Friday, September 30, 2011

The Fragility of Emotional Balance

I met with my oncologist Wednesday morning. There is one thing I still don’t understand so I asked: If I have limited disease, locally-confined cancer with a clear PET scan, why am I undergoing chemotherapy? Is it because of the type of cancer – small cell?

Yes, she replied. This cancer is rarely found in the bladder, most often in the lung. Small cell cancer has only two classifications: limited disease or extensive (metastasized) disease, but it is always considered a systemic cancer. This is because the “small cells” are neuro-endocrine carcinoma cells. Embryonically neuro-endocrine cells form into all the glands as well as the neurological system. So it is possible for there to be lots of these microscopic villains hanging around which cannot yet be detected by a PET scan. Thus, chemotherapy to poison them wherever they may be lurking.

For some reason, this information caught me completely off-guard. It brought home to me the seriousness of my cancer. It doesn’t alter the optimistic prognosis one iota. But somehow this more explicit information took the wind out of my emotional sails – again! I was planning to go to work, but I could not get ahold of my tears.

Denial is a nice companion. Then another rock is upturned and I see what is under it.  Smash! Those are my emotions splat all over the place. No physical pain, no nausea.  But the daily bouts of weeping are exhausting.

That is the thing about my condition: it’s the emotions that are the trickiest part. Similar to grief, they surface whenever they feel like it. Unannounced. And they don’t drive away on the freeway. They meander on winding back roads so that regaining even a small measure of emotional balance is elusive. 

Part of it is so many utterly new experiences in the span of just three weeks. Another is the intensity of the experiences. Yet another is the unpredictability of the experiences and the information. And I don’t have cigarettes anymore; I have long viewed smoking as helping me manage my emotions.

I am surprised that I cannot talk about my experiences or emotions with anyone other than my husband. Even with a sister who calls frequently and ends each call with, “OK, honey, love you.” I let her calls go to voice mail and ask John to let her know how much I appreciate her thinking of me but that I just cannot talk about this.

Instead I stay awake late into the night to find the necessary stretch of solitude to come to terms with my emotions, to ponder, to pray, to write. And then I am like a newborn who has her days and nights mixed up. “Oh, Mama, I wish you could hold me and rock me,” the infant cries plaintively.

© Jean DiMotto, 2011

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