AGE, BEAUTY AND MAJOR ILLNESS

How does one move on from a major illness?

I’ve thought about this starting early in the diagnosis: “I’ve got cancer, so now what?”

At the beginning, life was dedicated to dealing with the illness, the “here and now” immediate needs, and maybe looking ahead a little bit to the next surgery, to the recovery, to the months after. But what about next year, five years from now, ten years, and beyond that? Will this experience shape my beliefs? My temperament? My sense of humor, confidence? Will it make me a better person? Will it make me bitter, cynical, afraid of doing activities I used to love? What lessons *should* I learn here, and what *will* I take away from being ill? Rest assured, this process will unfold over time, as the event moves further into my past.

Age

Recently, I feel like there has been a time warp and I’ve suddenly aged a few years! Perception says I no longer look ‘young for my age’ (39), but instead like a 40-year old! To be fair, I’m on a natural path to aging, yet I was not this old a year ago! The creases on my forehead and under my eyes, silver hairs, dark circles under my eyes, enlarged pores, etc, reveal the hard road traveled this past year. Age has become poignant following major illness.

Beauty

Just to be clear, age has *never* been a factor for judgement. I don’t place undue value on youth. I value life experience and wisdom, and value the age qualities that come along, like wrinkles and creases, grey hairs and what the body does in time, in its own way. Look, like everybody else I earned my knowledge and wisdom. I wouldn’t give it up to go back to an earlier time, therefore, I accept the physical age my skin has taken on with pride. After all, it is only skin. With the recent aging caused by heavy chemical, radiation and surgical treatments for cancer, I am now coping with the reality of aging. I will come to accept my new features as they fit into my life naturally and beautifully.

Psychology

Now and then I wonder how the past year’s illness will affect me psychologically. For example, when I get back to my old favorite activities, will I feel awkward, rusty or insecure?

I was never an “aggressive” athlete. I took more chances than the average person, but less than the average athlete. Bicycling and inline skating are hobbies I did with great zeal; biking alongside cars, anywhere and everywhere, any weather, any time. Running, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, etc; again I don’t have an especially risk-taking personality, still, given the inherent risks in each sport, I felt in-control. Will my mind now tell me, “I’m done with this, it’s time to retire!” Is this good-bye to big rocks and steep hills on the mountain biking trail, which at one time I devoured?

I do not need to worry about letting my youthful vigor slip away because if it does, it is because I’m ready to move on to something else which will have a new place in my aged, wised-up self! I imagine that now I’ll have a whole new respect for mortality and bodily health after spending so many hours, days and dollars fighting to keep my life and quality of life. Or, maybe not – perhaps I’ll take up surfing with sharks. Ha!

So, how does one move on from major illness? From this experience forward, we shall see.

inline_skate_age

Inline skating, Sellwood Bridge 1998 (look Ma, no helmets!)

WELLNESS WITH A POT BELLY

Wellness has arrived along with fall, however there is a pot belly bulging underneath my shirt that will need another surgery. Ugh!

Pot_Belly_Wellness

Really, it’s not what you think.

I arrived home in Portland, Oregon on Tuesday after 1-1/2 weeks of travel up the west coast touring small towns and visiting friends. As soon as we hit the Redwood Forest, it struck me how much I missed the Pacific Northwest. The trees climbed taller and grew denser, enclosing the road ahead of me. The sun peaked between the branches, shimmering like gold glitter. My heart met the scene with excitement and inspiration. I’ve been away too long.

I feel great. Everyone who knows me says I look better *now* than I ever have. In spite of nearly seven months of cancer treatments, I suppose being free from illness means feeling elation, enthusiasm, pride and gratitude reflects in my outward appearance. Truthfully, if you woke me from a nap right now, I’d say it never happened.

But I get reminders every once in a while. For example, when I overexert myself, I spend about two days with diarrhea, a product of post-surgical inflammation. Also, I have this pot belly that I’m told will not go away on its own. Right underneath all the scars, the pot belly sticks out about three inches from my musculature, making it conspicuous. It is tough, and about eight inches in diameter, my belly button centered perfectly. No pain, so I would not know that it’s there, unless I look at it. Some would say it looks as though I’m 3 months pregnant, that is not the case.

The doctor called it a diastasis. This is commonly associated with pregnancy as a side-effect. It means that the muscles (in my case, in the abdomen) have split apart, everything behind is pushing out between them. The surgery should be a simple, laparoscopic and cosmetic procedure where a mesh is inserted behind the abdominal muscles to hold back the protruding guts. These next few months will be spent healing from the most recent surgery, then the cosmetic surgery will be discussed and scheduled.

In the meantime, I will enjoy wellness and giggle when you poke me in the tummy.

pillsbury_doughboy

SUPPORTING MY BIGGEST SUPPORT

3/10/12 Sat PM

How’s Matt Feeling?

Thank goodness for George Carlin. When things are low, it’s George Carlin therapy.

Because Matt is my support, wonderfully loving and extraordinarily protective, he takes on lots of stress due to my new illness. He puts in a lot of energy driving me to appointments, being my friend, cooking for me, keeping neighbors updated, and thus sacrificing his projects and obligations, etc.

I try to remind him to be easy on himself because we’ve had a big change with my diagnosis added to the stresses that existed already. With so much on his plate, I completely understand being easily frustrated and tense. he always seems to rebound back to my darling man. He was open when I told him of a counselor available at St Johns for free. That way, at least I can learn what I can do to support my mate, after all, we are a team in this game together.

2 days of chemo, and 3 days of radiation. I get weekends off of radiation. I feel like I should feel ‘poisoned‘ today because of the chemo pill regimen, but I don’t. Not sure what accounts for that, but I’m grateful!

My mom forwards me positive messages from friends in Portland. It’s very nice to be in touch, even indirectly. They appreciate my updates and humor. I think it goes a long way to making people comfortable about such a journey, which is very mysterious, in most cases. I have to say, my influences are Lance Armstrong, Olivia Newton-John, and others who are open and reach out to help people understand their condition, feelings around a bad diagnosis.

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