious and when I am just "normal" (for me) sick and it is putting a serious damper on my ability to see my mom at a time when I want to be spending more time with her; not less.

The good news is that her lung scan last month showed the chemo seems to be working, so I totally believe that once she gets through the six rounds of pouring poison into her body, that will be the end of it. It's hard to stay positive when you see someone you love suffering so much. The really crappy thing about cancer is that you don't even know you're sick until they diagnose it. With my mom, nothing hurts until she goes in and has the stupid chemo and then she gets sick for two weeks. And the hardest part of chemo is knowing that you don't just have to make yourself sick voluntarily once. You have to go back over and over and do it again to kill this unwelcome foreign invader that has been hanging out in your body without your even knowing it.

With all of this "cancer awareness" stuff and the number of walks, fundraisers, events, etc., I am just pissed that there aren't better and easier treatments that will eradicate this disease. I don't understand what the hold up is. I don't mean to bash the researchers, because I know what they are up against, but cure it already, wouldn't you? And in a way that won't almost kill the patient in the process.

We need a cancer vaccine. I am not exactly pro-vaccine, but this is one I would insist upon if it was available. For everybody in my family. Because nobody should have to go through what my mother is going through. Or my best friend. Or our friends' daughter.

There is a lot of breast cancer awareness going around this month. But I kind of feel like why not make it cancer awareness month? There are so many kinds of cancer and only one month that seems to be devoted to one type of the disease. I am not knocking breast cancer awareness, but where is the awareness of rare sarcoma or childhood leukemia or pancreatic cancer or skin cancer or any of the other kinds of cancer that are out to kill you? Where is the funding to find a cure? Why is it so hard, in this day and age of medical advancement, of GPS and tablet computers, does it take a celebrity like Steve Jobs dying to draw attention to the most deadly form of cancer - pancreatic - which kills 80% of people within a year of diagnosis?

But back to today. I am watching my sinuses like a hawk and thinking I'm going to beg a mask and use lots of anti-bacterial liquid and see if I can't have at least a short visit with my mom. I will stay across the room instead of hugging her and I will continue to hate this insipid, nasty illness that is keeping me from getting with ten feet of her.

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