Ambivalence

Romans

I’m ambivalent.   I didn’t know what that meant, what the true meaning behind such a layered word was. Sure, I had heard it time after time upon watching one of my favorite movies, yet hadn’t resonated as to what the depth of the citation was, that was until a few weeks ago.

You see, I was declared healthy two months ago, after my nearly year battle with Stage IV, “incurable” cancer. Healthy in the world of cancer, not in the real sense of the word. I was as healthy as I would ever be. My tumors still existed, but without activity of the disease, therefore aggressive treatment was no longer necessary. Until of course, an unknown date far off into the future, perhaps when I was old enough for cancer to be a-typical, following a lifetime full of contented moments, through that of an admirable, strong career, a quirky marriage and at least two children, both with names passé, like Pearl and Vernon, all in an artless attempt to delightfully balance our modern romance.   But before the far out actuality of baby Pearl and Vernon, or better yet Agnes and Arthur (see it’s the inconsistency taking action), I would have to find out what the stratums of ambivalence actually was. Was I indeed healthy? Was I a normal human? Was I happy or sad? Extraordinary or just a regular part of the vast organism holding to the ecstatic, hypnotized approach to life? Ambivalence.

If I wasn’t sick, then what was I? Surely, I wasn’t “well”. Waking each morning, deadened by the lack of feeling in all four limbs due to the evils of chemotherapy side effects, I had become just as disoriented as to what to do with myself. Throughout the course of my diagnosis and treatment, I was the animated cancer girl, the one who fought tooth and nail to live, feeling alive in the potential, yet somehow unimaginable glooms of death. I reflected. In fact, I thought a lot while I was undergoing treatment, both about life and death and how separated the two were from one another and visualized myself in both capacities. In one arena, which is life and to be living, I belted together my wishes for the future, alongside the company of loved ones and fancied myself to be this bigger, better, wiser person post cancer. Creating the version of myself that I wanted to be, I told myself that cancer chose me, to allow me to find my voice, be aú fait with the purpose to my befuddling diagnosis in my twenties and reveal to anyone who was adept to listening, what the truthful meaning to life was. Self-assuredly hailing as someone who held that special ticket, despite it’s undesirable accolades for the winnings. That was precisely it; I recognized that most would find being diagnosed with cancer in the prime years of their twenties to be a bear, an insurmountable amount of cargo that was just there to fuck up your life, even feasibly ending your life. But, unlike most, I found a way from day one of my cancerous identification to cope, to march on and be the damndest, most defiant cancer patient that there ever was. I considered the alternate and deemed that plastering my thoughts with inspirational quotes and anti-cancer propaganda would likely echo my wishes to live, therefore be skillful and talented enough to survive, because after all, survival in itself is the true virtuoso.

Then there was the opposing side, the crosswise model of what my ambivalence projected. Death; something, which is often thought of when in the amphitheater of cancer and its expiry ways. In the beginning death terrified me. I wasn’t ready to die, for I had not been able to tender my contented moments, alongside my wicked cool career, prevailing marriage to my sweet and the opportunity to raise our idiosyncratic children, what were there names again– oh, right, Pearl and Vernon; or better yet Scarlette and Everett. Once again changeability was proving to be a deep conflict in my ambivalent psyche. At first it was the things that I needed to do to avoid death, run from it and show who was boss. For fuck sake, it became my all intended apparition. I lived and breathed how to evade death, yet was walking so closely to the other station, in which once the train comes to a screeching halt, so does your life. It wasn’t until recently that I thought of death in a positive light. This being after my declaration of health. Somehow, suddenly, without the possibility of death lurking about, I became less amused at trying to stay alive, or even wanting to for that matter. It’s not quite been put together how my mind can connect the madness and logic, medically or otherwise, as to how an individual who had fought so fiercely to live on, yet is now blessed with an endurable second chance, has wishes to be a part of the departed. Yet, the days, weeks and months following my good fortune became more and more difficult than the voyage through cancer and its treatment. Once again, how could I piece together my menacing thoughts, when the news of my remission should have brought me great contentment, enough to propel me back into the real world, amongst the living, working towards my life altering movement into the truths about cancer, the depths of its shadowy distortion and how I still made it out with enough sanity and grace to possess my adoring marriage and obscurely assorted future baby names.

