Monday, February 22, 2016

I don't know who you are anymore (Part 2)

Quick recap of my last blog post: I'm 34 and finally willing to admit that I like Phil Collins. Also, I got a tattoo, something I wouldn't have considered for my pre-whippled self. In writing about these admissions I also mentioned my husband, Chris, more than I had before. When I told him I was writing a blog (and that I like Johnny Cash's rendition of the NIN song "Hurt'"), he responding, half jokingly, "I don't know who you are anymore!" He wasn't exactly comfortable with my public therapy sessions (a.k.a. writing about my feelings), but said he didn't want to stop me from doing something I wanted to do. I told him I would keep him out of my writing, and for the most part I have, but the story I'm about to tell requires Chris as a key character.

Astonishingly, Chris does not read my blog. If he were the one writing a blog I'd be all over it, stalking the url for new posts and urging him to write more. Writing about oneself used to be reserved for diaries, which were kept hidden away under the mattress or a loose floorboard. But, now, personal blogs have taken what was once private and turned it into permanently public publications. I'd love it if Chris poured his inner thoughts onto the blogosphere. Alas, he has not, and I will continue my astonishment of his avoidance of "Things Left Out." 

I insisted upon reading him my last blog entry, as I wanted him to read it, but I didn't want him to read it whilst driving. So I read it to him as we drove home from a family party, at which a family member gave me a thoughtful and encouraging compliment about my writing (thanks, G!). Chris's first response to my public declaration of becoming a (slightly) different person: "You forgot the Lorna Dunes!" He was right. I forgot the Lorna Dunes. Lorna Dunes are delicious yellow-packaged butter cookies that hospitals seem to have in abundance to hand out after you've fasted for whatever reason, or when you're pregnant and have been asked to wait longer than anticipated and you get a little hungry. How is this relevant, you ask? Well, I have no memory of this event (thanks, anesthesia), but I hazily awoke from my endoscopic ultrasound and biopsy on January 9, 2015 (11 days before my Whipple surgery), and was given a small yellow package of Lorna Dunes. I apparently said, "Ooh, Lorna Dunes. I LOVE Lorna Dunes!" Chris later expressed his astonishment that I even knew what a Lorna Dune was, as he had never heard of them until that day, hence, "I don't know who you are anymore!" So, to him, my last piece of writing had a glaringly obvious omission: the Lorna Dunes.

Whenever Lorna Dunes come up between us, we also rehash the events of that day. That day was truly one of the hardest days of the whole journey, for both of us. It was the first day I saw Chris truly scared about my diagnosis, until then he chose to believe all of the doctors who said that everything would probably be okay. The doctor who performed the biopsy, Dr. Ken Chi, had previously instilled the most hope that I might have something easier to deal with, such as a benign cyst that could be treated with steroids. After my biopsy, I sat in the recovery room with the Lorna Dunes on my lap, and when I was awake enough Dr. Chi came to talk to us along with the nurse who helped with the procedure. Until that day, I had never truly seen a doctor deliver bad news to a patient. That patient was me, so I really felt the weight of the experience. He spoke in a low, nearly apologetic tone, telling us that I definitely had a tumor. You could see in his face and hear it in his voice that this was the "bad news" delivery. Even the nurse standing next to him looked as if he was witnessing something awful. I asked, "but it hasn't spread, right?" He replied, "there is no evidence of spread." I knew the omission from that statement. What he really was saying, "While this is no evidence of spread, we won't really know until we get in there for surgery." He gave me the "differential diagnoses," or, the different things the tumor might be. His best guess was the pseudopapillary tumor (he was right, thankfully), after that, a neuroendocrine tumor (still treatable), but after that, adenocarcinoma. A doctor finally said the worst-case scenario out loud. Adenocarcinoma. That's the pancreatic cancer that kills most patients within six months of diagnosis. Chris and I left feeling crushed, really. The next five days were sooooo long waiting for the biopsy results. The biopsy results were best-case scenario, thankfully. I barely noticed that the doctor told me I had a "low grade malignancy" in my pancreas. I was going to be okay. 

That experience changed me. I had been diagnosed with a miscarriage several years prior, and the doctors who saw me for that treated me with compassion and sympathy, but their delivery of that bad news barely holds a candle to the delivery of bad news I was given on January 9th of last year. I feel so badly for anyone who has gotten such delivery of news for any reason. Stressful only scratches the surface of ways to describe that event. I won the lottery when it comes to pancreatic malignancies- I got the well-behaved one. Still, that day has become a part of who I am and how I treat others. 

