I have been very disturbed since the last CT-Scan results. We were progressing in such amazing ways that the sudden stop has been very unsettling. We knew it was coming. Everybody stop reacting to their Chemo cocktail at some point. 17 Chemo sessions is a lot to put the body through and expect stellar results. At some point the body just gives up and stops reacting. I am there.

The repercussions of this are not known. We live day by day not expecting much. This is not a negative feeling. You just have to learn to appreciate all things at all times.

I was lying in bed last night when the visual of walking along a precipice presented itself. I imagine a whole bunch of us walking along this precipice not daring to look down. Some stones crumble off the edge as we take our walks and fall silently into the unseen depths below us. A bit of our life chipping away? Fewer days ahead?

The edge of the precipice is crowded. Some are closer to the edge, others further up the small hill that abuts the precipice. We are all milling about, recognising some faces, talking, making new friends, contemplating, sitting in silence. We lose someone occasionally as the ground beneath them crumbles taking them in the void below. Some people congregate taking solace in the crowd, others stray farther afield treasuring their solitude. Yet others remain close to the entrance hoping against hope for a way out. The nature of the crowd changes continuously.

People move towards the precipice, as life is coming to a close, then back off as they are given a reprieve of sorts, more time. Time for whatever you think deserves it.

In the distance you see a wall behind which there are suitcases and backpacks and purses and containers. Everyone comes here with their baggage, real or imagined. They topple to their fate leaving it all behind. It accumulates gathering dust, rotting into the ether, a reminder of sorts. I will let your imagination sort that one out. There are tags on everything identifying the owner, some still with us, others long gone. The dust of time hangs heavy in the air. No one ventures further in.

Should you dare look down into the precipice, you will see nothing. Deep, cavernous, never ending, the sides shrouded in mist. People toppling over in silence. No screams or shouts of surprise at the fall. If you listen carefully, you might hear a heavy grateful sigh. A soul leaving the body perhaps, a sigh of gratification maybe.

There is a sense if resignation amongst the crowd. No one has given up. There is no sadness. The inevitable fall is staring us in the face. Yet, we mingle, compare notes, talk, laugh and make the best of it. No longer a question of why but rather one of when?

The first did not have an answer, and the second is no better.

Cancer is a strange condition to find yourself in. I have written about this before.  People react as if you are dead already. They are then quick to tell you about their aunt’s best friend from high school who was given two months and lived for twenty years.

11.5 million people died from cancer worldwide in 2009. The aunt’s best friend is an anomaly. Doctors are generally accurate with their numbers. Some jump the gun and give you numbers that they should have held off giving. Overall, though, most seem reticent to give out definite number.

New drugs, a new understanding of how people react to drugs, the relationship between mind and body, has made giving numbers a dangerous affair. My oncologist does not like giving out any definite numbers. It sets false expectations. Telling someone that they have ten years to live is just as bad as telling us that we ave three months. Both set expectation that may not be met.

The major question of this post, is why do some people abandon you so totally. This is not a judgment against anybody. Life goes on and we seem to run out of time for everything, sometimes including sleep.

Some people come through in unexpected ways. Others stop communicating with you entirely. Some say that they do not know how to react. They better figure it out quickly. The projections for the number of people who are going to get cancer in the next few years are staggering. Anywhere from 25% to 50% of the population, the numbers say. Whichever number is real, the numbers are still a bit shocking. People better figure out how to deal with cancer patients.

Cancer patients also better figure things out for themselves. How do we deal with others? What expectations do we have? Are we going to be open about our condition? Or hide behind a curtain somewhere? The more open we are, the more likely people are to react in a positive manner.

I heard from one person who said she got me a card when I was in hospital, but never sent it. That is fine. That was seven months ago. What about the time in between? No communication of any kind is hard to fathom.

Others are carried away with their own life and issues. That is certainly valid. But surely a phone call or eMail once a month is not out of the realm of possibility. The longer we fail to communicate the harder it gets. We start feeling utility about not being in touch. That is a vicious wheel to start and very hard to get out of.