As time proceeded, I continued to gain greater and greater disposition to the latter. The latter of course being the death scenario. All of the sudden, death didn’t scare me; I had made peace that my chances to live or die were 50/50. Nonetheless, ambivalent. It was as though I was meant to bring ambivalence to the surface, if, for nothing else to describe in full, the live definition of what ambivalence is. Once the 50/50 shades of cup empty or half full were exposed, it became even more clear that if you are only giving yourself a 50 percent chance of living, then you might not be torn either way. Life, death – ah I could stay or go. If you are so much as only “caring” that your survival rate is a shot at 50, what if your carelessness to live lessons below that? Does that make you depressed? Better yet, does it make you want to kill yourself? How can anyone answer that in sincere fashion, after all, depression doesn’t always result in suicide. Very easily I could be a mildly depressed person and not ever feel the pain behind no longer wanting to live. It was a large spectrum, but nevertheless a spectrum that I was unfamiliar with, as I did not have any previous bouts with depression and in return, had nothing to compare it to. For all I knew over the last few months, depression was a common side effect after diagnosis, treatment and everything else in between. I couldn’t have known that this wasn’t the norm, i.e.- allowing yourself to wallow in the news of remission, pining for treatment, fearful of what the future may hold, stressed with getting back in touch with your life previous to cancer and lastly, realize that you cannot cover up depression with a bit of crimson red lipstick, along with new tattoos, hairstyles and even desired trips to the beach. No, these were all things that lead to a temporary feeling of pleasure, but masking the real issue at hand; depression.

As the news of my remission came to be further and further away, my uncharacteristic woes became more and more prevalent. It started with having loss of interest in most things; seeing friends, enjoying outings, returning text messages or phone calls and then forming even greater barriers of not wanting to go out in public, not being able to sleep, forgetting to shower and at last unable to get out of bed, at all. My crying episodes were morning, noon and night and my medicinal marijuana became more than a pain management tool for my neuropathy, but a safety net in which I was beginning to desire for the numbness of a temporary escape into peacefulness where unicorns and mermaids existed. When Steve would ask what was the matter, the only thing I could murmur was that I wish I had died, or that I no longer wanted to be “here” and by “here”, I was referring to planet earth, this life, element, tier or whatever you wish to call it. I was done, I had enough and thoughts of permanent sleeping seemed ideal.

I couldn’t tell you what had happened for me to go from one extreme to the next. On one hand being the poster cancer baby and on the other, a suicidal, not down to hack it, girl who was too brave during treatment and ran out of the short supplied bravery when approaching “remission”. Ah, yes, once more, a theme for you, a theme of ambivalence. Did I long to exist or expire?   This became a fairly common question that I would ask myself and when in the deepest of blues, would share my carelessness towards living and carrying on, but rather my longing to perish in a conquest of feeling total and utter peace. Death was now defined as peace. A peace that up until my remission news, was found right here on this earth and in the body of Britt Ochoa. Now my sense of peace seemed to be in the once believed darkness of death. Beginning to become an every day wish, those around me, particularly my husband, began to feel useless in the attempt to make me happy. For my happiness came in the opposite of living, somewhere I would be eternally at rest, both mind, body and spirit.

Three days ago, in what I now find to be a cry for help, I took an unwise amount of Morphine, followed by equal amounts of Ativan. Fortunately, all that happened was a good scolding from my husband for my lack of sensibility, some tears, a tad bit of shame and of course sleepiness. When my plan didn’t work, I begged Steve to get me out of town; somewhere I could escape my thoughts and be in stillness with my soul. The days leading up to it were nothing short of a shit show. Outside forces definitely played a part after firstly, finding out that my sister in laws peg my cancer to karmic forces and secondly the words of my mother in law disparaging that she is sick and tired of me using cancer as an excuse. An excuse for what, you might ask? Who knows, either way the debauched negativity was piling high, along with the consistent lack of support and compassion, a top of my already mounting sadness and depression. For the majority of the weekend, I spent talking to God or whomever it is that supposedly watches down on us. I apologized up and down for being gifted a second chance at life and not knowing what to do with it. I continued to apologize for taking a place in the line, when there are so many fighters that fought the good fight, but nevertheless didn’t win in the end. I was willing to bargain with him, in my guilt stricken way. If there was someone who wasn’t going to make it, like, for sure, you know, as if living wasn’t in their deck of cards, yet regardless they fought every day with a smile on their face to live. My proposition was that I would trade places in line with that person, a person who would really put a second chance to good use and not waste it, like I had been doing for the last two months. I had in fact, found myself pleading with the man upstairs, swearing that I would do anything to get out of my life and transitionally swap spots with someone more worthy. My conclusion surmised that I had already been afforded a pretty full, interesting life and it got to a point where, aside from experiencing parenthood, I had satisfactorily done everything that I absolutely HAD to do. Sure, everyone has his or her “bucket list”, or my preferably labeled “to-do” list, but sincerely, aside from that I asked myself, would I really be missing out on anything else if I continued on with this life? Naturally, if there was something not worth missing- how could I miss it if I no longer existed in the first place?

