Let me tell you about my new baby...

Published by pam on Wed, 04/18/2012 - 4:37pm

Once again I find myself not writing because things are going fairly well and I would rather spend my time DOING something rather than thinking about myself.  In fact, right now, I am staring at woodwork in the kitchen that desperately needs finishing and I finally have the energy to tackle the project.  But that would mean not writing.  I am hoping the post I have been noodling over the last couple of days will come together quickly and perhaps I may have the energy to tackle BOTH projects, even though that is the one thing doctors, nurses, and former chemo patients have all told me I should never do.  I can't do everything, they tell me.  At least not for a while.  I have to conserve my energy.  Not an easy lesson to learn. 

But enough of that.  Over the last few days, I have been struck time and time again ago it how this experience mirrors having a new baby.  I have wondered if that is because both are times in which when one becomes a secondary player in one's own life.  More likely, Im just stuck on the metaphor and wont let it go Writers do that sometimes.  They latch onto some idea, and then bury you under it.  Footnotes, for example.  Some of you of there, undoubtably know exactly what/who I am talking about.  For the rest of you, forgive my digression.  So, rather than waste any more time, let me explain a few ways cancer is a lot like having a new baby:


1.  Leaving the house is never easy.  Monday, I went into Seattle to meet with a doctor who specializes in exercise/physical fitness for oncology patients.  They work with people to help them understand their energy levels, what kind of exercise will help them through different phases of different protocols, etc.  I figured it would be a good idea to learn as much as I could about getting through this process without feeling buried by it.  So Monday, I set out.  I had to take the ferry (45 min) get up the hill (20 min fairly rigorous walk) get to both appointments, get back to the ferry, and get home.  Now an outing like that was never a big deal.  Really, it's just a day out.  But there are suddenly all kinds of complications.  I found myself packing a stupid bag as though I was going to be gone for a week.  Remember those stuffed-to-the-top diaper bags?  Well here I was again.  I needed enough water (I drink an obscene amount of water and am constantly thirsty).  I needed hand sanitizer ( its a dangerous world out there).  I needed workout clothes.  I needed a charged cell phone (which I almost ever have, but these days, I am more careful).  And most importantly, I needed food.  Food is a really big deal.  There isn't (or wasn't two days ago) much that tasted palatable.  If I don't eat, my stomach cramps, it churns with acid, and I feel awful.  So I eat eating small amounts of carefully selected food every couple of hours.   But it's more complicated than just eating a little bit all the time.   Chemo patients have compromised immune systems.  They are supposed to be very careful when it comes to washing produce or other sources of food-born illness.  I may be on the overly cautious end of this, but like any new parent, I just don't know what's important yet.  And the last thing I want to do is land myself in the hospital because of some intersection of me and tainted cilantro.  I have to plan how I am going to eat.  In the old days, I would have tossed a nut bar in my bag and called it good.  But my diet for the first five days of chemo included these five items: Cheerios, scrambled eggs, bananas, and toast.  I washed two bananas carefully and packed them in my bag, but that wouldn't be enough food for the day.  I would to have to eat on the road. 


When our first child was born, we were building our house in Ellensburg.  Life couldn't stop then any more than it can stop now.  I distinctly remember one afternoon when fixtures needed to be chosen, and we packed up our week old infant and made the half hour drive to Eagle Hardware.  There was no way that infant was going to make it through the trip without eating.  But I hoped I would be able to position the faucet decision comfortably between feedings.  Needless to say, it didn't happen.  There, in the aisles of the hardware store, my daughter melted down and demanded to be fed IMMEDIATELY.  As any mother knows, there is something uniquely painful about the sound of your own child crying.  It's far worse than either of my surgeries or my reaction to chemo (so far).  When your newborn baby cries, you will do anything to stop it.  Even hide between rolls of cheap carpeting, pull up your shirt and, nurse her right then and there.  Even though you only barely know how to nurse.  Even though the process is still painful and messy.  It doesn't matter.  You do what you have to do to FEED THE BABY.  


