Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sands of time

I think in life, we all feel like we're trying to climb some sort of mountain, metaphorically, of trying to make it to the top, to achieve our goals, or simply to feel like we're in control of our lives, our destiny, or fate; 'just trying to stay on top', as a general, human instinct. Sometimes these hills we try to stay on top of or are in the process of climbing back up when something knocks us down, can feel like it's made of sand; every step is hard earned, every step seems to disintegrate beneath your foot as you slide two steps back down for everyone taken and once on top, if you can scramble that far, it feels unsteady and as if you're sinking back down already as if the goal of reaching the physical 'top' was merely an illusion or a trick set to get your hopes up once reached.

I feel myself there right now. I've continued to climb this slippery slope time and time over through my journey with cancer. Have stood on top, feeling not that I've conquered it, but at least have come to a stable plateau where it's bearable and I can deal with on a day-to-day basis fairly reasonably with the medications, supporting medical equipment I now have at home (adjustable hospital bed with good mattress and foam overlay cushions, respirator machine with nasal canula to assist when I am short of breath, travel oxygen bottles and a transport wheelchair for extended walking excursions) and of course the love and support of my family. It's a daily struggle nonetheless. I am stable in most senses; physically, mentally, emotionally & spiritually, though I stumble through some days on any or all of those fronts as the nature of the beast chooses to test me at that given moment. I have an actual 1-hour sand hourglass sitting on the entertainment center by the tv in our living room. It only ended up there in particular for decorating  aesthetics. I find myself flipping it and patiently watching the tiny grains of sand slip through the funnel and wonder in comparison to my life if I was on the side losing sand, or gaining it. The obvious answer isn't a mystery, but to contemplate the side that is gaining, that is also the true reality not just for me but for anyone willing to perceive it as such. Alysha always calls me a sceptic when it comes to saying if I'm a glass half-empty or glass half-full kind of guy. I'd like to say that I'm an optimist, at least that's where my good intentions lie, but I am pretty skeptical about most things and just claim to be a 'realist' instead! It always feels good to be on the side that is gaining something, that's human nature, it fulfills a desire and a need to be 'given' something, not having something taken away. To be on the gaining side of being given time is a rare commodity in our hectic lives, but broken down to the most basic of needs, of survival, time is as much worth fighting for on the most visceral levels as food and protection, the things to sustain basic life and enable all other needs that follow to be prioritized. To be given time is a gift. Climbing a mental hill of sand feels like it is constantly being taken away and looking toward the top of that hill, it makes me pause to wonder if it's worth the struggle to try to get there if it's just going to crumble away beneath me?

Taking that for what it's worth, is not to say that I feel like giving up, though some days I can't help but to submit and just curl up isolated from the rest of the world and succumb to the pain, discomfort and helplessness that often threaten to break my will to remain above it, if only for the sake of my family not seeing me breakdown. But I have been given time, sometimes I wonder for how much longer and if I'm just biding my time until the inevitable. That thought makes me struggle too; am I resigned to the fact that nothing more can be done, am I just waiting to die? We've made choices along this whole journey, about treatment options, about natural therapies, ways to deal with the symptoms and side-effects of the medicine deemed necessary in my case to take, for pain management and for family coping. They all have taken an incredible amount of consideration, research and prayer to know what is right. But there is no right, no doctor or university specialty hospital or treatment center that has an answer for me. I am at the end of the rope of medical treatment options save for the single las t type of chemo that they can offer with a boost of a new drug that is only proven to extend life expectancy by 1.4 months. We decided no to do it because of the horrible side effects and just the process of putting my body through that torture when all the other types of chemo I've undergone did absolutely nothing except rake my body of all my energy to fight it on it's own by poisoning it and putting stuff in me that even if it worked to shrink the tumors, would not eradicate them totally and would only open the door for the actual chemicals used to cause, yes cause, more cancer even of a different type than I'm fighting now, in the future. We decided it was not worth the risk and self-mutilation with such a small margin of success that anyone could say it would provide. We've opted for home health care through hospice instead, to help manage the symptoms I currently have, but not to treat. I am comfortable for the most part, have the pain control under a good regimen and a team of nurses and a doctor who still consult with my oncologist for care when the need arises but mainly they are here for palliative care; to keep me as comfortable as possible as I face the road of the 'terminally' ill. That said, my case is considered 'stable'. I can't work, can't drive, can do much along the lines of being physically active, walking across the house sometimes is enough the leave me winded as the oxygen exchange, meaning basically all lung function,  on my left lung is diminished or just completely gone. The pain and constant tightness in my chest due to the masses spread out over both lungs as well as pain from the primary tumor down below are ever present but manageable most of the time, yet enough to cause moderate anxiety on top of it all.

Like the mountains I've loved to climb in real life; the snowy peaks that called to me that I can no longer attempt and have had to give up, trying to perceive my situation now as a sandy hill, to always be trying to reach the top of; I must also give up. Not for reasons of futility and 'laying down' to let what now seems like the inevitable just take me, but I am going to, and must, perceive my journey as merely a walk across still sandy ground, but level. Still trudging through hard land to cross, but a walk that is nonetheless manageable, with my family by my side and sometimes the tracks will show only a single set of footprints that won't be my own, but those of another figure carrying me when I am too weak to continue on my own.


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