Fast-forward to yesterday, I had two appointments. One being my standard monthly port draw so we could discuss the results come Thursday with my Oncologist and the second being a meeting with a social worker, in an effort to relieve me of some of my sadness and dark thoughts. As we arrived to my first appointment, we walked into the Doctors office, which I had become so lovingly connected to over the past year and I signed myself in, ready to get it over with so I could move on to the next appointment and be on my merry way, back to bed, where most recently I found myself most comfortable. I sat next to Steve in the waiting room and before I could count to ten, I was running out of the place and practically having a meltdown for all to see. Once Steve caught up with me, I tried to explain my sporadic thought wave, but failed to fully make him aware as to why I fled to begin with. The only thing I could bring myself to say was, “I can’t do this!”

Frustrated and puzzled, Steve then drove me to my second appointment of the day, which turned out to be the one and only appointment of the day. When we sat down with the social worker, the first question she asked was how long Steve and I had been married for. Before Steve could answer, I burst into uncontrollable tears, eventually coming to a break for a breath. The counselor said that it appears I need psychiatric help due to my recent state of mind and my battle experiencing cancer and all that I have gone through in the past year. She, in good faith, did not feel it would be wise to wait to get into see someone a week from now, expressing that attention needed to be drawn immediately, even going as far as suggesting I check myself into a hospital for mental and behavioral health. Without hesitation and my very own will power, I too, thought that checking myself into the loony bin would be the very best and most relevant, responsible thing to do.

Despondently, yet unavoidably, I decided to check myself into a psychiatric hospital the following day, as in today. Please note that I was in no way doing this to gain pity, to invite praise, nor did I do it to be an inspiration in the least.   Instead, I decided that not caring about my 50/50 chances of living or dying is not the way I want to live. I recognized that there is a life beyond a cancer diagnosis and even a reality after remission. I so desperately seek to get better so I can be the bigger, better, wiser person that I fancied I would be, along with advocating for cancer and all of the woes it can bring about. As I woke up this morning, I was ready to get started. Steve drove me to the hospital, where I was told a room would be ready for me. Signing myself in, I was unsure as to whether or not I was making the right decision and my stomach was in knots. Once again, I hadn’t any previous experience with depression, let alone a mental ward. My only recognition of what it might even be like was from the movies I had watched where they show the petrifying sides to mental institutions.

The in-take process took nearly four hours. You sit in a standard waiting room, much like the ER, only you are amongst other mentally unstable people searching, or being forced to get help. The staff asks you a series of questions, notably related to self-harm or the potential harm to others, followed by a therapist asking you if you are well enough to sit in the waiting room without any suicidal attempts. Once you answer the first series of questions, you are called back to a room, a room that is plain in color and all over decorum. For approximately an hour, the therapist continues to ask you further questions, specifically related to your needs, diving right into the realness of why you are there to begin with. Once you have satisfied all of the questions, you are once again released back into the waiting room, amongst your new friends and neighbors for the next few days.

