The Cancer Curmudgeon Versus Snow: A Saga

Followers of my Facebook page will know I occasionally post harangues about an impending snow event. From 2 inches to 18 inches, doesn’t matter—I WILL complain. It wasn’t always like that. So what changed? Oh, in case you are wondering what this has to do with cancer, or my experience, bear with me, you’ll see.

Ocean City, Maryland, The Pier

Once upon a time, this beach bum liked snow. A true Atlantic/beach girl/Southerner, I knew that a couple of inches would close the schools—thank goodness. Northerners will never know the utter relief that comes with the gamble & pay off of NOT writing your big paper because of a snow forecast, and having that pay off of one extra day, that “Schools are Closed” day, to finish the paper. #ProcrastinatorsUnite. (Like you didn’t know I am a big procrastinator, please, look at this blog.)

A true book nerd/future English major, I also loved the romantic aspect of a snow day. The fact that I could stay inside, sip hot chocolate and read, watch old movies, whatever. That silly notion persisted through college days too. I even held onto the fantasy a little after joining the Real World. I embraced the idea if the world would just slow down for a moment, because of weather, I could catch up—read all those books I bought to “read later”, organize them, etc.

It’s not that I was completely unaware that people had jobs that meant they had to go out in the elements; I just thought I’d wind up being a writer, and I’d live snug in some apartment and could choose not to go out. Ah, being a slacker in the 90s while I was in my 20s was such a great innocent time.

But reality crashed and I had to drive in one too many bad situations only to have the store I worked in close after a few hours—a waste of a whole day. Maybe I was paid for the whole day, even the time I didn’t “work”, except the time I spent cleaning the car, driving, sliding uncontrolled into ditches, that time added up, and my resentment grew.

The pinnacle was the winter before my diagnosis. I worked at a non-profit and it had yet to enable us to work offsite. I drove several miles in a State of Emergency, passing a number of car accidents, to declare conditions too ridiculous to be open. And drove back home. And inevitably some fool complained a few days later—claiming their free off-of-work day (that they had because of bad driving conditions) meant I should’ve been working to take care of their stupid little problem, via phone, or they ignored the driving restrictions to annoy me in person. (Around this time I realized working in non-profit was just as disheartening as working in retail—because, assholes exist.)

I remember the times it snowed while I was having my chemo infusions. It’s not like I could stop those early; I needed the full dose, and then my ride had to deal with the shitty driving conditions. I don’t have digital copies of the pretty pics taken at the beach while I was in treatment—I remember taking the photos, trying to capture a moment even while too sick to be outside for very long. I’d like to share them here, but I’m not sure where they are. I might have trashed them—I went through a phase of destroying all physical memories of my time in treatment.

Now that I’m a pet/house sitter/self-employed/small business owner, I absolutely loathe the snow. Lost work days=lost revenue. Work days in snow are more physical labor, and labor is hard post-treatment, you know that. Work days in the snow means everything takes three times as long to accomplish. I’m already pressed for time to devote to reading/writing. This most recent storm, combined with my most recent killer cold, has been a huge imposition for me.

And of course, yes, I am mindful of the people who have to work in this mess. But more importantly, every time it snows like this, I see closures of local cancer treatment centers. I understand why—we are a beach area, there are few snow plows on the road, even now, several days later, some roads are truly impassable. Even today I skidded on a few side roads I use. So some cancer patients in rural areas simply are not going to make it to chemo, and some nurses cannot make in to work. To say nothing of dialysis patients, of patients with a million other concerns, who have to delay an appointment, to have to wait another horrible 24-48-72 hours for test results. Awful. I remember the snow while I was in treatment, I shudder, a particularly awful memory in an already awful set of memories.

But there is a deeper thing here to reveal about myself, this Curmudgeon. I am a cynic, I do not deny it. In fact I am slightly proud of it. But what is a cynic? Nothing but a (bitterly) disappointed romantic. I am sure I annoy many with my habit of always pointing out the bad stuff in a situation.

But that’s only because once upon a time I looked at the good in a situation first, and I’ve been disappointed bitterly too many times. If you really want to understand how the Cancer Curmudgeon comes to any cynical POV, look no further than this story.

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Hamster Wheel

I think a lot about the risks and statistics regarding cancer. I think a lot about past post topics, like how folks in the kingdom of the well just want people who have/had cancer to move on already, just “get over” all the cancer. I don’t think about these things on purpose, they just pop up, unwanted. This post is about how these seemingly unrelated ideas mesh.

For those of us lucky enough to be former cancer patients, as in NOT Stage 4, our lives become about reducing risk of recurrence—diet, exercise, eliminating bad habits, taking up yoga/meditation/acupuncture (if you can afford the organic foods and things like acupuncture). Do all these right things and maybe cancer won’t come back. Then again, maybe it will.

What no one ever seems to mention (at least as far as I can tell) is another percentage or increased risk. The more former/current cancer patients in my social circle (in addition to or in place of those untouched by cancer? I don’t know) the more chances are I will hear bad news more often.  It is just the way the odds are.

Sometimes with the various blogs I read or the few folks I interact with on the interwebs, plus those IRL, it means I hear more bad news than average, meaning more sadness.

Make no mistake, my sadness is NOTHING compared to what is felt by those whose news I’m hearing.

All I’m referring to here is the fact that by hanging out in Cancerland even while I have no evidence of disease, I am still wallowing in cancer, quite the opposite of “getting over cancer” which so many of those untouched by cancer wish I would do: “get over cancer”—snort of derision.

Being in Cancerland is like getting on a hamster wheel I cannot seem to escape. Every time I turn around, someone else is getting bad news, because that is the increased risk that comes with knowing cancer patients. Maybe in 7 years I can exit the wheel—after I get through my next 2 years of bi-annual onco visits, after the following 5 of annual visits, and hopefully after that I never see him or another oncologist again. And after I stop interacting online with other cancer patients. But right now I run on that wheel like a furry critter, chased by cancer, Cancer, CANCER. Whereas before October 2010, cancer was hardly a blip in my consciousness.

I don’t know what to make of my increased risk of hearing bad news, either for myself or for others. In a conversation with Tumblr buddy Greg, he pointed out we have to celebrate the rare bits of good news, because they are indeed so rare in Cancerland. Most of the news for me has been good, but I find myself thinking often of those who keep getting hit with the bad news.

I’ve often pointed out on my blog that I am not sentimental, that I do sarcasm far better than true emotion. It is difficult for me to express words of encouragement or support or any of the other things those in pain need to hear. I think I never come off sincere, even when I am at my most sincere. So I tend not comment to others these messages, because I find words so inadequate at those most awful times. But I am heartbroken for all the sadness I hear about, I want the reason for the sadness to just STOP already. It really is that simple.

So to those reading who are Stage 4, and/or who’ve had recurrence, take this post as my message of support.

And I’m not stepping off the wheel today. I’ll keep my risk for increased chance of sadness high for now.

The Next One is Lord of the Rings Long

The next post is gonna be “Lord of the Rings”, butt-numbingly long, but hopefully not as slow going as “The Hobbit.” It should be a fast read. It is sort of a supporting player in the continuation of my story of funky tattoo vs. reconstruction–which I swear I will finish writing. This next post should give an idea of why writing it has been so hard.

This post, in addition to being a rather personal explanation of I got to where I am now, cancer in tow, is a thank you of sorts to readers who’ve commented on what I’ve written. It will explain why it helps me, more than I could ever express, to continue telling my story and ranting all over the place, and to bolster a much damaged confidence. Seriously, every bit of appreciation repairs me just a little.