Oh No, I’ve Been Robbed! Did Cancer Steal My Compassion?

cancer in my thirties young 30s hospital

Cartoon by Robert and Donna Trussel http://donnatrussell.com/cancer-cartoons/

So I spent Thursday night through Friday morning in the E.R. with one of my sons.  I was reluctant to go in, but his 106.2 degree fever and listlessness made it necessary.  Though no one likes the emergency room, I have a developed a particular and overwhelming distaste for the whole hospital scene.  And, sadly, this hospital overnight prompted me to realize how “jaded” I’ve become when it comes to the severity of symptoms and illnesses in general.  Call it another side effect of being a cancer patient.

What I am afraid to admit out loud — and even really hesitant to share in this, my somewhat anonymous blog, is that I am beginning to wonder if cancer is interfering with my ability to be the kind of parent and person I want to be (and the kind of parent/person I used to be).

While procedures and blood draws and surgeries and medications and side effects and…(well, you get the picture) have become the norm for me, they are not the norm for everyone.  And, fortunately, they are not the norm for my children.  But I sometimes lose sight of the fact that everyone hasn’t spent what amounts to months (when you add up all of my time as an inpatient and outpatient since my cancer diagnosis in April 2010) in hospitals and cancer centers for surgeries, life-threatening infections, chemo, radiation, appointments, monoclonal antibody infusions, port blood draws, tests and procedures.  Or that not everyone is waiting to find out if that lesion in their brain is malignant or if their liver function and lab values are so poor because the cancer may have metastasized to a vital organ.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s funny medical cartoons I see my new perspective reflected in my everyday life.  Someone will tell me about a symptom they’re experiencing or about their cold or papercut and I try to be supportive and kind.  In my mind, though, I sometimes find myself wandering off to thoughts of how upsetting it might be for them if they had to have their breasts cut off and their lymph nodes dug out, if they faced each day with a constant headache, if they had to manage life with lymphedema, or if they lived their lives with unrelenting neuropathy (a leftover gem from the chemo) that gets so bad that it interferes with their ability to concentrate/type/hold a glass.

Or when I hear a pregnant woman my age talking about heartburn or swollen ankles and I am consoling on the outside, but inside I am thinking about how the large masses in my pelvis and ovaries prompted two painful surgeries and the loss of what remained of all but one of my female parts (in case you are wondering, it rhymes with bagina).  And then I drift off to a mental picture of the baby girl I will never get to hold in my arms because:

a.) You need a uterus to have a baby — and ovaries and Fallopian tubes and a cervix lend something to the process, too.  But all of these things filled my gynecologic oncologist’s specimen jars and were sent off to a lab and probably a garbage bin somewhere.

b.) Who would allow someone with my medical history to adopt a baby?  As much as I would love to be here to raise a new little baby, let’s face it, I am clearly a flight risk.

I thought of a “c”.

c.)  I know surrogacy has gained popularity.  But that’s not even an option for me because my eggs were stolen.  Okay, they weren’t stolen.  But it feels like they were.

And I have that heartburn and those swollen ankles (and legs), too.  Two years of chemo and Herceptin messed up my kidneys and made edema a big problem for me.  And I have my dusty bottle of Nexium for my acid reflux disease, but I stopped taking it because I take so many pills that I’d rather look at those pretty purple capsules than ingest them.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s funny medical cartoons

Cartoon Credit: Robert & Donna Trussel
http://donnatrussell.com/cancer-cartoons/

The bottom line is, even though I want to feel sorry for you because you have a cold, inside I am dreaming of what it would be like if a runny nose and congestion were my biggest medical problems.  Not so deep down I am wishing I could just take some NyQuil, hop into bed, and wake up the next day and be all better.

This is NOT me.  This is NOT who I am.  I am was a kind and thoughtful person before cancer left my spirit beaten and bruised.  Even if I felt like I like was dying, I would put your illness ahead of mine.  I would comfort and take care of you.  I would ask what I could do to be there for YOU.  Even if I had just had surgery myself, I would gladly and altruistically chop vegetables and brown chicken for your homemade chicken soup.  And I would do it without a second thought.

Though my ovaries weren’t technically stolen, I feel like the deeply compassionate person I used to be was.

While this isn’t great news for most of the people in my life, it is worse news for my twin 3rd graders.  I fear that there will come a time when I devalue their medical experiences, their illnesses, their scrapes and bruises, their throat cultures and their trips to the doctor for a flu shot or a blood draw, or the sessions with the nebulizer to that help with their asthma.  And that’s just not good.

cancerinmythirties@yahoo.com breast cancer thirties 30s mom hugging roo baby hysterectomy death dyingSo I am trying my best to undo some of what the cancer has done.  I am making a conscious effort to put the severity of some of my experiences aside to look at things as they are for other people and to avoid comparisons.  I am trying to give my boys the special hugs they need for their scraped knees and to talk them through their fears of having blood drawn or shots given.  And, as was the case this week, I am putting my own exhaustion and pain and sickness aside (as much as I can, anyway) to care for these boys who need me.  Case in point — even though my brain shouted, “Don’t do it!” because I am leukopenic and neutropenic, I climbed into my son’s hospital bed to cuddle with him because he was worried about what was going to happen to him… While I can’t guarantee that it always will, my heart won this time.