The entire time I was in the private room retorting to inquiries, something was telling me that this wasn’t the type of help that I was in need of. More than ever I needed to be at home, in the comfort of my own four walls, my husbands care and a mouse click away from my favorite movies brought by way of Netflix. However, I was committed to getting help and more importantly recognized that I wanted help so I could march forward with my young life, with things like goals, a purpose and future wishes. Every fiber of my being was in doubt of this, but again, I wanted to prove to myself that I wanted to live and show myself that a prospect of positivity could come out of this experience, perhaps even one day experiencing motherhood to children with antiquated names. Exiting the interrogation room, I returned to the waiting room to find an uneasy look on my husbands face. I quietly sat next to him, thinking the same thoughts. When he looked at me to express how uncomfortable he was with me staying there, our brain waves united, but I didn’t want to be the first to say it. Precipitously, I was no longer ambivalent. Long gone were the thoughts of unbalanced hesitation as to whether I wanted to live or die. I was now, more than ever, certain that I didn’t want to harm myself or put my life in jeopardy, particularly after fighting such a difficult battle and coming out on the other end.

Just as quickly as I checked myself in, I checked myself out. In no way am I taking the seriousness out of what mental hospitals are there for, but in this slim occurrence I came to understand that being a little under motivated after such an epic battle is par for the course. Sure, not every cancer patient and survivor may experience depression, or even so, not to such a degree, but either way, I was accepting that I was a little fucked up at the moment. And you know what, that’s okay. The important thing is that I see the improvement I need to make in investing back into my life and the wonderful people who are in it. Re-focus my energies on positivity and so it’s not to fester on the negative and those who partake.

Shortly after my escape, I shared with Steve my newfound motivation for living and in no fancy way, getting my shit together, immediately if not sooner. Perhaps it was just the driving force that I needed, or perhaps it would become just another life experience to add to the list. Either way, I found myself in a grateful state of mind. Grateful for my loving, devoted husband and friend, appreciative for the beautiful family and friends in my life, a safe environment to call home and most of all, the will to lucidly broach my life intentions, whether they be in the immediate future or far off forthcomings; I was fucking alive, damnit and for the first time in a long time, in high spirits to have fought for the life I have ahead of me.

At the end of the day, I centered myself with some much-needed yoga at the Cancer Community Center, alongside my fellow cancer warriors. My wounds are not all healed, my head is still a little foggy and I have a lot of soul searching and therapist visits in my future. But, I can now understand that depression is very real, as are thoughts of self-harm and it is never too late to cry out for help. Everyone needs a little mental break now and again, just as long as the ambivalence between wanting to live and die always concludes in the drive to live the beautiful life we were imparted. Now, I dare you, go find your bliss and let go of any uncertainty. Life has a way of finding its way back and I couldn’t be more indebted that I have found mine.

PS- my apologies for saying “fuck” a lot.   Sometimes there is just no other way to eloquently say the “f” word and get your point across. xx

PSS- I am also recovering from a severe popsicle addiction, but I suppose that will be another story, for another day. xxx

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone Number: 1-800-273-8255

American Cancer Society:  Depression Support/Reading Material

Cancer Support Community

Love, Britt x

Remission ☚ ☚ ☚

Remission

Ochoa, Britt- Cancer Timeline

Ochoa, Britt- 12 Chemo Rounds

If you shake me hard enough, I will appear, yet it feels as though I have been in an unceasing dream, or shall I say nightmare since July 1st, 2013. It has taken me a couple of days to regain surreal consciousness as I was sluggishly coming out of the dark tunnel that has been my existence for the last nine months. In fact, I became used to the dark tunnel, my eyes adjusted to the dimness and although I imagined the light at the end, I grew to accept my new reality as a Stage IV cancer patient. Somehow, I knew by some means I’d eventually see the glistening light but in the mean time I vigorously challenged my mind, body and spirit for the fight of my life.

My new identity and only distinctiveness became that of a Stage IV cancer patient. Prior to being diagnosed, I held a good deal of individual characteristics that made up my identity in my profile as a human being. Twenty-seven years had crafted me into an abundance of roles to which I found myself identifying with; a lover of all mediums of art, a frequent concert goer, a best friend to Crystal, wife of Steve, daughter of Karen and Tom, loyal employee of American Express, a shoe collector, a clothing coinsure, frequent traveler and student of the world. However, as of July 1st, 2013, my identity splintered and all of the things that once made me who I was, became superseded as I hastily shed my foregoing self to become a cancer patient, which immeasurably became my whole universe.

