We become cancer patients and are told that it is now all about us. I suspect that all chronic disease patients are told the same thing. It is a way to make us feel less guilty about our condition. We are an instant burden to those around us. And Lord knows there is a lot of guilt.

Some of us go from being full fledged contributing members of society to depending on everyone else for our daily needs. Suddenly rendered useless by the sudden waves of exhaustion that overwhelms our minds and bodies. Spending too much time in bed, with way too much time to think of our plight, which is supposed to make things easier, and often times does. Until you hear the vacuum going, that was my job. The cleaning. The cooking. All the mundane activities that you used to rue, you now want to take part of, oh so desperately.

It is all about you. Take advantage. Lie around and get better. Let others pitch in and do the work. It is probably good for them to see how much work it takes to run a house. How much work you did. Janet and I have reversed positions. She was in the main role, and I in the supporting one, making sure the laundry was done, so we never run out of underwear, and so on.

It is all about me.

I was given a present recently by a friend. Janet was not sure how I would react to it. It was a graphic novel published in 1994 called Our Cancer Year. The authors, Harvey Pekar, and Joyce Brabner, are a husband and wife team. She wrote, he was the victim, the afflicted one. He comes across as a real jerk. Why anyone would want themselves portrayed that way is beyond me. It is a bit like those shows, you know the ones, Canada’s Worst Drivers. Why would anyone in their right mind want to be on those. Hey look everyone, I am a bad driver, cheer for me.

I almost did not finish the book. The guy delayed his visit to the doctor until the tumour was very large. And he works in a hospital in the U.S., and is covered by insurance. He delays until the operation becomes more major that it should have been. A bit like not going for a regular colonoscopy when you turn 50. Not that we know ANYONE who has done that, now do we? He is then subjected to chemo treatments and all the usual stuff. He is a real jerk. At one point in the book, his wife mentions that she became an expert at crying in bed without shaking so as to wake him up.

We are so self absorbed in our own plight that we forget that others are suffering too. I remember when my mother was going through her cancer. It took her life within a year. She was always smiling making slight of her issues. We were all crying, losing sleep, wondering what the future held for her, for us. She was the matriarch. Nothing happened in the house without her say-so. She was the ruler. What would we do without her. She spent her last three weeks in the hospital. My Dad, brother and I made funeral arrangements. No sense in leaving things to the last minute. It was a bizarre experience to say the least. Baha’i rules and regulations require that the body be washed and wrapped in a certain amount of silk material in preparation for burial. Prayers are read during the process. My sisters had to do the honours. It was quite a to-do making those arrangements with the funeral parlour. We are talking about 30 years ago.

Here I am, 30 years later, going through some very similar issues as she did. Operation, a major one, followed by recuperation, then chemo. Oh that chemo. I am having a better time of it than she did. Still self-absorbed, effectively ignoring the feelings of those around me, or at the very least, paying scant attention. Asking the same questions over and over again, never remembering the answer. It is all about me after all. I am entitled to be self absorbed and forgetful.

The conversations in the Art Therapy sessions have reinforced these notions. Why do people not understand what we are going through? Why do we keep having to explain ourselves? Defend our plight? You have read about this in previous postings. Yet here we are totally oblivious to others. This appears perfectly normal and consistent with many dealing with chronic conditions. Does not make it right, just the way it is. The incessant questions for which we do not have answers, the constant struggles with our own emotions, the ups and downs that plague us daily.

People around us are suffering as well. In some ways more than us. We have a bit more control over what we are going through, believe it or not. I think it is always easier for the person with the chronic condition that for those around you. Hence the constant looks and questions from Janet whenever I make a move. The concerned look in my sister’s eyes when she is here and I make a move. The constant monitoring of my barometer like voice fluctuations. The phone calls and emails that come before and after chemo days, or oncologist visits. All are part of the new normal, the equation that will eventually pay dividends.

I have caught myself bringing the conversation back to my cancer when people dare talk about anything else while I am in the room. How could they be so insensitive? I did this several times, before noticing the trend. It disturbed me. The graphic novel added one more element to consider.

I asked Janet one night at 11PM whether she had cried a lot. She smiled and said of course. I could not talk about it any more. Just had to know before falling asleep. We talked about it the next day. She was home without me for 10 days. Lots and lots of time for crying. She cried with me in bed. She cried. I know how much my condition has affected those around me. Devin is always hanging around the house. As it turns out careful to say things that would not offend me or result in a heavy discussion. This has to end.