Anyone with a chronic condition needs the support and assistance of their friends. People respond to needs according to their own capabilities. Some cook, some phone, eMail, comment on the blog, come over for a cuppa at their discretion for a chat. All are valuable and have merit. All are appreciated, not just by me, but all chronic patients. Even those who withdraw from society.

In some ways, I wonder if those who withdraw need even more attention from the rest of us. People sometimes feel intense guilt and shame at their condition. The eternal questions, why? What did I do to get cancer? How could I have avoided it? Questions without answers. We ask them and feel powerless at not having an answer. The guilt sets in and expands. We go bald. My mother bought a wig as so many do.

We have to dispel the guilt. We have to spend time with chronic patients and make them feel that there is nothing wrong with them. At some point, the chronic patient will have to return to their lives. How much easier that would be if people had stayed in touch with them through their journey.

We do not know enough about cancer to know where it comes from or what triggers the cells. Some are preventable through early diagnosis, others not. Some appear to be caused by viruses, others not. There are so many strains and varieties, that there is no single solution for all. Even chemo is a crap-shoot at the best of times. We will try this combination and monitor what happens. We will try different combination’s until one of them works. This is not a diss against doctors. We are discovering that people react differently to the same set of drugs. And so we monitor.

There should be no guilt in getting cancer, or any other chronic condition. It is not a punishment. It does create a journey through which we travel.

Keep in touch.

I am sorry to report right from the start, that I did not take pictures. I am disappointed. The opportunity almost presented itself, but I was not able to explain why I wanted to take them. More on that further down.

The mood in the room was light and very positive. Only three others showed up, which was a bit disappointing. As you may recall, the topic of the day was anger. More specifically, which I did not hear, the animal that best represents our anger. I love animals, and do not have one that I can single out for this privilege. That particular part of the instructions had not registered. My painting does not have an animal in it, unless you consider the face that of an animal.

We started with the usual round the table is everything OK discussion. I decided to speak first. Big step for me. Surprisingly easy to do. There was more discussion this time about the types of cancer that we have. Or had. Or are dancing with. Or living with.  I mentioned that I had colon cancer. One of the participants urged me to use a different set of words to describe what I have,m since language has a huge impact on how we feel. Saying that I “have” cancer, has a negative impact on me. I do not recall what language she suggested. It sounded far more passive. It makes sense on some level. But I do have colon cancer, as the oncologist appointment confirmed. I felt that I am saying I have cancer until the doctors tel me I do not. It does not depress me, or change my mood. It is a fact. I pointed out that when the cancer has spread as far as this one has, you have cancer. That is all there is to it.

The moderator had to reign in the discussion several times. We were almost out of control. We had to get to the subject matter and start our art and stop talking, even though it was interesting and helpful. One participant talked about an issue she is having with a friend (relative?), the mention of whose name upsets her. How do you handle these situations? Not enough time for a full discussion, though the topic did return under a different guise. I will keep you in suspense for a while.

One person went to the gym for the first time in a year. Muscles ached that should not be aching. Happy aches. She has started to put on weight and felt strong enough to face the gym. She was athletic before and the return is a huge step forward. Someone else talked about putting on weight. We are all putting on weight which is a good thing, to a point. I wonder if we are eating our way out of this?

A very brief discussion took place over the tole of friends and relatives. This is a recurring theme. I find it interesting. On one hand no pressure should be put on others. They don’t understand, do they. On the other, how dare they abandon us? Takes too much energy to deal with the externals. Why have they stopped calling? Someone said it is almost as if they are doing crisis management for the first couple of weeks, then return to their lives. Surely that is normal and to be expected. I did not say much. I have the great bounty of a huge number of friends and relative who keep pestering me. Bring it on.

No one seemed to anxious to start painting. Everyone said they have no anger. Either dealt with it. Never had it. Gone. In the past. Move on. One person had spoken me about her issues before the session started. She suffers from an anxiety disorder. She described the symptoms to me. I have a good friend who has the same issue/condition. I am well versed in it. The participant mentioned that cancer is a walk in the park compared to the the anxiety thing.