I am the baby now, and when I need to eat, I NEED TO EAT.   I'm not sure how I'm going to feed myself away from home.  I know there is a World Wraps near the doctor's office.  Smoothies are an option, but how carefully do you think World Wraps scrubs down those pineapples before they cut them up?  Do they wash the bananas before peeling them as the nurse told us we are supposed to?  Most of other the food at World Wraps is simply more flavorful than my weak stomach can handle, but I know from my daughter that they have a cheese quesadilla.  Could work.  So the night before, I give myself a trial run.  I make a cheese quesadilla and hope for the best, still dumbfounded that my life has been reduced to this - test driving a cheese quesadilla just so I can leave the house.  At least I didn't have to eat it between carpet rolls in a hardware store.  


2.  Germaphobia strikes!  When my kids were born, I found myself I absolutely paranoid about germs.  I got the lecture about how infants couldn't localize an infection, and if they got sick in the first 8 weeks, they would need a spinal tap to rule out meningitis and I listened.  A spinal tap?  Not my daughter,  Even after those weeks had passed, I knew that a cold meant a runny nose and labored breathing that went on for what seemed like an eternity.  So, I found myself going to extraordinary lengths to protect my kids from the danger of germs.  It's not something I'm proud of.  I'd like to say that I was a Pound of Dirt parent from the beginning, but I wasn't.  I did eventually come around, but it took a while.   I listened for the telltale signs of a cold when inviting people over,  I wiped down grocery cart handles and restaurant tables.  I didn't let my kids play with the toys in the pediatrician's office.  It's embarrassing, realizing what a hold the phobia had on me, but here I am again.  There is hand sanitizer in every room.  People are asked to use it when they come in.  I specifically tell visitors than I am not supposed to be around sick people and they are asked not to come if there might be any risk.  And we've already established that I wash my bananas and recoil at the sight of a garnish of cilantro.  How much is paranoia?  Really, I don't know.  I have been given booklets with guidelines and I do my best to follow them.  But given the laundry list of dangers, I find it hard to believe that anyone goings rough five months of chemotherapy can comply completely.  My kids did eventually and we all survived.  I assume I will too.


3.  Sometimes you just have to remind yourself to shut up.  We all knew them, the parents who went on and on about their new babies.  The babies were beautiful and smart and gifted in every way.  And perhaps they were, but as listeners, we wondered if they knew how they sounded?  Did they know that the ENTIRE world did not revolve around the lovely new infant?  Now of course, as any parent will tell you, the entire world DOES in fact revolve around your beautiful new infant, but most of us learned to keep that little secret to ourselves.  Yes, we knew our babies were the most beautiful ones ever (not to mention smart), but we didn't tell anyone.  That would be rude.  We talked about other things.  Like politics and the weather.  Experience had taught us well.  We didn't want to be one of THOSE parents.  


This is a lesson I am still trying to learn when it comes to cancer.  Yes, unfortunately, I find myself going on and on and my wonderfully supportive friends are just too kind to say SHUT UP ALREADY.  I have to work at taking about politics or the weather, because I have a tumor (an aggressive one at that, it's remarkable that way.  A 9 out of 9 on the Nottingham scale.  Gifted you might say).  My entire world might revolve around what's happening to me, but frankly, no on else's should and it is a lesson I am trying to learn.  


But enough about me.  


Tomorrow I am walking with a friend from Ellensburg.  We haven't seen each other in a while.  I will do my best to talk about politics, the weather, what ever interests us both - other than cancer.  And as I try to expand my world, what I am going through will begin to take its rightful place.  It has happened to many people before me, and unfortunately, will happen to many after me.  Just like new babies, when they come to us, we can't imagine that we will ever take our eyes off them.  But before we know it, they don't need us any more.  And we have to find something else to talk about.


And so will I.



It seems so awful that it has taken something as horrible as cancer to stay in touch with you -- I am learning so much about about your life and family during this journey of recovery -- you truly amaze me and I wish I had known you far better all these years.  
As always, you and your family are in my thoughts.

Your kind notes are always wonderful.  Thank you. For taking the time to write, to read, and to think of me.

Okay, not that cancer and an aggressive tumor is funny, but I love reading your posts because they're poignant, have a touch of black humor and hey this one was just dang reminiscent of when we brought Samantha home after a month in the hospital as a preemie.  I love our walks together and never tire of our banter -- cancer topic or otherwise!  Wonder how those blue herons are doing?