Trivia, Perspective, and My Most Hated Of All Organs
Sunday August 05th 2012, 2:42 pm
Filed under: Denver, Friends, Health (Not Cancer), Knowledge Junkie, Leukemia

YEAH SURE, it was great that, on Tuesday, I participated in trivia, despite being absolutely overwhelmingly exhausted (more on this later). And anyway, it’s a responsibility I owe to my teammates! Well… no, it’s probably not, and none of them would ever hold me to anything like that. But I do enjoy (and sort of rely on) playing every week to bust up the ongoing tedium of getting well.

YEAH SURE, it was great that, on Tuesday, our team achieved its highest trivia score ever, even if you choose not to count all those bonus points from that round with all those bonus points. We had great team unity, in which everyone contributed, which is always the best. Well… except, of course, when one teammate has a particularly unfortunate off night, which the rest of us don’t seem to notice. A night in which one person continually contributes just absolutely, incredibly incorrect answers and the others, highlighting not only our propensity to never give up on our teammates, but also some occasional bad decision making, support those very, very bad answers. It’s safe to say we’ve all been that incessantly wrong, yet unwittingly convincing person on more than a few nights who begs, “please don’t listen to me anymore,” only to have the team respond, “no, no–that sounds right!”

YEAH SURE, it was great that, on Tuesday, after a well fought comeback from third place and a very competitive finale, we finished in a very respectable second place, a mere point behind our most vile nemeses/best buddies, the REDS!. Yeah, the very same despicable/honorable team that used to be known simply as the “REDS.” Make no mistake, though, even with the addition of an exclamation point to the end of their simple-seeming teamname, they’re still the same old terrible, horrible, nice, and friendly jerks/class acts they’ve always been. We’ve placed ahead of them plenty of times, but to be honest (implying, perhaps, that I may normally be dishonest?), they’re just more consistant than we are.

HOWEVER, there was one deeply disturbing act I haven’t been able to move past. Something I don’t know that I will ever be able to let go. There was a question that, for whatever unimportant reason, we answered incorrectly. That’s fine, it happens all the time. But this particular wrong answer was different from all others. Ever. In the whole world, in the entire history of people answering obscure questions so they can feel smugly superior to all of their friends (I imagine there was that one smarty pants caveman amongst all our cave dwelling ancestors who must have felt particularly smug, as relatively everything was obscure back then)(also, no one liked him). This answer doesn’t bother me because of some poorly worded question or because of any hard feelings or because of an accidental oversight or anything like that. No, this wrong answer, in itself, will always haunt me.

The round’s topic was “anatomy and the human body.” For the protection of our team pride, I won’t go into the exact details of the question. Suffice it to say, we were supposed to name a specific organ. Without completely processing the wrong answer through my sensory organs, without taking much note of why the answer might be wrong in my thinking organ, and without raising any sort of protest about the answer with my bellyaching organs, I let it slip past me. My most hated of all organs. That dastardly concocter of hormones like insulin and glucagon. That unseemly pusher of digestive enzymes like amylase and lipase. That cowardly, backstabbing “when the tough gets going, I’ll digest myself and destroy all these other important organs while I’m at it” organ. That’s right, the pancreas!

GRAAAAARGH! I HATE THE PANCREAS!!! Or mine, at least. I don’t really have anything specific against yours. Your pancreas might be perfectly lovely, for all I know. Based on personal experience, I highly doubt that it is, but hey, who knows? I apologize if I’ve offended you or your pancreas. Just know that they are all great deceivers, every last one of them, and cannot not be trusted. Talk about a bellyache.

It’s not that I’ve had any new pancreatic problems about which I’ve not written over the past year. In fact, my pancreas seems to have given up its old, villainous ways. Notice I qualified (and italicised) that statement, because I will never stop suspecting my pancreas of plotting against me. I must remain ever vigilant with that thing still hanging around, secreting its merry heart out in there.

Even though its last attack on me was over three years ago and even though its worst, most bile vile, heinous act of attempted murder was well over four years ago, the effects of what it did are still very much a part of my life. Not only physically, in the form of my Dalíesque insides, but also in what has been clear for years now: had my pancreas not hemorrhaged, my life would not be ruled by “getting better.” But it is, and so it goes. Each individual problem spawned from my hemorrhagic pancreatitis in early 2008–from re-learning once and then re-learning again how to walk, to spending years getting off certain medications–has been, or in many cases, is still being addressed.

I’ve come to some kind of terms with that. Which is good, because for a long time, I was at total and complete odds with that entirely unchangeable fact. I wasted a lot of energy trying to fight something that I really couldn’t get around.

For many years into chemo, I pictured my life pre-cancer as a single, taught red string connected snugly and cleanly from one end of my life to the other. When cancer and its many complications came along, that red string was unceremoniously cut somewhere between its begining and its end, leaving both sides to drift slowly apart, slowly downward. I pictured these difficult years as an entirely different length of chord–something rougher, less whole, like a length of naturally scratchy twine. One day, I would finally find both of the now dangling ends of that original fine, red string. But, try as I might, I could not reconnect the two parts of the red string, as it had been exactly the right size to stretch from one end of my life to the other. The two cut ends would touch, but there would be no extra length with which to tie them back together.

