Wednesday, November 19, 2008

If you don't have your health...

The I in illness is isolation, and the crucial letters in wellness are we.

~Author unknown, as quoted in Mimi Guarneri, The Heart Speaks: A Cardiologist Reveals the Secret Language of Healing **squeamish alert (not really, but it's not always pretty...)**


Seems like this quote is just the right one for me...remember, sharing to survive?...well, dare I say I'm living proof as of late...

I've been quiet for the last few weeks and have intentionally not been blogging namely because there was really only one subject on my mind and well, I thought it irresponsible to start putting stuff out there until I had a clearer picture of what I was dealing with.


For the last couple of months, I've been actively managing a "health scare". I find it ridiculous how we use these soft phrases when we're trying to be all genteel, attempting to not be alarmist or upsetting to ourselves or our others.

I remember reading something fairly recently that talked about how to talk to children about death. We often hide the significance of death and dying from children by saying things like "passed away", "left us", "gone on" or some other trite phrase. When we hide the reality of things in soft language, we take away its significance or its impact and well, that's just not my style. I have always preferred to use the right words to describe things, like vagina and penis instead of "minnie" and "john thomas", so when it comes to naming things out, let me say this instead...

For the last two months I was scared shitless that something was really, really wrong with me (pun intended...you'll get it in a minute)...

To be genteel, it was my colon. To be blunt, I was bleeding each and every time I went to the washroom...lots...and it was bright red. Why am I blogging about it? I was shocked at how many other women have had managed this kind of trauma and I do believe that we have a responsibility to not hide this kind of dialogue.

Have you ever noticed when an animal or a person is hurt, their initial reaction is to run and hide? That kind of reaction has killed plenty of living souls, two and four legged alike. I'm choosing a different way to react.

...so, I can't tell you how much I've thought of Terms of Endearment over the last few weeks when Debra Winger's character Emma says to her best friend Patsy, "it's okay, you can talk about the CANCER"...

...for the record, I don't have cancer, but up until this Monday, I was really scared that I did.


At first I didn't make a big deal about it (hiding) and thought it could be related to hemorrhoids. It was my darling husband who said to me so eloquently one night, "Welcome to your 40s babe!". Okay, that I could deal with. I've given birth in my early 20s and in my mid-30s and I know that the body totally changes and just doesn't bounce back so readily anymore. Still, I lamented. Was this what I had to look forward to? Creaky, crappy knees and a pink bowl at every sitting?? Crikey!!

When it was still going on about three weeks later and I finally thought aloud "Ya, this isn't going away or getting any better; in fact it's getting worse" I did what only the wife of an oncology certified nurse can do and I called my husband over to look. When you hear noted oncology nurse say, "Ya, that's not good" the gateway to letting in the panic opens.

He took the totally appropriate nurse stance and echoed my oft favourite mantra of late being "you can't do nuthin' about nuthin' 'till it's sumthin'"...but it wasn't working for me...no matter what he was saying, I was already well ahead in my mind and it wasn't looking good as far as I was concerned.

I ventured online to some reputable health sites (www.mayoclinic.com and www.webmd.com ) and the more I read (polyps, diverticulitis etc.) the more I also read about cancer, over and over and over again. The panic was positively palpable at this point. [Mistake: do not self diagnose. Educate yourself, but nothing is for sure until the testing begins.]

So, first I went into practical mode, controlling the only thing I knew I could which was my contingency plan. It comes from my single mom days. Whenever a temp assignment or a contract ended earlier than I had expected I went into full on work mode...food in our bellies, roof over our heads, clothes on our backs...what did I need to do to ensure that we were taken care of...

My contingency plan started simply with this..life insurance (check), first joint to die insurance (check) critical care insurance (check), STD and LTD (short and long term disability; check, check)...that made me feel better, for about a day...

Then it was to the doctor's. Funny how quickly you get an appointment when you tell them you're bleeding from your ass (note to reader: put pride aside when you need action on your health...don't be a dumbass and don't hide things from the receptionist)!! Quick referral to the surgeon and about a week later and off to the scope we go...

So, in between doctors' appointments and my scope I did what I do best...I talked. I reached out and I talked about what was happening to me. With some people I was purposely ambiguous providing a head's up without any detail (i.e. with work...too much information and all that). With others I tried to be ambiguous, but they wouldn't let me and I love my women for that. Then there were others that were my first line of support and I reached out to and told them "I'm scared" and they listened to me cry and be scared. For having a support system like that I am ever so ever grateful...