I have revealed a little more of myself to you, and a little more of my husband's experience (sorry, Chris, if you are even reading this). In exchange for your time, here's a little more of that ink: 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

I don't know who you are anymore (a.k.a. being true to oneself)

The other morning Phil Collins found his way to my Pandora Internet Radio Station. "In the Air Tonight." The former me would have reflexively leapt to the radio and changed the station to pretty much anything else- including commercials. I didn't change the station that morning. I listened to Phil Collins because I actively like that particular song, and I no longer feel the need for my music selections to be cool, trendy, underground, or otherwise. Nor do I feel the need to be closeted in my like for Phil Collins, so much so that it is now published on the Internet for all to see.

When my husband found out I started writing this blog, he said to me, "I don't know who you are anymore!" This was coupled with the "new" information that I happen to really love Johnny Cash's version of "Hurt," of Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral fame. I say "new" because this should have not been new information to anyone, really, as it's a fantastic rendition of an already great song, but when I started publicly writing about my personal struggles (and liking Johnny Cash/NIN), I somehow didn't fit who my husband perceived me to be. He had to adjust his perception of me, and I'm fine with that, and though I can't speak for him, I think he was fine with that, too. 

So why confess that I'm down with Phil Collins? Not just Genesis Phil Collins (that was always OK), but regular ol' solo artist Phil Collins. To illustrate a change that happened slowly over time and all at once. I say slowly over time because I think confidence sometimes accompanies age and experience (but not always), but all at once because of my experience with my sort of cancer and surgery. I don't care what you think of me anymore. You think I'm a bossy know-it-all akin to Hermione Granger? Fine. You don't like me? Yep, I probably know you don't like me (and I don't care). You don't agree with my viewpoints, political, religious, or otherwise? Oh, well. Don't get me wrong. I care about YOU, your thoughts and opinions (even if they don't align with mine), and your mere existence in this magnificent life, but I don't care what you think of me. Really. Sure, I still get insecure at times. For example, writing like this leaves me feeling a bit vulnerable, but overall, I'm doing what I do because I want to. Not because of how you will perceive me. 

In addition to the admission that I unapologetically like Phil Collins, I have physical evidence to provide. 

Excuse the low-quality photo, but that is MY arm. That's right, I got a tattoo. More specifically, Chris (my husband) "gave" me the tattoo for Christmas. No, I haven't lost my mind and let Chris come anywhere near me with a needle, but he got me the artist and appointment, and he paid for it. Before my surgery, I didn't want a tattoo. I didn't have anything against the tattooed, it just wasn't my thing. Once my surgery forever altered my anatomy, the idea of forever altering the color of my skin with a pretty design didn't seem so outrageous of a choice for me to make for myself. To reiterate, I did this because I wanted to. Not because of what others would think of me, positively or negatively, but because I saw a design that would make an awesome tattoo. Obviously, the photo above shows a just glimpse of the bottom of my tattoo. I don't have only three-fifths of a book tattooed to my right arm. Some of you have seen my tattoo in person, but the rest of you will have to wait for the day I feel like showing you the entire piece via the Internet. Know me IRL (in real life)? Just ask to see it and I'll gladly show you. 

The reactions to my tattoo have been varied. The best was probably one of my sisters who seemed shocked that I, of all people, had just gone and gotten a tattoo one day. I've also gotten "I don't like tattoos." Well, I do. If you aren't in to tattoos? Fine. You could choose to alter the way you think of me as one of "those" people who has tattoos (c'mon, what does that even mean?). Or, you could alter the way you think of people who have tattoos. Don't like me AND you don't like my tattoo? No need to adjust your perception at all, then. A psychologist I know theorizes that people with health problems are more likely to get tattoos because it's a way to control something about their bodies. I think there's some truth to that. Did the tattoo change me? No, but I changed and got a tattoo.

I hope you have enjoyed my confessions of the day. Phil Collins, blog writing, Johnny Cash, NIN, and finally, my tattoo. I feel like I should somehow weave "Hurt" ("I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel.") with my tattoo story, but I didn't think the tattoo hurt at all, and I don't feel like speaking in clich├ęs right now. I'll save that for another day, maybe the day I show you the rest of my tattoo =) .