Saturday, February 23, 2008

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0820 - Reminders, Celebrations, Aggravations

Surviving colorectal cancer is certainly worth celebrating. Today, I received an email from a friend at the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada. Another survivor (in her case a Stage IV cancer; in my case an advanced Stage III cancer) was celebrating a birthday, something which most prognoses would have suggested probably wouldn't happen for her again. My friend was forwarding the celebratory note accompanied by a group of colonoscopy "quotes". I'd seen them all before, most of which are quite humorous (you can find them here, if you're interested).

Despite the good news, yesterday provided reminders about the legacy of treatment and the tightrope of survival. All day long, I felt queasy and affected by intestinal upset, the origin of which appeared to be nothing more serious than eating leftovers from a take-out Chinese meal the night before. But whereas before treatment the upset would have been minor, now it's an event that disrupts my equilibrium and creates substantial anxiety. Disruptive sleep (three nights in a row now), constant bio breaks from work and meetings, difficulty walking and getting about, extra precautions about food and drink - they're becoming typical elements of my post-cancer world.

Sometimes I find myself swearing under my breath as I walk with difficulty to my car or anxiously make my way to the closest washroom, remembering how easy it was before cancer, before treatment; recalling how much I had taken for granted about physical health before the diagnosis. Survival is not, for me at least, just an onwards and upwards progressive path. It's a struggle. There are days when you mercifully forget, but then there are days when everything you do reminds you that you are a survivor, but with the scars and after-effects there to remind you constantly that things are not the same.

And then you turn on the radio, dial in to 89.9, the local signal for CBC Radio 1 from Toronto, and hear the news about cancer deaths linked to problematic hormone receptor tests conducted in Newfoundland and Labrador between 1997 and 2005. 322 of 1,013 patients dead of breast cancer, perhaps owing at least in part to the bad test results.

I find myself turning off the radio as I pull in to a local health food store to purchase some hemp hearts. Too much bad news, too many aches and pains, too many reminders, too many aggravations. And as I write this blog after finding myself awake and uncomfortable for half the night, I'm glad it's the weekend when I can rest, relax, catch a few naps, and generally recuperate. Not to mention, reading and re-reading that celebratory email about my fellow survivor.

Yes, it's a mixed bag, this journey of recovery.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Rather and Race

CBC Newsworld today interviewed Dan Rather, who is back doing news coverage these days on HDNet. The interview was about the state of news coverage in the United States, especially coverage of the presidential primaries and the "race to the bottom" trend in celebrity journalism.

News is a public trust for Rather with a corresponding responsibility for ensuring news is primarily about providing accurate information. Therefore, the "race to the bottom" type of e-tainment coverage of Britney Spears and other celebrities is just one symptom of a disheartening trend, assuming what you care about is the quality of information. Another is the way corporate power seems to have captured the most important media. Centralization of resources and control of media is hardly ever a good thing.

In regards to the US primaries, Rather was blunt about how important race is to the forthcoming election. Racism is still endemic throughout North America, even though politicians like Obama don't talk about it overtly.

He didn't talk about gender, but that's implied as well.

Although Rather mentioned the Internet as the most important technological factor affecting coverage of the presidential primaries, there wasn't much discussion of whether the rise of blogs and other Internet-based forms of expression indicate another example of a "race to the bottom" or a positive trend towards decentralization, an example of giving the people an independent voice. Depending on the voice and depending on the content, you could argue both cases.

So, whether it's race and Barack Obama, the race to discover what's happening with Britney Spears, or the race to find your voice on the Internet, Rather still has something useful to say, especially if the listener assumes responsibility to become even better informed after having heard what Rather has to say.

Friday, February 15, 2008

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0812 - Not available

If someone were to ask me to describe a definitive moment in my life story, the first thing to spring to mind is the day when the gastroenterologist confirmed that I had cancer. Even though I thought I was prepared to hear the diagnosis and considered it a probability, to hear the words delivered so unequivocally and with such consolation in the voice of the doctor was devastating.

The next few days were the worst, as not only I, but my entire family, had to come to terms with what was clearly a life-threatening illness. But as I turned my attention to confirmatory tests and then a treatment protocol, followed by a prolonged period of serious medical interventions, I learned to deal with the implications. Part of dealing with the diagnosis was throwing myself quite literally into research and discovery, trying to find a measure of equilibrium in a time of upset and turmoil, not knowing whether any of the medical procedures would make a big enough difference to give me a significant chance at recovery.

Even after the radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy, the long, slow road to recovery was without guarantees. I came to discover that other aspects of my life - my profession, my career prospects, my opportunities - were seriously curtailed, despite the sympathy of those around me. Just as I began to entertain possibilities of "getting back in the game", I'd find reality pulling me back into the whirlpool of uncertainty and limitation.

But if you have followed me on my description of "my unwanted journey", you will have noticed a sure, albeit gradual, emergence of optimism. That has been accompanied by a corresponding reluctance to describe my life in terms of that momentous diagnosis of cancer.

There is nothing strange or curious in any of this. It's just the way it is.

But I have to pause occasionally as I regain my footing.

I found myself saying "No, I'm not available" this week to a couple of requests for volunteering my time for very good causes. I was asked to spend time helping with events in the region specifically about cancer education. But, despite the fact that I believe in the importance and value of such events, despite my interest in participating and providing support to those whose lives have been interrupted by diagnoses similar to my own, I have to say "I'm not available."

This is hard for me. But I think it's part of recovery. And despite it being hard, having the chance to say no is also exhilarating and liberating. There are other responsibilities and opportunities right now that are more important for me and my family.

I will never turn my back on my struggle with cancer. I will make myself available, on an individual basis, to those who are struggling with a diagnosis of cancer or treatment. But by saying "No" right now, I am also saying "Yes" to life beyond diagnosis and treatment.

My hope is that this makes me not only a lucky man, but a better man.