I am really trying to do what counts for my kids.  But I may still look at you with envy when you tell me you have a cold.

*Special thanks to Donna & Robert Trussell for allowing me to use their fantastic cartoons*

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20 thoughts on “Oh No, I’ve Been Robbed! Did Cancer Steal My Compassion?

  1. We are never quite the parent we had hoped to be all of the time 🙂 — I know from many of your posts that you are doing a great job! We all have moments (OK, sometimes my moments are extended . . .) of parent imperfection that just remind our kids we are human too. Not to make light of your situation at all, but your expressions of concerns with not being sympathetic or empathetic reminded me of when I told my youngest (probably 12 yrs old at the time?) to “suck it up” as we did a Thanksgiving “Gobble Gallop” together — he was complaining about his toe he had stubbed and torn the nail a bit on the stairs, and had a tendency to whine and overinflate symptoms — sort of like the boy who cried wolf. As he dramatically limped around the starting line, I agreed to downgrade our 5K walk-jog to the 2-mile walk. He limped along slowly the whole way, complaining his toe even felt wet at some point — to which I responded sarcastically, “well, it’s probably because it’s soaked in blood.” Sure enough, he had a blood-encrusted sock when we got home, which he proudly lorded over me with an “I told you so.” It was bruised and bloodied. I added it to my list of “reasons why I will never be mom of the year” :-). On a serious note, our experiences change our perspective — not necessarily right or wrong. You are obviously still a compassionate person, but with a different perspective, for very good reason. ~ Kat

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    • Thanks so much… I needed that, Kat!
      And thank you for sharing that anecdote about your son. I’m sure it was a “growing” experience for him! 🙂 I do believe what they say about parenting being one of the most difficult jobs around. There’s a dusty spot on my mantle where my “parent of the year award” once sat — I had to return it years ago & I doubt I will ever see it again! Lol!
      Thank goodness we can joke about the difficult things!
      I appreciate your lovely note — thank you!

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    • Ahh, they still panic when they fall or have a papercut… Even when I’ve just had surgery, their little cuts trump my surgical incisions — but I guess that’s just a fact of life when you’re a mom! 🙂
      Thanks so much for visiting!

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  2. Thank you for your honesty. I very often have many of these same reactions when I see someone chowing down on a Big Mac and fries and a coke, and then following this up with a super rich dessert — and maybe they have a cigarette or ten — and they have perfect cholesterol and no heart disease. I, on the other hand, never smoked, no drugs, barely drink, ate whole grains and drank skim milk — and I have Coronary Artery Disease and 13 stents. That being said, I have a whole different outlook — and maybe, just maybe, there’s something I’m supposed to do with all this. Thanks for visiting my site — and please, take care of yourself.

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    • Hi Kevin,
      Thanks so much for visiting and commenting… I’m truly sorry to hear about your coronary artery disease and stents. Sometimes life just doesn’t make sense.
      I hope you continue to live a healthy lifestyle and I wish you all the very best… Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed — so glad I stumbled upon your blog… I’ll be back to visit again. Take good care…

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  3. I can identify with your feelings. My family has been decimated by breast cancer for over a century. Now it’s my turn though I don’t plan on letting it take me without a fight. I get frustrated/upset/disillusioned when people complain about what I consider trivia – a bad hair day, hangovers, sore legs after a work out. I’d gladly take all those things at once in exchange for this but doubt anyone would swap places. I try to remain understanding and considerate but its hard when a cold or cut finger isn’t life threatening (unless you’re immunosuppressed). Now I also get annoyed when people sneeze or cough over me because their minor ailment is not minor for me.

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    • I am so sorry for what your family has been through — and for what you are going through. It is easy to get frustrated when the weight of what you are dealing with is so great!
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting — and I’m so sorry you are also dealing with this nasty disease…
      Warmest wishes to you, Tracy!

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  4. I don’t have kids and I was lucky enough to escape without chemo (still in radiation), but I can relate to feeling like one’s perspective on medical severity has been irrevocably changed. I’m still in that magic ‘first year’ and trying very hard not to make permanent judgments (about me or anybody else) until I’ve processed more (this too shall pass, so they tell me), trying to stay as in the moment as possible – some better, lots worse. But regarding your post: I understand, you’re perfectly and completely entitled to however you feel, and yes, this Does change one’s perspective. I’m going to finish by sharing my belief that by simply acknowledging your struggle with this, you are being a great mom to your lucky kids and they’ll grow up fine knowing they were loved and valued.