The last month had become soberly temperament in the realm of ways I was deteriorating both physically and mentally. For weeks I was vomiting between fifteen to twenty times per day and in some cases even greater than twenty. I was unable to keep anything down, even water. Much like many other times within the last nine months, I was forced to shelter myself like a recluse, as my symptoms disallowed me to be a part of the rest of the world for fear I would be sick, pass out and assassinate any remaining cool factor that I was clinging onto for my ego’s sake. Nevertheless it became very apparent that my inflated coolness was overstepped by my Exorcist’s style of retching. I passed the indications along to my Oncologist and she had many calculations as to what she believed it could be, even at one point believing that my symptoms were synonymous with the possibility of a brain tumor. Needless to say, I endlessly underwent every assessment and scan known to man in this so called game of “practicing medicine”. Fortunately, but frustratingly everything was coming back negative and to no avail we discouragingly found ourselves at a stand still. I cursed and I cried. I spent several nights in the Emergency Room and still no sign of the culprit or any form of developments in the hunt of what was remotely off beam as they were all returning to us unfounded. Conclusively, after kicking and screaming, my Oncologist decided it would be best to admit me to the hospital, and just like that I once again became an occupant of the Oncology Ward. The plan of action was to monitor me in the ongoing effort to uncover my unusual and erratic symptoms, which was liable for draining my body of any remaining strength by the minute.

As Murphy’s Law would have it, I did not vomit once during the recurring visit to the hospital. Ultimately, the Doctor’s were unable to categorically figure out the vile symptoms I had been having over the last month and determined that the only conceivable cause was myself. Yes, that is correct, the medical professionals reasoned that due to all of the negative testing and scans; the unremitting vomit activity was due to my very own irrational brain, or psychological anxiety, as they prefer to define it. My brain was the dam and the levee ruptured leaving me with an overflow of anxiety and self-made symptoms that could not be contained.

Now with the understanding that the monsters in my head were making me sick, I was about to be discharged from what had become my natural habitat, but not before my lovely Oncologist entered the room. Making herself comfortable at the foot of the hospital bed, as I lay sitting up waiting for her to address any further information pertaining to my current circumstances, she reached for my hand, squeezing it in a fashion as though she was about to share something of great magnitude. I took a deep breath preparing myself for her words and she then began to speak in her soft, gentle tone, “Britt, your last PET scan came back remarkable and while there is still a small tumor, there is no evidence of disease”. Confused, yet delighted, I once again found myself emerging straight into business mode. I had so many questions and my brain was scrambling to connect all of my overwhelming thoughts. Was I cancer free? Did I beat Stage IV cancer? Is this hellish nightmare over? Did I redeem the clean bill of health I had so hoped for? I was quickly shut down on all of the above questions. My Oncologist went on to say that I am in the early stages of remission, the tumor still exists, and if it weren’t for my debilitating neuropathy I’d still be on chemo going forward. She proceeded to keep it real with me and explained that the tumor still resides in my body and that there is a high probability that the cancer could return at anytime, being that my diagnosis was Stage IV. Yet, for now it is dormant and by a small margin, I am well enough to proceed with my young life at the moment without any evidence of disease living inside of me. It wasn’t the exact way I had envisioned myself receiving such news, however to know that the chemotherapy treatments proved to be a success and I was now able to carry on with a quality of life, came to be first class news and the greatest news I had heard in almost a year.

It’s been nearly five days since I have been gifted this news and to be perfectly honest I have not been able to make sense of it all in my head. But, more significantly I am hesitant as to how I should refer to myself– Am I still a cancer patient, or now a cancer survivor, or perhaps neither? Yet, I am more than willing to accept the news and feel vigorous that I survived this war that has been waged upon my body and robbed me of good health for the last 290 days, 41 weeks, 417,600 minutes, 6,960 hours and 9 months + 16 days.

