Sunday, September 26, 2010

How Are You..... Really?

Several times over as many months I have spoken with acquaintances that I don’t talk to very often. All asked the same question, how are you? All know that I am dealing with cancer, again.

So, I give my usual response, I am really doing well, which is also an honest response. Then they will ask, how are you feeling. Again, I iterate that I am really feeling pretty good. Sometimes tired, but overall, I am doing well. The conversation may go on to other things, but then the person says, well it all sounds good, but I’d like to know how you are, really!

The last time I was asked this question I lost it. My response was something like: What would you like me to say? I am really doing fine; trying to live each day and enjoy the life I have left. I don’t believe in dwelling on the negative and becoming morose over my fate. I choose to live…. Mind you, I said all this with much frustration and anger in my voice.

Why do people who I see and speak to so rarely think that they can illicit some deep, emotional response from me about my situation? Is it arrogance or just plain ignorance that causes one to believe that people are so ready to share their deepest feelings and fears with mere acquaintances? I have enough trouble thinking about these things myself, don’t like to talk about them – period – why would I want to open up to someone who shares so little of my life?

You may be thinking that I am overreacting here, but think about it! I mean there are a lot of questions one can ask a cancer victim. How are you is fine – so is:
  • How are you handling the chemo?
  • How frequently do you receive treatments?
  • Are you able to continue working, go out, travel?
I guess it is our job to educate those folks who really are concerned but don’t quite know what to say. When Doug passed, the pastor of our church where the services were held made an interesting observation. He told me that guests would be unsure and somewhat awkward, not knowing what to say to me and Lauren, and that we would be spending our efforts trying to put them at ease. That was, in fact, the case. I guess talking to a cancer patient is a similar conversation. People aren’t sure what to say and feel awkward. It is fortunate that most people can read signals, and when someone changes the subject, realizes it is time to shift the conversation.

So, you all may be wondering how I am, really. I did speak to my oncologist Thursday who gave me the results of the scans. The pain in my hip is osteoarthritis. The bone mets have remained stable (actually appear healed). There is some additional activity in my liver, though, so she is changing my treatment plan. I did not receive chemo on Thursday, and am waiting for the new treatment to be approved. One of the drugs is in pill form. I do not have prescription coverage and the pills cost $25.00 each and I would have to take four a day for about two/three weeks a month. The social worker is applying to the pharmaceutical company to see if they will provide the drugs to me directly at a reduced cost. Hopefully all of this will be resolved this week so treatments can resume quickly.

I am trying to stay positive, I feel slightly physically ill over the news and I really don’t want to talk about it with anybody! I guess that is how I deal with things; suck it up and cope. If I talk about it I will probably cry – and I don’t want to do that either. Maybe a doctor would say this is not healthy. I find if I make an effort to get past the fear and self-pity, I can actually manage to accomplish something constructive or do something I can enjoy – even if it is just watching a goofy movie on TV, and eek out another good day.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Other Side of the Story

In my last blog I wrote about dating after the loss of a spouse. Well, there is another side to that story; that of the dying spouse and how s/he feels about the whole thing.

In his last days, Doug never spoke about dying, nor did he speak about his life to that point, or our lives together, or what might occur after his death – with the exception of his burial. I could start talking about my life before and with Thierry now – to anyone (including Thierry) who would like to listen. The ups, downs, things I should have done better, could have done, etc. But then, what is the point? Is this a woman thing; the need to talk about your relationship on your deathbed?

As I sit here on my sofa in the living room I look around and see all of the things Thierry and I put together to create our home. When we made the decision to buy our condo, we also decided to rid ourselves of all our furniture and start fresh. Everything in here, with the exception of a few pieces of furniture and kitchenware (and bookshelves) is new, and we selected them together. We’ve roamed the streets of Rockland, Beufort and Philadelphia collecting artwork. We picked out our dishes and flatware, and carefully add pieces to our collections as we go along.

My sincere wish is that Thierry not spend the rest of his life alone. He is a wonderful companion, self-sufficient, interesting and smart. He is respectful and not the least bit condescending. He is neat, clean and never leaves toothpaste in the sink. (He can use this in his ad someday when posting on a dating site!)

Even though I know that he may likely find another mate, emotionally I have difficulty with the idea that someone will come into the home we’ve created and either settle in or start anew. Actually, I am okay if they start over – new condo, new everything (well, almost everything). Oh, alright, they can keep the condo – new everything else. I am sure whoever comes in here would want to do that anyway.

Fact is I won’t be worrying about any of this at that point. And the things I am talking about are just that – things. If it all went up in smoke tomorrow, there really isn’t too much I will cry over. So, instead of thinking about Thierry after Mary, I’ll concentrate on Thierry with Mary, and try to make our time together fun and memorable!

Yesterday we celebrated Mom and Dad’s 90th birthday. We had a catered affair at Lauren and Mike’s house. About 40 people came including Dad’s brother (and only surviving sibling) and his wife, cousins and their friends and neighbors. They both looked really well and happy. We are so fortunate to still have our parents with us.

Thierry is finally home – I picked him up on Thursday. The weather has been wonderful. It’s been a good week.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What is the Appropriate Amount of Time?

Last week I met a man whose wife had passed two months ago after a long illness. He is a fairly young guy – about my age - with grown children who live outside the area. He raised the question of when is it appropriate to begin dating after your spouse has died.

What a great question. I tried to do some online research to see if there were any professional takes on the subject. I couldn’t find anything, but did come across one writing that stated that men tend to remarry more often, and more quickly than women. I do know of several instances where a man who recently lost his wife remarried within one year of her passing. I know a few women who have lost their spouse. They had good, strong, happy marriages and mourned their deaths for years and are still single.