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  5. Your honest and vulnerability really spoke to me. Thank you for sharing so deeply.
    Though I have not struggled with cancer, I think I understand your concern. My own recovery from extreme child abuse and the ensuing repercussions (ie: PTSD etc) resulted in ongoing therapy and medical issues to deal with. My time, money and energy were “robbed” as you so accurately put it.

    I have gone through phases where I think “Really? You’ve had a cold for 2 weeks? Big Deal.” Or “Uh Huh, I can just imagine having to pay out of pocket for your massage must be a Real Drag.”

    Now, though, I think all of that has actuallygiven me More Compassion. I understand that we all go through trials. Some are “worse” or ‘better” than someone else’s, but we each have our own unique journey. While we are in it, it is the worst we know of. I think that’s ok.

    Because you worry if you are losing compassion for your kids, I think that means you are a good parent. Good parents go through difficult phases, too. Good doesn’t mean perfect. I have a feeling you and your kids will weather this well.

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  6. Unfortunately we need to see the worst to stop complaining about the simple everyday stupid things…. In my cancer post for my mom i wrote that, now i can see the beauty of a simple cold! And you know what, you are entitled to complain and think that way! You are entitled to stop listening to people talking about minor problems as if they were life matters!
    As for your children, well, I am sure you are a great mom! Love and hugs do the trick! 🙂

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  7. What a fantastic post. I don’t have kids, but I think I’m a whole lot more empathetic when my friends are under the weather. Partly it’s because I want to focus on someone other than me for a change, but also because they have been so kind, caring, and generous that I feel the need to pay attention to them more acutely. Sounds to me that with such a mindful mom, your boys are going to be fine. But you already know that.

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  8. I have been a horrible mother and a great mother. I often dwell on the times I fell short, and wish I could get a do-over. I didn’t have cancer to blame. It was a learning process and I got better with age because I cared. And my hormone driven mood swings lessen. I had them before it became common knowledge. So I take comfort in the fact that my oldest who received the worst of my bad mothering is a success beyond the comprehension of most and has a job helping others. He says he doesn’t hold me accountable, but I do. With my second two children I learned so much. By the third I’d almost perfected motherhood. During this time my husband was a rock.. 🙂

    Cancer didn’t enter my life until my daughter came down with stage III colon cancer at 27, and she was the mother of a newborn with two others, one still a toddler. God answered my prayer that he make her healthy again and I’d take the cancer. (I know God didn’t give it to me.) But I made the very vocal bargain. And it happened. My daughter is doing great. I fought hard taking care of her, and the three children for her year of treatment and a couple more to help her avoid life’s stresses. I made sure she had ZERO stress. Since her husband was an over-the-road trucker who didn’t come home 6 weeks at a time, I had her come live with us. Her husband made sure not to come home on weekends when a chemo treatment would interfere with his visit. (I kept my mouth shut)

    She’s eight years cancer free.

    And I fed her ONLY organic foods. I know she feels cancer has affect her mothering, but I’m thankful I got to help. The relationship I have with those three children is the greatest joy of my life. Last summer, after a particularly bad diagnosis my oldest grandson stayed the entire summer to take care of me. Right now over the holidays, I’ve had my granddaughter the entire time. She’s not going home until New Year’s day. The summer before last, when I wasn’t as sick, they tag-teamed me. The three of them were with me at separate times all summer long. They have always spent any spare time they’ve had a Nana’s house. I don’t believe I had a single week to myself, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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  9. Hello there, thanks for liking our post on my daughters fabulous Hot Cross buns. Don’t know if you get much time for baking, but if you do these are super rewarding.

    I must say i was a bit taken aback by the title of your blog – as if having cancer now defines who you are above all else. I lived through a life-threatening illness in my twenties, recovered only to get it again in my thirties. Had lots of nasty drugs, injections, transfusions, coping with nasty side effects and major surgery I (so far) pulled through. All of this while living overseas, desperately poor, struggling to keep working to pay for rent and food and with a partner who was unsympathetic and more concerned with his problems finding a job.

    I know what it’s like to wake up and wonder – ‘is this going to be a good day? A pain free day? Am I going to be able to get up? And of course i was pissed about it – ‘why me?’ I wondered. ‘Why do I have such rotten luck?’ and you know what – there is NO WHY! Things like this don’t happen for a reason. there is no reason – they just happen.

    The biggest challenge isn’t dealing with serious illness, it’s the struggle to live a normal life despite the set-backs. It’s striving to not let it define you as a person, but to accept it as part of your life – a sucky part, and a yukky part, but just a part of your life. Your illness is not you!

    You have the opportunity to truly relish life, to treasure the sweetness of every moment and you have the joy of having children too! Yeah it’s hard, and it takes courage, but you know what? You may end up living a fuller, richer life than ‘normal’ healthy people!

    Take care of yourself,
    With love Mims

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