Monday, January 25, 2016

Tomorrow there'll be sunshine and all this darkness past...

There's really nothing quite like watching a frozen river during a snow storm.  Seeing  massive chunks of ice creep along in front of the Pittsburgh skyline is a very dramatic sight, especially from inside, where it's warm and toasty.  

A few of you received advanced notice that my options have run out and I've decided to take advantage of the services that hospice provides at home.  My last post talked about a few possibilities that I was going to pursue.  These didn't really work out.  The doctor in Virginia who specializes in proton therapy turned out to be a disappointment.  About a week after returning from that very long road trip over the busiest travel weekend of the year (Thanksgiving), my breathing took another dive and I could not walk and breathe at the same time.  I spent about a week in the hospital while the doctors tried to rule out some obvious causes for the problem -- blood clot, infection, collapsed lung, excess fluid, etc.  The verdict was the same as it was when this first became a problem in the summer:  my lungs are shot from progressing cancer and over 30 local treatments to control it over the past 15 years. Any additional radiation or ablations would do more harm than good and I'm not strong enough for more whack-a-mole attempts to stay ahead of this.

I had some tumor samples from the lung surgery in 2012 tested for genetic mutations to see if any experimental drugs might help slow things down.  This also turned out to be a dead end.  Even if there is something that might help prolong the inevitable for a few months, I've had more drugs to fight leukemia from 2009 through 2011 than anyone can expect to withstand in one lifetime.  

We knew this day would come.  I've been lucky to have made it this far with my history of 3 serious cancers.  I'm now on oxygen 24/7 and I can't leave my apartment on my own two feet.  My breathing problems make it difficult to talk, so I've limited my communications to email.  I'm also not the type of person who wants people around when I'm sick, so these factors have led me to request that people not come to visit.  It's easier on me in about a dozen ways, so I thank those of you who have respected these wishes.

I spend my day managing my symptoms, watching DVRd TV shows with Mary, as she works hard at being the world's best caregiver, and petting Sadie as much as she will let me.  Watching the news and the ridiculous political campaigns keep me pondering what kind of world I'm leaving.  I hope I'm around to see Donald Trump go down in flames. Hey, my blog, my opinion, my last wishes!  

Along with Mary's daily visits to keep me sane, the hospice team comes almost everyday too and they are all wonderful.  I wish they didn't have the reputation of call-only-when-the-person's-about-to-croak.  I feel that hospice workers are misunderstood.  They can provide help that no one else can and with experience and compassion.  Knowing I will no longer receive any treatment, I don't have to worry about doctors' appointments, medical tests, or decisions about where to go next.  I'm very grateful for my team here and the care I'm receiving.  The goal of hospice is to make me feel as comfortable as possible.  

It may take several months for my body to call it quits.  Or it may not.  I feel like my body deserves a rest and I'm not at all afraid of dying.  I will leave this life knowing that I have given it my very best shot -- chasing down doctors, medical techniques, research, and advice from the amazing community of ACC patients all over the world.

I know that most people fear everything about death and dying -- even talking about it.  Much more destructive than death, in my opinion, is denial.  Denial will wreck you.  When someone tells you that they've made a decision about how to live or die, don't deny them your support and unconditional love.  Most people, in their grief and anticipated loss, just don't know what to do or say.  It's hard for everyone. But it's mostly hard for the patient.  Here are a few dos and don'ts when it comes to things to say to a cancer patient (or about me):    

1.  "She lost her battle to cancer."  (Read here.) The implication is that I just didn't fight hard enough.  Nothing could be more offensive.
2.  "God never gives you more than you can handle."  This is another annoying cliché.  The God I believe in would never test people to see how much they can handle.  How mean would that be?
3.  "Everything happens for a reason."  Really?  Bullshit.  This is one of the most insulting things a cancer patient can hear.  Classic Blame The Victim.
4.  "What is your prognosis?"  Well, if it's not good, you've just made the person feel like crap having to explain that they're in bad shape.  
And the list goes on....

The problem is that people don't have any good examples of helpful, loving ways to express support instead of these unhelpful blunders.  A better approach would be to ask them what they need and how you can help.  Then listen to what they say and do it, whether you agree with it or not.  It's their illness, not yours.

And now that I've rambled on and on, I can't say for sure if this will be my last blog post or not.  As with everything in life, we should assume that this moment is our last and cherish what we have right now.

As long as I can stay in the present, I can honestly say that I am happy that this will soon be over.  It's hard for my ego not to make a mental wish list for my next lifetime.  My faith is in the Higher Power that resides in all of us, so I'm good with whatever comes next.  I'm hoping that if I end up on Earth again, I'll have better hair and dimples, but who's to say that would make me happy?  For now, I'll watch my DVRd TV shows (suggestions for binge watching are welcome), enjoy Sadie and watch the river just outside my door.  My energy comes and goes, so please forgive me if I take a while, or can't, respond to your messages.  Know that they are received and appreciated.

I want to thank all of you for your love and support when I've been sick and when I've been well.  I'm a very lucky person to have known all of you, even those of you I've never met in person.  Take care of your bodies, take care of each other, take care of the planet.

I love you all.



Sunday, January 24, 2016

Lucky or unlucky?

Hey folks,

I know I owe many of you email replies to all your generous wishes, and I'll get to them, I promise!  I will also post an update about my current health status shortly.  But for now, here is an article that I wrote for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The publication is called HEADWAY.  Here is the link to the article (see page 2), in case you can't read the small print.