After we had finally arrived home, Steve hugged and inhaled me while whispering, “I finally have my wife back”. Tears streaming from his eyes, I kissed the salt that was streaming down his cheek. Somehow, I felt as though I was the only one who wasn’t bursting at the seams with ultimate ecstasy. Cancer had managed to take possession of my life and suddenly I didn’t know how to go back to my life after the cancer surrendered. Following a steaming hot shower to wash away my bewilderment, I stood in the doorway of our bedroom that met the living room where Steve was gleefully revealing the remarkable news with all of our family and friends. In my disoriented state of mind, Steve detected that the best news we had received since my diagnosis was not sinking in for me and he wanted me to completely take in the concept that I was now a healthy twenty-eight year old woman. Resembling that of a movie, Steve enticed me to chant and scream and repeat at the top of my lungs, “I’M HEALTHY, I’M HEALTHY, I’M HEALHY…I, Britt Ochoa am H-E-A-L-T-H-Y”. It was an unfamiliar declaration, as even so much as decent health had been a stranger for so long. Somehow, I was the only one needing convincing of this news and felt guilt-ridden that I was not reacting in a more gratified and wound up manner. Sure, I knew I should be jumping for joy, showcasing tears of happiness and taking the news in a gifted way, but I was unable to parade my sudden liberation; perhaps out of shock or perhaps because I felt unconvinced.

The first few days of my new “branded identity” as someone in remission did not go as expected. Unable to get myself out of bed, I found myself wanting to be completely alone and still felt as though I was in the never ending dark tunnel that I somehow became comfortable in. The thing is, as I would lay in bed over the last nine months, it became a frequent daydream as to when the day remission would be mentioned and how I would feel in that very instant. I pictured myself to feel well, feel 100% and back to the Britt that once was. But, in turn, I felt the opposite, still reeling from the brutal pains of neuropathy, as well as the poisonous chemo that remains in my body, a “welcome home” to your old self, was not arising. Were all of the nightmares over my health supposed to escape my head by the mere mention of remission? Was I supposed to peel away the mental scars and put them in a mason jar for safekeeping? Pessimistically, my head seemed to be splitting at the seams and I found myself having an identity crisis; who was I, if not Britt, the Stage IV cancer patient?

So, as I sit here now, I can honestly tell you that I am still very jumbled over how I am presumed to emote over such rewarding news. However, alongside the confusion, I am eternally grateful that I was able to go on this journey, for I truly believe that I am a better person for it, whomever that person may now be. I now understand the meaning of “life is too short”, I comprehend that life can change in an instant and that no matter the situation; you must go at it in its full entirety. I am humbled by this experience and realize that people are truly mind-blowing, ranging from close friends and family, to complete and utter strangers. When I didn’t have the strength to pray for myself or inflate myself to keep fighting, so many soldiers in my corner took it upon themselves to keep me in their pleas to God and blessed me with good vibrations. The love and encouragement will forever be in my heart and mean more to me than anyone will ever understand.

As for my next steps, I am going to focus on healing and manifesting the idea that nothing is permanent, much like my identity as a Stage IV cancer patient. I’m not sure who I am now since finding myself post cancer, or how I will come to define myself, but what I am damn sure of is that I am a relentless fighter and if cancer shows its dreadful face again, I will be well equipped to handle it and terminate its existence.

Thank you, to everyone for being an unwavering support system through this turbulent trek. I am going to get busy living and embrace the new Britt, while rekindling some of my former identities. I now revere my life similar to that of a semi colon; a sentence that was supposed to end but didn’t. My sentence in life came close to an end and I was given the opportunity for it to continue. Therefore, I will be upmost grateful for this gift called life and continue on with my life’ s story.

Until next time,

Love- Britt x

Love, Britt x

RIP, Arianna ♥♡♥

#BSMHB #BrittOchoa #BeStillMyHeartBlog I www.bestillmyheartblog.wordpress.com I

To us it was just an ordinary day, the beginning to a beautiful spring weekend.  For Arianna and her precious loved ones, this third weekend in March was unlike any other and was the end of a battle that a beautiful little girl fought.  Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Arianna or her family, I discovered Arianna’s beautiful light when I was scrolling through Instagram and a close friend shared Arianna’s feat against cancer.  Unsure of her age, it is clear that Arianna was far too young to have experienced the evils of cancer.  Their is not a child on the face of the earth that should have to endure cancer; the despicable life threatening disease that takes so many children and adults lives day after day, year after year.

Although I am battling for my life everyday, I would do it again and again if it meant that children were exempt from this heinous war on their bodies.  It’s easy for me to fall victim to feeling sorry for myself time after time.  However, when I see or hear about a child that has to suffer from cancer and lose their life, it puts everything into perspective.  I was met with a huge reality when seeing Arianna’s angelic face.  There is no doubt that she was a hero, whether you know her or not.  One look at her amazing face and you know that she was a ray of beaming sunshine.