From someone who has had one broken bone in my whole life and who has never had an type of health issue, I can't tell you how unbelievably exhausting it is to spend hours each day thinking constantly of the "what if"s. No matter what I was busy with or busying myself with, in the back of my head the only word that I could hear screaming at me was cancer, canCER, CANCER!!!! Little issues were still little issues, but they were coloured with CANCER. It coloured everything I did. It coloured every conversation I had and every decision I was making or choosing to not make. I wallowed. Not for long, but I wallowed in the fear and in the fear of the unknown.

Since I had already taken care of the list of contingencies, I then started looking at what other elements I could control. First, there was my fear and my thoughts. I started making a more concerted effort to meditate, workout and be more attuned to my body. How it felt, how it reacted to certain foods, how it smelt; you get pretty banal when you're dealing with one of the most fundamental human experiences lemme tell ya.

Then I worked on my frame of mind. I do absolutely believe in the power of positive thinking and while I wasn't being very successful at being positive most of the time, I was finding my innate dark humour and that helped.

Yup, it was just my luck that I wouldn't get the sexy cancer, not the booby cancer. No.!!...no pink bras and cute T's for me. No, I was getting cancer of the ass!! Fuckers!! I was gonna show them though!! I had a pink thong campaign all worked up in my head already. I'd take those titties on!!

Next, I went back to the basics as I often do when I'm challenged with something and I started looking into more cause and effect. Diet is one of the leading causes of colon and colorectal cancers and North Americans have one of the worst diets which totally supports just these types of cancers; barbeque, meats, high fats...ugh! My family eats pretty healthy, but there's always more you can do.

Then I started reading more about vegetarianism and eating vegan. My best friend is also a vegan chef and a while ago she gave me the book Skinny Bitch to read. My gawd that book makes me laugh out loud, but it also makes me cringe. It's really nothing new for me to read, it's just timely.

For the last while I've also been more interested in the slow food movement and eating locally. I'm lucky enough to live in Perth County in Ontario, one of the richest agricultural areas in the province and I'm happy to support local farms and providers. My challenge is also that I'm a Celt
girl and that means that a meal's not a meal unless there's meat on the table, but I am getting closer and closer to changing that part of my lifestyle.

So, the good news is that in the last week my symptoms had started to subside. Then I had my scope on Monday and I was able to watch the live video feed and both my surgeon and I concur that my colon is pink and healthy. What's wrong, we're not entirely sure but as my surgeon said, "nothing sinister just goes away" so I'm taking it all as a great sign.

Lessons learned...in a very short time, I have grown to have even more regard for the work that my husband does. I've always known that his work is taxing and emotionally exhausting. Now, I have a a more empathetic understanding as to what his patients go through emotionally when they're dealing with the unknown or the known.

You are what you eat. 'Nuff said. I'm converting slowly but surely...

..and most importantly, the best reminder is that the time to act earnestly is now. Life is too short to be petty and insincere and to surround yourself with any kind of misery. Positive change is essential to living well, and living well is the best revenge...

2 comments:

jules said...

holy sweet baby jesus.
HUG.
And I can't wait to pinch yer bum!!!!!

Whew.

Tina Simone cartolina@rogers.com said...

Karen,
This is it. Take this as your second chance(well...maybe 3rd or 4th) but nevertheless. I sat, for months on end, on the opposite side. The side that resulted tragically. Tragically because I lost my wonderful dad. There was no chance to look into it, read up on it, ask a doctor, nurse, hubby or friend. He just went. Health, he had it, a second chance he did not.

It seems so dumb and cliche when we hear quotes or comments like "live life as if it were your last day", "never go to bed angry" and my all time favortie "che-sara, sara", but once you there, all this cliche banter is what you want one more chance to embrace. I was reading your blog through tears thinking "here is a woman, who I only knew for a short while in my life, but learned so much from. A woman I respect and admire for "her single mom days" a woman who knew fun, "la joie de vivre", as best she could. A woman who, undoubtable can stand in front of those who need her and they would feel safe. This is how it shall end, this is a pain in the ass (again, no punn intended) But I kept reading and...whew...I will now learn more and more from Karen...blessed Karen! Blessed are your kids who will not be sharing broken-hearted blogs, but rather a REAL LIVE MAMMA. blessed. I love you Karen.