I will start with her painting. It is funny how we paint things, the interpretation of which takes us by surprise. She painted a stick figure of herself. Eyes, top of head, arms and legs. Just enough to give it shape and proportions. Around it were red strokes, akin to flames in orange and red. To one side was a series of blue strokes, and to the other green. Almost symmetrical. The red flames encroached severely on the person in the middle. The blue and gree were a bit farther out.  This is an anxiety attack, where the heart palpitations start, and the person feels engulfed by flames. The blue is a coll breeze that should help calm the person down, and the green represents more calmness.  The attacks occur most often in enclosed spaces, elevators, the subway, specially if it stops in a tunnel and the doors remain closed. No air, no breathing, flames run rampant.

Someone asked why there was no mouth. I asked why the question? What is the significance to the mouth not being there? The painter did not have an answer. The person posing the question suggested that the lack of a mouth would suggest that she cannot talk to express herself. By which token, the lack of ears means she cannot hear, and nose she cannot breathe.  Much to my surprise, the painter agreed that during the attacks, she cannot breathe, or talk, or hear anything. Her heart starts palpitating, she gets very hot, heart races, then everything stops. The moderator asked her how her painting made her feel. She responded that her anxiety levels were increasing the more she looked at it. Would she feel better if she covered the red with blue paint. Yes she would.

I so wanted to take a picture of the before and after. This was so powerful and evoked such emotions. The moderator stopped me, quite brusquely. He was right of course. What a missed opportunity. I did not have time to explain why I wanted to take the picture. It represented such a momentous occasion for the participant. I really did not care if it did appeared in the blog. That was secondary. It was capturing the moment. The release in her as she covered the red with blue was palpable. We suggested to her that maybe visualising painting a situation blue would help ease the attacks. Amateur psychiatrists, one and all.

I was very upset at the missed opportunity. Janet pointed out the irony of the situation. Getting upset at a situation in an session dealing with anger.

Another participant painted the logo from the Florida Panthers. A brown panther (I have to talk to her about the colours) surrounded by yellow, black and red, nails in red and yellow, mouth in red, teeth exposed, claws raised. As angry a beast as one could ever wish for. She maintained that her anger is behind her. She is reconciled, content and moving on. She drew the panther because that was the assignment. What gets her really angry is the lack of civility in the world. No thank-you’s, and pleases. People butting in front of you without so much as a if-you-please. Aggressive drivers, people cutting people off, rude, inconsiderate, lowering our standards to the lowest common denominator. That is what really makes her angry. She got quite animated during this description. In all fairness, she is quite animated to begin with, but there was a glimmer of more. The panther was described as a protector, a beast that would defend her against the butting-inners, the callous nature of beings. She liked that image. Grrrr.

It occurred to me later as I mulled this conversation over and over in my head, that the anger is misplaced. That may be the wrong term. We don’t get angry at people butting in, or not saying thank-you, or sorry. We get upset. We are disappointed. We shake our heads. Angry? Doubt it. Is it possible that she is still angry but is repressing it? She reads this blog. I am not saying anything to offend her, but rather to further the discussion. As I have said many times, no judgments. Is the anger still inside somewhere, waiting to be acknowledged? An active sportsperson who is suddenly afflicted. Not sure how I would react in her shoes. I am not a terribly physically active person. Walking is the extent of my exercise. I would think anger would play a part. She says she is past it, and we have to take her at her word. Anger is showing up in her in places that, logically, should not be manifesting itself.

The third participant drew a dragon breathing fire. She exclaimed that her dragon does not look angry or fierce, since dragons always breathe fire. No idea why she drew this. She grew up in a house filled with anger which seemed to stop more positive elements from taking place. Makes sense. Nothing worse than rampant anger. The most curious statement she made that was not picked up on by anybody was that emotions do not have a place in an ordered society since they tend to derail things. Ordered society? This requires a definition, to say nothing of the premise itself. Maybe next week.