Judy dropped by for a visit. We talked about me for a while. I asked her what she was up to. To my great relief, she talked about herself, and her plans for the next while. It was wonderful to listen to her, to contribute in some minor ways to the conversation. The Art Therapy sessions always start with a taking of the pulse. Asking each of us how our week was. We started our assignment. I realised that through all these sessions, none of us had ever asked the moderator how his week had been. I asked him. We found out a lot about him. It helped that there were fewer people in the session. But still. No one had asked him. It is an exercise I have promised to follow through with.

Turn the conversation to others. Ask questions. Talk less about myself. There is something to be said about It is All About Me. But surely there also has to be a limit to it. It might be an evolutionary thing. You are dealing with your own issues, and at some point are more prepared to let the outside world intrude. Expand your field of vision. Take the blinders off. Bring a bit more noise in your life.

Cannot be anything but good for the soul.

Not easy.

I have spent a lifetime helping others with no expectations. I have not been the centre of attention. In spite of how extroverted I appear to be, I am not comfortable being the centre of attention. I started doing the family laundry at the age of 15. I would help my mother vacuum. Wash the windows every spring. We had storm windows which meant you were washing two sets of windows. That was just the way it was.

My parents held firesides every Wednesday night. Firesides are events held in Baha’i houses where we tell non-Baha’is about the Faith. A lot of people would show up for these evenings. We would end up feeding a lot of the students, providing dinner for about 20 people. Fetneh and I had supporting roles. She would help with the cooking. We would set the table, clear the table, wash the dishes and help get things ready for the coffee/tea that would be served at the end. Mom would inevitably make her patented banana cake covered with fresh cream and more bananas. Yum.

At the end of the evening, I would end up driving a bunch of people home. Mom would insist. It was too cold. For those of you who have not experienced a Montreal winter, I suggest you go there for a vaction anytime n January or February. It will forever change your notions of what cold really is. In the days before Global Warming, we would regularly see winter temperatures of 30 below zero last through the whole winter (at those temperatures, it matters little if it is Farenheit or Celsius). And if it was not cold, it was warm enough to snow, which you had to shovel before it froze as temperatures dipped again. Montreal would average 150 inches of snow a year.

We went to Swaziland when my father died in 1999. We had to pack up his stuff. ShooShoo was there with me. We were going out to see some friends one night. I was dressed in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. The locals were horrified. You can’t go out like that, they said. I did not recall any African rites that stopped me from wearing either shorts or Hawaaian shirts. No, no, they said, too cold. It will be 10 Celsius tonight. Yeah, OK. Call me when it gets to minus 20. The guy looked at me. I thought maybe I spoke too fast, but no. He looked at me and said he cannot even imagine that sort of cold. True enough. Until you live through a Montreal winter, you have no idea what cold is. Though I am told that Winnipeg might beat Montreal.

My life has been nothing but not being the centre of attention and looking after others. I am no angel, mind. People have called me all sorts of things. I am painfully aware of my shortcomings.

Going from looking after people to being looked after is very hard. No, that’s not strong enough. Excrutiatingly hard. Having to ask Devin for a glass of water because I could not get up to get my own. To watch Leslie clean the house and not be able to help. To not be able to go shopping for food. To have to rely on someone, anyone for the least of things. Not good. And not easy to get accustomed to.I would often escape to the bedroom with the pretense of being tired.

Things have improved though. I am a lot stronger. Getting stronger on a daily basis. Vacuumed the house the other day. Went down to the basement and brought up the vacuum cleaner and did the whole house, returning the cleaner to the basement. I was tired, but it was a good tired, and I was fully prepared to pay the price. I am driving now, which means I can go shopping. I just have to be really careful to not buy too much because the bags become too heavy. Multiple trips are de rigueur. Things are improving.

The guilt that comes from not being able to do things is almost impossible to come to grips with.