Despite your political stance, religion or beliefs, I am certain that the thought of cancer and children brings a tear to your eye.  No, I did not personally have the pleasure of knowing Arianna or her family, but they are in my thoughts, heart and prayers.  May Arianna find peace up above and watch over her family like the angel that she is.  May Arianna’s family find it in their heart to bravely bless other people with Arianna’s story and find peace and happiness to never forget and always love Arianna.

Thanks, Lulu for sharing her inspiring story.

Love,

Britt x

7 Rules

I’ve recently viewed this article floating around on Facebook and I had to share.  Many times, people do not know what to do, how to act or what needs to be done when being in close proximity of a cancer patient, going through chemotherapy.  To no fault of there own, there is a sense of awareness when knowing how to approach a cancer patient and say and act by doing the “appropriate’ things and react in a graceful manner.  This article serves as a fantastic guide when visiting someone with cancer, as well as has some staggering statistics of cancer, survivorship and truly how many people battle this grave disease.  I hope you can all take away something from this article and most of all feel more comfortable on the approach with cancer patients.

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At the stroke of midnight, 01 January, 2014, US Census Bureau statistics tell us that the population of the USA was 317,297,938. The American Cancer Society tells us that in the year 2014, 16 million out of those 317 million people will be diagnosed with cancer.

Half of all men will get cancer during their lifetimes

  • One-third of all women will get cancer
  • Three-quarters of all cancers strike after age 55
  • Fourteen million people are living with cancer; as survivors or current fighters
  • 1500 people die from cancer every day
  • 600,000 lives are lost every year

My brother Michael lost his life his life in 2012 to oral squamous cell carcinoma. Me, I’m one of thefourteen million survivors.

The numbers are clear. At some point in your life, you will want to visit a friend or loved one with cancer. It is scary as Hell. What to say? What to do? How do I help? We want to help, but we don’t know how. What are the rules for a visit with a cancer warrior?

My Seven Rules for Calling on the Cancer Warrior.

1)  Make absolutely, positively, 100% certain you are healthy.

Whether from the chemo, the stress of the illness, or their cancer itself, many cancer patients have compromised immune systems. A little bug or a sniffle that might put you a bit under the weather could have serious repercussions for the health of a cancer patient. Even without your bug raising serious problems, a cancer patient already feels lousy enough. Keep your sniffle-ly nose to yourself. If your kid stayed home sick yesterday because of some norovirus, stay home.

i)  Wear clean clothes. Your favorite sweater, the one a little kid goobered on yesterday in the queue at McDonald’s whilst you weren’t looking, might still harbor some Klebsiella or H. Influenzae.

ii)  Wash in. Wash out. When you enter the house, wash your hands properly with soap and running water for 30 seconds-that’s singing Happy Birthday through twice. Or use hand sanitizer. Wash them again on your way out. It’s a good practice.

2)  Make contact in advance.

My brother and I were as close as brothers can be. Yet, when he was deep in his cancer fight, I never dropped by. One, it’s just rude. Two, you never know what kind of day your friend is having. Michael really liked to make those contacts via text message. To a cancer patient, a ringing phone, when your pain and discomfort have just settled down enough so you can nap, is a huge and unwanted intrusion. Send a text. You might not get an answer. Don’t drop by ‘just to see if everything is all right.’ Most likely, your friend is getting some sleep.

Cancer, and cancer treatment, are exhausting beyond words. How exhausting? Picture yourself as you lie on the couch with your face turned towards the seat cushions. You hear something interesting on the TV. Now, try and imagine that you lack the energy to turn your head towards the TV to see what is on. Yep. That bad. Sometimes worse.

3)  Time limit your visit.

When you text to see if there is a good time to visit, give a limit.

“Michael, is there a good time today or tomorrow for me to stop by for a twenty minute visit?”

When those twenty minutes are up, get up and go. If your friend wants you to stay longer, s/he’ll let you know.

Even when we have cancer, when someone visits our home, we feel as if we are the host. Just to burn the mental energy required to be “the host” is a huge drain on very limited psychological resources.

4)  Contact the caregiver about gifts.