Her dragon was on the right side of the page facing left. It was suggested that this represents the past, and that indeed, she had put her anger behind her and was moving forward. A middle placed dragon would have represented the present, and a right looking one the future. The flying dragon may also represent the long journey home. The discussion around her painting came back to the one I mentioned at the very beginning of this post.

Letting go. It is so important to let go of things, be they negative emotions, anger toward people or events, or whatever. Peace and tranquility are a must for the cancer body. Is letting go an active or passive act? What are the steps required to get there? Acceptance and acknowledgment? Forgiveness? Forgetting? She can forgive, but not forget. I maintain that letting go is a passive act. It is accomplished after all the steps leading to it are complete. The steps are active, but the act of letting go is passive. I may have been in a minority. We talked about her capacity to let go, returning to her friend/family person whose mere mention upsets her so. Letting go of feelings of resentment toward those who she feels turned their back on her during this struggle.

Can you forgive and forget? Can you forgive without forgetting? Should you forget? Do you have to keep a vestige of the memory for future reference so the slight does not happen again. A bit like remembering history so it does not repeat itself. And we know how good we have been at that. Can you forget and still learn from past experiences? We tend to insist on remembering the bad as a point of reference, but often overlook the good. We learn from our past mistakes. Surely also from the non-mistakes.

We are constantly told to deal, forgive, forget and move on. Specially when the memory is a bad one. Seems like a natural. At the risk of offending a whole bunch of people, including some very dear relatives, we have remembered the events of the Holocaust for over 60 years. There is no denying the horrendous activities that took place, the numbers of people who have been affected, the incredible cruelty inflicted on so many people. The point of remembering the Holocaust is not the numbers of people who were killed, 6 million Jews. Over 25 million died in the war dwarfing that figure. It is surely the systemic attempt to annihilate a people, a culture.  We remember in spite of the deniers. We see pictures. Germany recently released the Holocaust files which are being or have been digitized allowing descendants to find out what happened to their ancestors. We remember.

To what end. Humanity has repeated similar actions again and again. Rwanda. Sudan. Serbia/Croatia. Congo. Uganda. Kenya. To name a few. The memory of the Holocaust has not stopped these ravages from taking place. I doubt  someone is sitting there saying, oh yeah, cannot annihilate those people, remember the Holocaust. And yet, we insist on remembering. The only country that has been truly affected by the memory are the Germans, who are still paying a price in spite of the reparations they have done. Should we not forget and let go the past? Let Germany and Germans off the hook?

My Painting:



The spoon is filled with anger being fed to the person. The cancer cells grow and multiply turning red as they grow larger. Not good. We had run out of time by the time the discussion turned to my painting.

We talked a bit about how we react to things. You always have a choice to not get angry. This does not mean you repress it. You just do not get angry. Anger escalates. My brother told me a story during his last visit. He was driving somewhere when he decided to take a break and exited at one of those roadside gas stations. He went to the washroom when this young man stormed in and started swearing at him. When asked what was wrong he exclaimed that my brother had cut him off on the highway a while back.  He threatened to beat up my brother.  Talk about road rage. My brother looked at him and said he sees one of two results from this. Either the young can go around bragging that he beat up a man over 60 years old, or he will have to explain to others how an over 60 year old man beat him up. The man calmed down somewhat and started talking to my brother about his problems. What often triggers an emotion is not the root cause of it.

I used to work with this wonderful lady who was in charge of customer service. I was amazed by her poise on the phone. Nothing rankled her. She was always calm. Until she put the customer on hold. She would bang the phone down, let go a litany of swear words. She would research the subject, and pick up the phone calm as ever to deal with the customer. She has not changed. She still deals with events in the same way. Mesmerizing.

Anger is a basic human emotions. Men and women handle it totally differently. We shy away from it. Frown on it. Write about it. What else can we do?

© 2010 I Have Cancer Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha