Wednesday, January 28, 2009

some days are blue, some days are indulgent

I have been feeling kind of blue these last few days.

I'm always relieved after I get good scan results but a feeling of let-down seems to follow almost every time and I find myself, once again, channelling Peggy Lee and asking "Is that all there is?"

I just finished the latest round of edits on my book (coming out this spring with Women's Press!) and I have been left wondering, 'so, what's next?'

I haven't looked at the outline for my novel since I submitted it for my writing course on December 31st. The course is over and I am feeling kind of daunted. I've been asking myself, "Can I do this?" and "What purpose would it serve?"

This morning, I had an appointment with my wonderful oncologist who confirmed my CT results. He also referred to my "normal" life.

I told him that I have been feeling kind of "ground down" by the emotional wear and tear of treatment, as much as the buildup of toxins.

He gently reminded me that I need to think of myself as having a chronic illness, "like diabetes", that needs to be managed but that doesn't stop me from living my life.

I told him that I know how lucky I am and that I am very grateful not to be dead (at which point he rolled his eyes) and that I've been doing other things to keep my life full and interesting (like writing) but that I miss the more fast-paced, structured work environment.

My oncologist was sympathetic but said that we are working at keeping treatment "as innocuous as possible." I only go for treatment every four weeks and I phone in for every other appointment with him. And he's right.

The truth is that I couldn't go back to the kind of long hours that I worked before cancer. Even if I could miss three or four days on treatment weeks, my body couldn't tolerate the stress or long hours. And I am not sure that I really want that back or if I am just missing the sense of identity that I got from my job.

My oncologist suggested that I skip a cycle over the summer and I'll do that. I'll also keep working at doing the things that make me happy.

I have the chance to work at making art (and writing is art). I have to embrace this rare privilege, not feel guilty about it or self-censuring and just see what happens.

Some days are easier than others.

I asked my oncologist whether there were any restrictions on my activities. He said, "No." He added that there were also "No restrictions on lifestyle" - this is the same oncologist who suggested that dope would help me to cope with the side effects of chemo (it did!) and who routinely suggests I go out for a drink to celebrate any kind of news (wine for good news, scotch for bad) - "The liver is healthy. So you can party."

To which my spouse replied, "As if she needs any encouragement."

However, given the fact that I have gained 30 pounds since I was first diagnosed (10 of those in the last two months), I think I'll be living a more ascetic existence for a while.

Cross-posted to Mothers With Cancer.


The Maven said...

While I can't say I know what you're going through, I do understand that sense of a loss of identity. It's amazing how much we relate to our jobs, to our education... I've had very little of both and I think it's been a blessing in some ways. It's allowed me to get to know myself in a way that I wouldn't have been able to otherwise.

Your life changed and it's harder in some ways, but there are definitely some good things happening, too. Writing! Art! Getting to know Laurie in a whole new way. How cool is that?

When it gets nicer out maybe I'll invite myself down to your neck of the woods and we'll let him run around in a park while we sip some coffee. You know, during the day when it's quiet. Just us and the nannies!

By the way, I'm also grateful you're not dead. It would have been a bit harder to get to know you - and I think you're great :)

laurie said...

It's a date! Thanks Maven.

Dee said...

Hmm, it's hard for me to relate to this, as I have been able to keep working - back to teaching - and doing my research on Alaska Native culture and politics, etc. My identity is tied around me being an anthropologist and a descendent of the King Island community. Even if I couldn't work, those would sustain me . . . I guess I just wanted to say that you can take or leave my suggestions below.

First, is there a way that you can volunteer your services somewhere? Your previous job had something to do with union organizing? or something like that? (bad memory - I blame the chemo) What if you volunteered to write/edit a newsletter? Or, volunteer a few hours a week in one of your sons' classes?

How about tackling the job of writing down your families' histories?

There's also going back to school and studying something new, which might grab your interest. Based upon your blog, you seem to like a good story to read . . . how about looking into folklore classes? Folklore is about much more than stories - there's song, dance, ritual, folk art, folk architecture, etc. I love the field . . .

Also, based upon what I can see in your blog, you might make a good oral historian. You would interview folks and write down either their individual stories, or a group account of how people experienced a certain period of time.

Of course, these latter suggestions are all interests of mine and I don't think that many others share them. But . . . it never hurts to explore!!

I guess what I'm saying is that your identity involves much more than what you DO. Our western society seems to forget that because the first thing we often ask someone is "what do you do [for a living]?"

When I go north to Alaska, folks there ask me who my relatives are. They could care less what I do. What is important to them is how I fit into their local communities.

Identity can be tied up into religion or it can be tied up in the language you speak or what you look like or what you eat.

Sorry, the professor in me came out . . . please pardon my musings! It's just that I was confused about my own identity - being descended from an Inuit community but being raised in a white one and then also wrestling with growing up blue collar and working with academics, most of whom are more white collar . . . I straddle these identities, so I do a lot of thinking about what constitutes an identity, etc.

Okay, I'm going on and on and on and on . . . forgive me!

Rebecca said...

I was just explaining to my brother that my cancer is like diabetes this morning. The only reason I did was because he asked that I not die on him. LOL!

FlippyO said...

How about you run for Prime Minister next? I think you'd be great! Prime Minister Kingston - it sounds good, doesn't it? You wouldn't even have to move far, just to 24 Sussex Drive. Or, there's Governor General. Hey, your choice!

It might sound like I'm making light, but seriously, I think you can do anything...and since we now have Obama, you guys deserve someone better after suffering with Stephen Harper aka GWB-lite. I do think Prime Minister Kingston sounds great.

sassymonkey said...

I've been thinking about this. I think that sometimes we get addicted to work. Be it addicted to the stress, the work itself or the combination. You notice it most when you leave a stressful job. Other people who also left the last company I worked for had a hard time adjusting (unless they were burned out...then they just went into a tv coma like me).

Maybe the urge to be back to work is similar to the craving that a former smoker gets even years after smoking. They don't need one. They don't want one. But they have an overwhelming urge to have one. I think we can have that with work.

Or you know, Flippy O has a point. Run for PM! You'd get to travel. And hey, John A drank all the time so you could totally work in your good drink/bad drink system!

Allie said...

Awww Laurie,
I'm joining this conversation late -
If you did go back to work it wouldn't be the same anyway. And I'm with you on the "what life is this?" questions. And also with you on the question of "Where's the energy to play?" No answers except - maybe its a right of passage for those in a stg 4 remission. Its weird land to be sorta healthy but not - to have a future but maybe not, to be so hopeful and yet accepting of the time when hope will be for something quite different.
Sometimes I feel now like I'm a visitor or observer to my own previous life - and in limbo, gearing-up and waiting for something else entirely different.
Messy, tiring and it leaves me yearning for my innocence again - when it was all different. Its the "time" part that is the worst for me. Its the question of what's possible and why would I do it.....what meaning would it have to ME (capitals intended).
Alas I'm superimposing my tales onto struck a cord my dear.....the best of writing does that.

laurie said...

Thank you. You are all such smart and insightful women. I will think a lot about what each of you has said.