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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What You're Doing

Dealing with cancer and (resulting) chronic kidney failure has caused me to think about a great many things. One thing we do as people is make judgements about our situation based on what's happening to others. Keeping up with the Joneses and so on. Being put into the class of people affected by cancer or kidney failure is no different.

Comparisons are unavoidable, it's part of us. If you observe someone going near a tiger and they get eaten, you learn you shouldn't go near tigers. Or if someone's having better luck with another doctor or different treatment, you might switch. However, reacting to certain situations can be morally dicey: if you hear someone's chemo isn't going well, do you think, "Thank God that isn't me."? Or, if they got a kidney transplant and you're still on dialysis, "The lucky bastard."?

When I was a kid a neighbor told us a story about when he once donated blood; and when he was done, he was sitting there waiting to leave (undoubtedly eating cookies!). When he observed someone else having difficulty with his procedure, he (probably naturally) thought "I'm glad that isn't me." Shortly afterwards the other man joined him and they struck up a conversation; my neighbor was really impressed with him. He felt guilty for having thought that in the first place; that was a real person.

I consciously try to avoid comparing my situation to those of my fellow patients, whether they're cancer or dialysis patients. I mean that I avoid self-value comparisons, precisely because it's pointless. I derive no joy from others doing worse than me, I'm sad about it; and I don't get down if I think someone's doing better, I'm happy for them. Bottom line is: my situation could be much better; but, it could be worse, much worse. And nothing happening to anyone else can change it.

When you go through a crisis like this, it can negatively affect your self-worth, your self-image. I believe your self-worth is not dictated by your situation, but rather your self-worth dictates how you deal with any situation. Cancer can take your hair, or make you lose 50 pounds, puke mercilessly, give you industrial strength diarrhea, and generally make you feel like crap. Kidney failure drains you, makes you anemic, dialysis gives you leg cramps, deprives you of sleep, limits your diet, and your freedom as a person. You can pretend it doesn't affect you, but it needles at you, trying to work its way in.

I lost a lot, most of which isn't coming back. I railed against this reality for a long time, but eventually you cut loose the old reality and accept the new. We're often so caught up in what we're doing we don't really take the time to think about it, but we often gravitate towards the edge of our sphere and wish it was something it isn't. Some of those changes you can make (which doctor(s) do I choose, what food do I eat, and millions of other decisions); but some are made for you. Some stretch your sphere, some deform it, and some like these burst it and you must create it again.

I think importantly all this brings me closer to acceptance. I mean that in the sense of the commonly known stages of grief. I've been though them all, and I'm trying to open the door to acceptance, to peek in, finally to walk through and slam it shut behind me. Coming to it has been possible by the stability of my conditions and persistence of my remission thus far; and the guidance from my family, church, friends, and neighbors.

Early on I didn't think of dealing with cancer and kidney failure as entailing the grief process, but it definitely does. My pastor pointed this out early on; and I understood, but only as an idea. I looked at those Lily Oncology books, and seized on those images of darkness, and paths into it. Now I've walked though it, lived it, and I'm searching for the way out. There's no timetable or short-circuiting the process; there's no picking what stage you're going to be today.

It's just a journey you have to make; it's what you're doing.

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