Before you bring anything with you, contact the patient’s caregiver. Radiation and chemotherapy play havoc with the senses. What to you is a lovely scented bouquet of flowers might kick off three hours of retching and vomiting for your friend. In addition, many people become highly sensitive to pollen during treatment. A plant might be nice. But ask.

We like to feed our friends and family when times are tough. Ask if there is anything special you could bring, and anything specific you should avoid. Just because your friend liked your lasagna two months ago, the smell of the tomatoes and basil might send her reaching for the waste bucket.

When Michael was ill, I brought him DVDs. He was a huge baseball and Detroit Tigers fan, so I brought him highlight DVDs from the Tigers amazing 1968 season. We were little kids then, just starting to fall in love with sports and our heroes. I also brought him Rocky and Bullwinkle videos. Mindlessly funny stuff. Norman Cousins, in his great book, Anatomy of an Illness, wrote at length how the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and the other great comedians of his youth helped him heal during his bouts with ankylosing spondylitis.

“I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep,” he reported. “When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.”

5)  Avoid forced optimism.

Don’t be a cheerleader.

“You’re going to be fine. I just know it.”

“Bullshit,” says the patient. “I might freakin’ die. That’s why they’re bolting my head to that goddam table and irradiating my skull. That’s why my body is slowly being carved to pieces. That’s why I get bags of ugly yellow chemicals pumped into my body. You don’t know shit about my illness. I’m laying here, feeling like if I blink 2% too hard, my eyeball is going to fall out of my face, and if I swallow without thinking on it first, I’m going to be curled up in a ball in the bathroom for the next two hours heaving my guts out, while I try not to have shit come pouring out my asshole, and you’re sitting there telling me ‘You’re going to be fine. I just know it?’ ”

“What the fuck do you know? Get the fuck out of here. Jesus, you fuckingidiot!”

Don’t play pity poker. Don’t tell a story about your cousin who’s a cancer survivor. Fact is, in the midst of my cancer, I don’t care. I’ve got my own problems right here, thankyouverymuch. When I was struggling with my melanoma, I found inspiration in an older friend who was fighting a much worse case of esophageal cancer. As cancer fighters and survivors, we’re good at finding our own inspiration. Hang out with me, that’s all I ask.

6)  Physical contact. Ask first.

Cancer hurts. Sometimes, the pain cannot be imagined. Sometimes, a hug can be agony. Sometimes, you need a hug, a bit of human warmth and contact to remind you that you’re not alone. So ask before you hug. Pro-tip: Use your friend’s hug as your guide. As I was leaving my brother’s house, I’d always ask Michael if we could hug. When he said yes, I’d let him move towards me, and as firmly as he hugged me, I’d hug back, but just a bit softer. If you opt for a hand-squeeze, be just as gentle. Hard to believe, but some cancers cause such deep-seated bone pain that even a too-firm yet loving squeeze of the hand is agony.

What Should You Do?

7)  Be there now.

Ram Dass titled his seminal 1971 work Be Here Now. When you are with a cancer fighter, be there. Turn off your damn phone. Your twitter feed can wait. If your friend wants to talk; Talk. With. Them. Listen, really listen, to what they’re saying. They’re talking with their eyes, and body language, as well as their words. Pay some fucking attention. They want to watch a little TV with you, then watch some TV. If they want to lie back for a few minutes and take six or eight deep breaths, why don’t you join them? Lower your shoulders from up around your ears, relax a moment, and join them in several deep quiet breaths.

You do realize, don’t you, that you too, are stressed? You do realize that your angst fills the room? It is hard to watch someone suffer, someone in fear, someone in pain. Let your heart fill with compassion, not pity, and join with them in your heart for a few moments. Don’t share your heartache. Let go of your pain and watch them relax along with you.

In the Torah, Jews are commanded to perform acts of lovingkindness. Buddha says “He who attends on the sick attends on me.” In the Christian Bible, Jesus commands his followers to care for the infirm. The atheist cares for the sick because there is no greater service to humanity than to care for the sick.

Be gentle. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be there now.

Reference:  http://dadsroundtable.com/health_lifestyle/2014/03/7-rules-follow-visiting-someone-cancer/

Love,

Britt x

Tell me, what would you do?

Per the previous “Life’s too Short” post, please share the things (if any) that you would do differently if you found out you had 6 months to live.  Come on!

 Love,

Britt x