Susan Neder

Archive for October, 2012|Monthly archive page

What Does Not Kill You Makes You…….What?

In Uncategorized on October 31, 2012 at 4:57 pm

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I have been thinking about the saying “what does not kill you makes you stronger’, and I am not sure that is always true.I recently read something written on this subject by the renowned author, Christopher Hitchens, who recently succumbed  to cancer, in which he made the point that in his personal experience with cancer, that “ism” was not true for him.

 I agree with him completely on the issue of not being physically stronger after fighting cancer. Many cancer treatments have long term permanent side effects that will always be there. But what about other situations? I have used this saying myself, and I think we all want it to be true when we have survived some sort of tribulation. But is it true? Perhaps on some level we have more emotional endurance for unpleasantness after we have gone through a life threatening event, but even that is suspect. What does not kill you often scares the wits out of you and confronting your own mortality in a crisis often makes you realize that you may be more vulnerable than you thought. The fact is, what does not kill you almost kills you, and the short term effect of an encounter like that is often that you are alive but greatly weakened and then you still have to come to terms with those permanent side effects.

What I know for certain is that what does not kill you changes who you are. I don’t think any of us is ever the same person after we have survived something dreadful, whether a disease or an accident. We may survive the event because of treatment or because sheer strength of will, or both, but regardless, we are different. We may be completely recovered, but we now know a reality we did not know before – IT CAN HAPPEN TO US – and that changes our world forever.

 I think we prefer the “what does not kill you makes you stronger” idea because we do not want to feel like victims of our situation. We want to be seen as fighters, wobbling to our feet for another round, no matter how many times we’ve been knocked down.

 Maybe what would be smarter to say is “what does not kill you makes you not dead, and hopefully a little wiser”, and being wiser is probably more helpful in the long run with issues of life and death. Being wiser and thus more realistic about your capabilities is not a weakness.

One interesting place where we see this played out is when someone who has had something nearly fatal does not want to go back for follow up visits with doctors because they do not want to deal with or “give energy to” the possibility of negative outcomes. I can identify with that because I have been there. However, if you do go back and get bad news you realize that going back may have saved your life. If you had not gone back you might have felt you had a more positive attitude, but a shorter life, which was probably not your goal.

 So in conclusion, I think i’ll stop saying “what does not kill you makes you stronger” and say instead “what does not kill me makes me aware of the possibilities”, and hope that serves me well as I go forward to whatever is in store for me.  

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Conundrum

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2012 at 6:48 am

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Isn’t Conundrums a great word? It thunders on your tongue if you say it slow – Con-un-drums, and it is a great word for describing our lives these days; they are full of Conundrums. We are not supposed to be stressed, but our lives are full of stressors. Words like “time” and “expectation” and “perfect” and “competency” can cause our stomachs to drop as though we were on the downward slope of a roller coaster, and we develop a “case of the nerves”. Oh no! Not that! We all know that can make us sick! What now?

 You know, as I look back through time i can’t really see why our time now is more stressful than in our past. Trying not to be scalped by angry indians had to be a major stressor for some folks in the old west, and the Civil War was no picnic either, so why is today worse? Is it just that those people, long ago, did not live long enough to get sick and die of stress? That is a possibility. It is also possible that they handled their stress differently than we do today. I suspect that could be the case. 

Maybe those people could not be bothered by concepts like “perfectionism” because they were too busy trying to survive. I don’t know, but I do know that as a recovering perfectionist my life is much less stressful now. Why did I need to be perfect? I can’t remember, but I after I gave that up, I had a lot more time on my hands, and when I stopped trying to make those around me perfect, a lot of tension drained away.

Instead of  being perfect, I am now trying to figure out what it means to be authentic. I am not positive what that means yet, but I think it means taking off the mask we put on for the world and being who we really are. The challenge  for those of us who have worn the mask for so long is to figure out who that person is, and not get swept up in being “perfectly authentic”, which would, of course, create one of the greatest Conundrums of all! So perhaps the goal is just to  be human after all; to not try to appear to be something we are not. That sounds too simple, doesn’t it? Well, I quit dyeing my hair – is that a start?

Maybe so.

By the way, the magic glasses work! I think I will go put on some Jimmy Buffet music and my magic glasses and count my blessings while working really hard not to create any more Conundrums.

Magic of Summer

In Uncategorized on October 16, 2012 at 4:45 am

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Trying to remember life before cancer is like looking at a bare tree in the dead of winter and trying to imagine it in the blaze of fall.  Cancer is a shadow over your whole life. Even if you think yourself free of it for a while it is still there, lurking…. like the last ghost in the Christmas Carol, a wraith that points his long sharp fingers at you. It has no face; just the energy of death. The words Cancer and Death seem synonymous. Have you noticed that? I have. Sometimes I wonder why we fight death so hard; we know it will get us eventually, just not now. I think it may be the child in us that fights so hard; the summer of our lives we fight for.

I remember waking up on a summer morning, smelling the freshly cut grass and hearing the lawnmower; knowing we had the whole day to play on our bikes. “Be home by dark”, they said; a whole day of fun and adventures. After supper, we’d play games in the street with all the kids – “kick the can”, “piggy wants a signal”; hot and sweaty from running; being woken up in the middle of the night to eat homemade peach ice cream right out of the freezer on the back porch with neighbors.

How about the magic of the Christmas tree on Christmas eve, the magic of Disney, the smell of homemade chocolate chip cookies? That is what we are fighting for; the magic moments in life.