And so I would knot the beginning of the length of twine to the end of the first stretch of red string, and I would knot the end of the length of twine to the beginning of the other stretch of red string. Thus, I would bridge the original, beautiful red string together with this crude yarn. My “real life,” that red string, and my “cancer/chemo/recovery life” away from it, the coarse twine, entirely different, entirely separate.

But there is no twine; it’s all the same red string. It was around April that I stopped thinking of the years I’ve been spending here as my life on “pause,” or some sort of alternate reality I had been fighting my way back from, trying to escape back to my life. This difficult patch is just as much a part of my life as any other part has been. It’s just been something I was forced into, instead of something I chose or to which I was complicit. Understanding this has made a huge change in my life.

I don’t mean to suggest that I’ve been able to look at these years as happy or good (although there have been a few positives). Given the option, I never, ever would have chosen this path. It sucks. It’s crappy. Cancer imposed itself upon my life and I hate it for doing so. It caused so much damage and it took so much from me, including over half of what should have been my most formative years, my twenties.

But fighting against it, rather than accepting it, serves only to create more misery. I had limited myself in so many ways, because I thought only in terms of “getting back to my life.” I withheld things, relationships, feelings from my life, telling myself there would be plenty of time for those when I got back to my life. Having since realized there is not a life to get back to, rather, that this is my life, I’ve been able to indulge in thoughts and feelings and experiences I had fully pushed away.

Again, I don’t mean to imply that everything is sunshine and roses now. I’m way, way past being ready to be done with all of this. And it’s hard finding out, what feels like every time I complete some part of this process of getting well, that there’s another whole component I didn’t realize was there, but that I must now take on. And as good as I’ve felt at some points over the past year, as much ground as I continue to gain, as wonderful the progress I’ve made has been, I’m still not well, goddamn it.

There was a day in May, right around my one year anniversary off chemo, when I woke up and felt like myself again. I felt like a human being. I’d heard from survivors and doctors that a day like that would eventually come around. Every time I heard that, I thought bullshit, to myself, there’s no possible way I’ll go to bed one night and wake up the next morning feeling how I used to feel. It’s a very long process. And while it is a long process, that fact, for whatever reason, did not stop there from being that day I woke up and felt like myself–my pre-cancer self–again. It was glorious. I went out and did all sorts of things I hadn’t done in years. It lasted for days, but it did eventually wane away. There have been many days since then that I’ve felt like I remember feeling before all of this began. And each one has been a gift.

There have been a lot of days since then, though, that I’ve been discouraged. As I’m still not well, I’ve had bad days. I’ve had lots of them. And, maybe, the fact that I’ve tasted what it’s like to feel so much better has made it all that much easier to get discouraged. I’m not fighting the process–I need to get well. I need to do this now. I don’t have any question in my head about that. But I can’t help wondering when all this will be over, I can’t help worrying when I don’t feel well that it’s going to be that much longer. I never stop moving towards the finish line–sometimes sprinting, sometimes crawling–but I still don’t know where the finish line is.

Up top, I mentioned that I’ve been overwhelmingly exhausted. It’s discouraging. It feels like watching a bad repeat for the umpteenth time, just because nothing else is on and there’s nothing else to do. My sleep was bad, and I understood why I was tired. But then my sleep got better, and I’ve continued to feel not only exhausted and discouraged, but powerless and confused. I’m going with the tide, I’m not fighting against it, but when will I hit land?

It’s not all bad. It’s very important that I say that. But it is hard. Like I said, I never would’ve chosen this, I was pushed into this. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how I view the world. I’ve gained amazing perspective that I know I would not have otherwise been able to, maybe not even over the course of a lifetime. I love what I’ve gained. But I don’t want to be so overwhelmingly tired that I have to cancel plans, that I have to throw myself into bed between doctor’s appointments, that doing the things I want to be doing puts me out of commission for weeks.

This exhaustion has played a huge part in my lack of writing. I began writing this entry on Tuesday night, and am now finishing it on Sunday afternoon. This exhaustion has kept me from what I want to be doing. But, despite it, I’m still moving towards that finish line. I may be crawling right now, but I know I’ll be back on my feet, sprinting again soon.


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Great post, Reid! It’s been a tough road–one that you didn’t choose-but I’m glad you’ve been able to find some peace and acceptance along the way. Yes, a good chunk of your twenties have involved fighting cancer and keeping a self destructive pancreas in check ect. but it hasn’t stopped you from being a pretty amazing person and it won’t stop you from experiencing all of the good days that lie ahead. It’s awesome that you’ve decided not to limit yourself! It will make it that much easier to sprint toward the direction of what you want the minute the opportunity for sprinting arises. I bet you’ll metaphorically reach land soon and if I’m wrong, I’ll gladly invest in some metaphorical water skis. Or maybe a metaphorical boat. A boat might reduce the risk of me metaphorically falling off of water skies and landing on one of the sets of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week or some other form of hectic hyperbole or haphazard alliteration.

Comment by Krista Harris 08.05.12 @ 4:48 pm

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