This is not to say that women are more devoted to their spouses or their spouses memory, it is just what I have experienced. The article I mentioned above did say that women are starting to remarry after the death of a spouse at a higher rate.

Doug passed after a relatively brief illness. It was the most stressful three months of my life. All I could think about after his passing was selling our house and starting a new life; one that did not necessarily involve a man. My business was picking up; I had new friends and a great new house. I also was very apprehensive about dating again, mainly because I felt old and out of shape.  After 19 years of marriage, the thought of taking my clothes off in front of a man scared the heck out of me.

My relationship with Thierry started some 20 years ago as workmates. Doug and I sailed with him over the years and he new my family. We started to see each other as friends about 4-5 months after Doug’s passing, and our relationship stayed that way for about 6 more months. While I was seeing Thierry (as a friend), I was conscious of the timing. I was concerned, somewhat, about what people would think.

Often people say “you should wait a year.” Where that came from I don’t know. I think every situation is different. When someone is suffering from a long illness, the spousal relationship goes through many changes, feelings and emotions, including a mourning period while the person is still alive. There are also those situations where the marriage may not have been the happiest. A death frees the survivor, who for whatever reason stuck with the relationship.

Then again, a person who has been married for say 30, 40 years, and had a relationship that was heavily dependent on their spouse is most likely the person to remarry quickly in order to recreate the environment they had and relieve their fear of being alone.  This, they say, is why men tend to remarry so quickly.

There may also be children to consider. However, I don’t believe that the decision to date or remarry should be heavily dependent on what the kids have to say. Yes, they are going through a lot of emotions and may be suffering a devastating sense of loss, but they have their own lives and their interference in their parent’s relationship is as warranted as a parent’s interference in their own. Often children are concerned about their inheritance, and rightly so. It is up to the surviving parent to be thoughtful of dispensing of heirlooms and if possible, taking care of financial arrangements.

Each situation is very different – and personal. We can’t judge someone else’s choices. I have two answers to the question, when is it appropriate to begin dating after the loss of a spouse. This first is, go with your gut – meaning what your conscience is telling you is the right thing to do. The second is, when in doubt, do nothing. Eventually the answer will come to you.

Thierry is finally on his way home. His two crew members arrived in Newport, RI this morning, and they shipped out mid-afternoon to take advantage of northerly winds. He sent me a lovely picture of a fish that they caught being filleted. It is time for him to be home!

I had my treatment yesterday and had lots of company. We played scrabble and the time flew by. I can’t tell you how special it makes me feel when my friends and family share their time with me on chemo days.

I feel pretty darn good today – tomorrow I have my scans. I feel positive, and will deal with whatever news I get. I am off chemo this week, and next weekend we have my parents’ 90 birthday party. It has been a great week, and I anticipate another good one coming up!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Now What Was I Looking For?

I took my dad to the auto body shop the other day. They have finally decided to sell their car which needs a repair before the transaction is finished. Dad handled the entire transaction/discussion and before we left, the shop-owner asked for his phone number. Dad rattled off the first 8 numbers without a problem, the last two were lost somewhere in the nether-land.

I stood there waiting for him to remember for what seemed like ten minutes, and then finally gave him the info. Dad doesn’t seem to suffer from memory loss, unlike my mother. Before I went away I had told my folks that we would go out to lunch. I told mom the night before and called again just before I left the house to pick them up. On the way to their home, I got a call from my sister telling me that mom was in the middle of making tuna sandwiches. Dad can rattle on telling stories from his childhood and working years. He also seems to be pretty aware of immediate things like doctor’s appointments and what day it is.

Two days after our trip to the auto body shop I was getting ready to go out and was packing a bag. I walked into the kitchen, wandered around for a minute with no idea what I was doing there. I left the house realizing after I got out to the street that I forgot to grab the cash that was sitting on the table.

I don’t believe any of our family members suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s. We are fortunate that way. But isn’t that what we first think about when we can’t remember the right words to explain ourselves or someone’s name? I’ve been thinking about this for years, memory loss. It seems like it has been ages since I started to forget names of actors and the words I needed to finish a sentence. I originally blamed it on menopause, now I blame it on chemo-brain (a legitimate side-effect of chemo causing memory lapses, problems with concentration, etc.).

The reality is our memory actually starts to fade in our 20’s and progresses in our late 30’s and early 40’s according to an article by Cathryn Jakobson Ramin published in the New York Sunday Times Magazine (12/3/2004). Things like alcohol, diseases, head injury, stress, and lack of sleep can add to memory loss. According to the article, “middle-aged forgetting follows a pattern: people's names go first, because they are word symbols with no cues attached. Then there are difficulties with word retrieval. Instead of the phrase you want, you get what James Reason, a psychologist at the University of Manchester, in Britain, called ''the ugly sisters'' -- similar-sounding but frustratingly incorrect combinations of syllables.” I can really relate to this!

It appears that as we get older, prospective memory and working memory become more difficult. Prospective memory is remembering to perform some action in the distant future, like picking up something on the way home. Working memory gives us the ability to “manage several ideas or intentions at the same time.” No more multi-tasking!

There is a theory that when we get into our 60’s or so, forgetfulness troubles us less – I guess we learn to adapt or our lives become less complicated. But I know my mother (and us kids) is very troubled by her memory loss. Fortunately, they are working on a lot of drugs to help combat the problem, and many have proven quite effective – although they also have side effects. All in all, I am relieved to find that what I suffer from is so common. Hopefully by working on the puzzles in the newspaper and physical exercise will help lessen the severity of memory loss. At least I know I am not alone.

Since I got back from Maine, I have had energy and have actually been productive. I guess I am getting used to Thierry being gone. He actually is on his way home having survived the non-event hurricane. Friends will join him this Friday for the overnight portion of his trip south. It has been a good week, and my weeks will be even better when Thierry gets home!