Saturday, February 14, 2009

An Unwanted Journey: Day 1182 - The Road Ahead


There are three things that are especially important for me these days:

  1. Finding pain relief
  2. Finding appropriate metaphors for my journey with cancer
  3. Sharing my discoveries with those who care

When pain is unbearable, nothing apart from pain relief matters. When pain becomes unbearable for me, I can slip into a demanding and unreasonable frame of mind.

Thankfully, I don't recall too many times when I've been totally unreasonable in my demands, but there were occasions when I don't think I "passed the test" owing to unbearable pain.

The next two concerns are obviously related to one another. Right from day 0001, I realized that I would need to find ways of speaking about cancer, both to others and to myself, that were meaningful, that made sharing my experiences in a blog format possible, and that emphasized the importance of attitude and choice. The prevailing metaphor of fighting cancer seemed to me too limiting. 

The military metaphor consisted primarily of words which stressed fighting, battling, conquest and defeat. One of the reasons the military metaphor didn't work for me was because it implied that every combatant was engaged in a hopeless contest whose end result was predetermined; one might win battles, but never the war.

In addition, I had this strong suspicion that one's choice of metaphor, one's use of descriptive language, had a direct effect on one's experience. At the very least, I hoped that my experience of cancer would be one of discovery, of "healing" (not necessarily physical cure), and of revealed wisdom. I didn't want my experience to be one of despair, fear, endless frustration, and dismay. I anticipated that along the way there was an opportunity for growth and sharing insights with others.

There have been major and minor breakthroughs during my "unwanted journey". This week past, for instance, I think my wife has helped me come to terms with a tendency on my part to have unrealistic expectations about my physical condition.

I've been feeling pretty good for the past two or three weeks, so much so that I've started to revert to the military metaphor, dreaming of "fighting" cancer and "winning the battle".  She has reminded me that my "journey" - especially since choosing home palliative care - has been one of pain and symptom management.

It's been about identifying pain and other symptoms related to the treatment of my metastatic colorectal cancer, applying drugs and other approaches, and then finding a balance which provides me with as much "quality of life" as is possible given the damage cancer and other treatment protocols have already inflicted on my body.

The latter approach, and the language which goes along with it, are more indicative of a journey than a battle. Even the idea of taking things minute-by-minute is more indicative of a hike in the woods, or an early morning canoe ride, or a meal with family and friends.

It has taken well over a week of reflection, visits with colleagues, friends, and family, a recurrence of pain incidents and other "reminders" that I am a case study in managing pain, not to mention a delightful change of pace in reading habits from non-fiction to novels (see Neil Gaiman's American Gods; a kind of allegorical road trip with myths and mythology seeping through the cracks in the pavement) to help me uncover just a little more wisdom about who I am, where I am, and what lies ahead on the road.

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