Maybe that is what is missing in our lives as we age. I know the magic is there but I sometimes forget to look for it. I am busy thinking about my day and multitasking. It is easy to see magic in nature or on a child’s face, but what about in less obvious places like on a crowded street, in a grocery store, in a traffic jam or in a coffee shop on an ordinary day? I’ve decided to keep a special pair of glasses on my desk to remind me to find magic – my magic glasses – I will let you know if that helps me get better at finding summer magic no matter what time of year.

There’s help and then there’s HELP!!!!!

In Uncategorized on October 9, 2012 at 5:34 am

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Today I am feeling amazed at the dramatic lifestyle changes required to cope with this type of drastic but often lifesaving surgery. The long recovery time is surprising – I am still not healed, and in the past i could always bounce back quickly from things. At least there are products available out there to help people transition and knowledgeable folks to give advice. I spoke to one woman who told me that her mother had this surgery years ago and there were no products developed and no one to help – she was given a roll of tape and a pat on the back with a “good luck” thrown in as she left the hospital. I don’t have to work hard to imagine how terrible that was for her; if someone had done that to me I probably would have wanted to shoot somebody!

It is true, even today, that the surgeons who perform these complicated surgeries are somewhat cavalier about life afterward. They tend to wave their arms about and say things like ” oh, everything will be fine – you won’t have any problems” and then refer you to a special group of nurses for you to depend on, and who are wonderful but  too busy because there aren’t enough of them.

I have also started receiving lots of literature on all of this written, of course, to help. Did you know that October 6th was World Ostomy Day? Me neither. Whoop – de – doo. That is almost as exciting as Columbus Day. I can’t imagine how you celebrate that. I also received special cards in the mail that I am supposed to show to the TSA people at airport security, because apparently I am now a security risk and can’t just go through the scanner. Oh no, I have to go off into a back room and be checked to be sure I’m not carrying explosives. What? Really? This is not a joke, I am told. As if people with this type of surgery haven’t had enough problems, they now are being treated like possible terrorists? Have I missed all the news stories about gray haired people with bombs and weapons concealed in ostomy equipment? Good grief! What next? I admit I am feeling slightly discriminated against and rather irritable about what I would have to go through now if I want to fly somewhere. Maybe I should call AARP and see if there is a grassroots campaign to end this type of discrimination or at least get some reverse discrimination going. Too snarky? Ok –  maybe I’ll just give up flying and drive everywhere; or maybe if I have to fly I can just take my good friend “margarita” with me, and then I might not even remember going through security, or care.

The latest arrival in the mail is a booklet that tells me that once I am healed, I can ride my bicycle 100 miles or climb Mount Kilamanjaro – isn’t that reassuring? The problem is, I don’t want to do those things. I don’t want to play football or roller skate across the United States. I want to be able to go to the grocery store or out to eat and not have a problem; or go through airport security without holding up the line and being embarrassed. Who writes this stuff anyway? I don’t know but I’m pretty sure it isn’t anyone who has ever had to go through this sort of lifestyle transition.

Oh well, at least I didn’t just get a roll of tape and a pat on the back (and a bill for $500.00 for the tape)! 

Hard Questions

In Uncategorized on October 1, 2012 at 7:16 pm

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We tend to think of cancer as an end of life disease affecting more older people than other age groups;  that may well be true. I don’t know the statistics on age groups. We all know it sometimes hits children, but that is so unthinkable and so against the fabric of life that it feels like an aberration of a sort but I am not sure it is as uncommon as we wish it was.

Then there is the age group of our grown children, many of whom are parents of younger children themselves. That also feels so wrong. So unfair. But cancer has no sense of fairness. It is a monster that feeds indescriminately on everyone in its path. 

 Everyone who has a brush with cancer comes away changed. Some survive and some do not but all are wounded. Close family and friends are also affected in varying degrees . Some feel lucky that it has not hit them, but statistics on this disease show that more and more people are getting it – the numbers of victims is increasing. Cancer appears to be an epidemic and for all the money being spent on it, it is not being beaten back.  

I hope that as much money that is being spent on treatment and cure is also being spent on cause. What is causing this epidemic in such numbers? The internet and bookstores are full of people’s opinions about what might cause it, but there seems to be no clear consensus. Those who have opinions seem sure of theirs, but there are almost as many opinions as there are people. There are some common threads, though; chemicals in our food and in our environment, the lack of nutrients in mass produced food, holes in the ozone layer. But these things have been there for a while, so are the effects of these things cumulative?

 Are we really as powerless as we feel?

We run back and forth swallowing herbs and natural powders whose names we can’t pronounce,  giving up foods that might be a problem, using some cleaning products and discarding others. Is any of this helping? I honestly don’t know and I don’t think anyone else does either. It probably doesn’t hurt, but it isn’t the definitive answer we need. 

 My family does not have a long history of cancer, but in addition to me, I have had two thirty something family members with a devastating diagnosis. One was my niece with a vicious brain tumor that she fought with great courage but could not beat. She is gone from us now, but her light stays with us. The other is a beautiful young mother of three who is riddled with cancer that is not really treatable. Lots of people are asking “how can this happen?” All we can do is stand outside and scream “no” at the sky, but that is not really very effective. 

These are difficult issues to unravel, and I am left hoping that some of our brightest young minds are working tirelessly to find answers to these questions. People in this country are good at overcoming obstacles if they see them and know what they need to do. However, I do think we need to hurry while there are still enough of us to work together. This molehill is becoming a mountain, and it is starting to resemble Everest. Meanwhile it has been suggested that our next family reunion should be held at MD Anderson Cancer Center just to be safe.