The guilt that comes from receiving the love of friends and relatives is an interesting reality. There should be no guilt there. That is what friends are for. To love you in spite of your shortcomings, or maybe because of them. This journey has shown me an amazing amount of love and support form all sorts of friends and relatives, and some very unexpected sources. You cannot help that you are putting people out in some way. Yes, I know. People do not feel put out. They would not come and support me if they did not feel like it. There is little doubt that you feel the love, the unrestrained need to come and visit and talk, if no other reason than to make sure you are OK and not about to disappear down some abyss. I also realise that a lot of that support is directed at Janet and Devin.

The guilt is still there. I will deal with it. Come to terms with it. Acccept it. Dispel it.

It’s all about me now. Life has never been all about me. It has always been about others with me playing a supporting role. But it is all about me now. Not necessarily because people love me all the more, but because they have little choice in the matter. And I feel guilty about it. All the time.

Guilt is everywhere. We feel guilty about just about everything. It is all consuming.  Paralyzing. It makes us do things and behave in ways that would not happen if we did not feel guilty. What I saying here is not new.

I watch as people wait on me hand and foot. I am often too tired to do anything about it. I go to bed at 8 while others stay up and clean the kitchen.

I am not allowed to vacuum because of the weight of the vacuum ceaner.

I can go shopping, but cannot carry anything over 10lbs. Too much strain on the stomach, more to the point to the rearranged pieces in the stomach.

I can tidy things up, but only to a point.

Mostly I lie around and watch others do things for me, around me.

And guilt is the most destructive feeling I have within me at these moments. I am putting people through a nightmare, and am powerless to take them out of it. The doctors and nurses all emphasize that this is all about me. I should not feel guilty. Go to bed when you are tired. Don’t feel guilty. It is all about me.

But I do feel guilty.

The situation is slowly changing. I am getting a lot stronger. I am driving the car and going out a lot more by myself. This is all in my good week of course. I emptied the dishwasher the other day, and am starting to do it more often. Seminal moments. I am also starting to fill it up. Life is getting better. I am a bit nervous around knives. I am told that the chemo makes you more prone to bleeding badly when you cut yourself. I am very careful around the sink.

But the guilt comes back in the chemo week when I am too tired to do anything. It is a very negative feeling. I have attempted to lead as guilt free a life as possible. Things happen. Deal with it. Apologize. Talk about it. Move on. Do not dwell on things. It may take me a while to formulate my thoughts and think through the process. Don’t let negative thoughts linger. Deal. Move on.

This journey has created all kinds of complications. Some obvious. But guilt was unexpected. Guilt over not being to do something you have done all the time. Specially when you appear healthy. But you are not.  At least not all the time. Somehow, you fail to let the good weeks make up for the bad weeks. The two should balance one another. They don’t.

Guilt is a terrible thing.

Life was measurably improved following the Saturday letdown. All my H1N1 symptoms are now over. My arm is no longer hurting. I am very glad I got the vaccine a week before the chemo treatment. The separation ensures no confusion of symptoms.

Sunday proved to be a good day. Janet went to the office in the morning. We went shopping for groceries in the afternoon. While most decry shopping for food as mundane and boring, I revel in the act. Mundane activities are a good thing. We went to Kensington Market. For those who live in foreign lands, Kensington Market is the immigration gateway to Toronto. It has been occupied by all sorts of different groups of people over the years. The current occupants are South American. Which is a good thing since Janet was making paella for dinner. Janet got to talk in Spanish with some people who were giving us advice on the best rice and the best way to go about making the dish.

We could buy live chicken at the market when we first moved to Toronto 30 years ago. All the live animals are gone now. I guess health regulations. We are living in a nanny state.

We had a good walk. Bought food, napkins, cheese slicer, the best garlic masher in the world, and a bunch of other stuff. As I said, mundane stuff.

Supper was amazing. Finished the leftovers the next night. And I don’t even feel guilty about not sharing them with anybody else.

Monday was an amazing day. I visited my ex-client, Monarch Wealth. I figured I was healthy enough. The most difficult part was stopping people from hugging, kissing and shaking hands with me. Not allowed. No sense in taking a chance. Picked up the dry cleaning once done. Bought light bulbs for the bathroom. Got a muffin and went home, I felt strong and mighty.

Sent in the request to move the blog to the new location. I mention this only to emphasize the attempted return to normality. All the while trying very hard to feel good about feeling good. There is always a nagging sense of impending doom back there somewhere. And as good as I feel, there also always seems to be some part of the body that insists on bringing you back to reality. Never anything serious. A small pang in the stomach is often all that is required. Shortness of breath after going up the stairs. Janet refuses to install an elevator for some reason.

I overdid my activities on Monday. I think there is some sense of urgency that builds up in you, so that when you feel good, you want to do everything in that one day. I paid the  price for it in some small measure on Tuesday when I was more tired that I anticipated. I refused to give in though and mustered up enough strength to go about as normal an existence as possible. Spent a good deal of time on the phone attempting to resolve the issues with the blog.

We are living in interesting times. We are creating amazing and wonderful technologies, the results of which are often unpredictable. The moving of the blog is one such example. We exported the blog and the database it was associated with. The idea was to move the domain to a new location and import everything back in.  That was a smooth process. WordPress which is the blogging program I use is not prepared to make the rest of the project an easy job. The database was pointed at the old location. Moving it did nothing. Every time you accessed it, you went to the old location. At some point, the new location stopped responding. We had to modify the pointers to point to the new location. There is no automated process for to take place. Did the writers of this beautiful program not envisage that anyone would want to move it to a new location?

There are numerous example of programming short sightedness.

I will cover Wednesday in its own entry. As I said, I feel strong and mighty.

I am often asked if people can visit. The answer is always the same, call me before you leave home to make sure I am OK. Don’t call me the day before because I will not know how I will be doing the next day. And even then, there will be surprises. Visits are also usually short since I tire so easily. I have written about this before.

My friend Gita wrote me to say she wanted to visit today. I asked her to call me before leaving her house which she did. I was fine and gave her the green light. The situation was dramatically different by the time she showed up.

The first chemo was an unknown. I was not sleeping well at the time. The combination of the two made it hard to handle the series of events that took place.

The situation was markedly different this time around. Diarrhea was expected to hit around Monday or Tuesday, and it came right on schedule. It was expected and not traumatic. Easily handled.

We had Ethiopian food for dinner last night This is the second time I have had spicy food. The first was when my friend Judith brought over some Indian food from my favourite Indian restaurant Utsav in Yorkville. The spicy foods keeps me awake as the stomach works overtime dealing with the unexpected surprise.

I do not get stomach cramps. There are no aches or pains. The only benefit of this bag thingy hanging on me. Gas rolls through the bowels and explodes into the bag with a hissing noise. The system then growls and wheezes and makes all sorts of noises as it deals with the spicy invasion. All of which keeps me awake.

I finally went to bed at four in the morning, and as I have said before, guilt free.

I was fully ready for Gita when she was due. I was peeling a pomegranate, one of my all time favourite fruits. I find the peeling a bit therapeutic. You just cannot rush the experience. So there I am in an apron standing at the kitchen counter peeling away to make sure the pomegranate is ready for Gita.

I was almost done when I started feeling hot. Flushed. Hard breathing. It took me a bit too long to realise that I was feeling nauseous. I rushed, and I use that term loosely, upstairs to take my nausea pill. It is hard to know where to keep all these pills. Took the nausea pill and went back downstairs to wait for the effects to take hold.

I have had nausea a couple of times. I have these wonderful nausea pills that take care of things almost instantly. You just have to take them right away. Which I did not in this case. I sat downstairs, upright, and waited for it to pass. It took a while, way longer than I like. I was not fully recovered by the time Gita showed up. Jill sent me some ginger candy to suck on. They help with nausea. I took one of those as well.

We talked for a while. Devin warmed up some pizza that was in the freezer. Good times. I took a nap after she left and woke up in time for dinner.

I am going to get my H1N1 vaccination in the morning. I am looking forward to this. Here is the issue. The vaccination may result in me having a  temperature for which you are supposed to take a Tylenol. But I am not supposed to take Tylenols to cover a temperature created as a chemo side effect. What to do?

Check list:

Diarrhea: gone

Nausea: gone

Temperature: none

Blood: only in my veins

Hair: intact

I came  up with an interesting concept last week. Guilt Free Sleep. We have been conditioned to sleep at night. We feel guilty if we don’t. We feel as if we have not slept after a restless night. I am not sure why this is. But a lot of people have trouble sleeping at night. [...]

The night before chemo, and the emotions are running amok. Not much to be done but try to keep them in check and move forward. I have decided to give up on the sleep problem. I will sleep whenever the urge hits. That is all there is to do. No guilt, and no attempt to [...]

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