Self(ish)-Reliance

Everything seems to be moving so fast….and yet so slow. From an epic 3o mile trail run to being stopped dead in my tracks to a nagging pain to a hernia diagnosis to the threat of a colonoscopy to being branded with the mark of cancer….all within two shockingly abrupt weeks. And yet, the days tick by in slow motion as I await the next appointment with the oncologist to build a plan of action, and the clock pushes back against my anticipation to get this whole procedure out of the way. And then with one fell swoop I cancel the logistics of my seemingly cemented daily routines, ending the life I had managed to this point. But that created void now filled with only the distraction of my son during his Spring Break visit, leaving me painfully aware of the gap of time that lies between my anticipation and the next appointment. And yet, with barely the time to generate only a surface level understanding of what is going on inside my body I’m flooded with support and encouragement from friends the world over, offering good words, monetary assistance, friendly gestures and so on. And I’m almost frozen still amidst the waves crashing into me, confused to even know where to start.

And so others have started for me….

My dad was researching the cancer before I even drove home from the meeting with the first surgeon. Soon after my mom was tracking down options for an individual crippled by the reality of finding themselves uninsured at the worst possible time. A friend had started contacting others to plan a charity bike ride. And my best friend took it upon themselves to set up a paypal account and call for monetary support against what she knew was my stupid pride and selfish self-reliance….because that’s what friends do, make decisions that are best for you whether you want to admit to them or not.

And to be honest, I’m struggling to accept all this happening RIGHT AWAY, while knowing I have no other choice. There is no waiting for what is to come. Despite the slow growing process of this cancer, it is not at a “wait and see” moment, from what has been conveyed to me by the surgeon. This needs to be handled ASAP. And so laying the plans to handle this must also be dealt with on the same timeline. The problem relates to what I wrote in the previous post.

I must admit that I’m a charity case…with a disease…who needs help. And without even tasting any real medicine yet, that’s the most bitter pill to swallow. Because I don’t feel like a cancer patient. I don’t feel like a charity case. Tonight I hung out with my son and friends at a coffee shop grand opening, having a great time, laughing and joking, filled with energy and good conversation, only periodically reminded of the dying in my abdomen through quick stabs of pain and awkward muscle spasms. But overall, I feel great. Take away the shooting pains long enough and I’m liable to go for a run (don’t worry, I’m smart enough to avoid that). But that’s all an illusion, or like I described before, a calm before the storm.

And so when friends have offered me monetary support, I have immediately and casually brushed their requests off, assuring them that I don’t know what I need right now. Because I don’t want to admit to being a charity case. Though, let’s be real here, logistically speaking…I am. And I can only admit to that right now because it wasn’t of my ultimate making. I didn’t intentionally make bad choices that left me without insurance at the worst possible time. I had a job in which I was going to sign up for insurance after it became available at 6 months….but the cancer decided to show up a bit early. And it wasn’t completely my fault that I got laid off from my past job of 5 years where I DID have the insurance in the works AND was making enough money to keep me away from the edge of financial collapse. And so on. But here I am…on the very wrong end of life’s gamble.

Also, I’m prideful and self-reliant. I will relish the opportunity to be there for my friends, go out of my way to help strangers in need, and generally do what I can to alleviate hardships of others when I have the resources….but it is painfully hard for me to accept the same from others. We all live on something of a pyramid of suffering and there are always those on lower tiers than me, in much greater need of assistance, so to ask for assistance from others feels selfish, feels whiny, feels insulting. And I know that’s not ok….I know it’s wrong to deprive others of their goodwill and gestures of support, but the last kind of person I want to be is one who accepts charity from others when I can find a way to get by without adding undue burden to their lives. Which, again, is stupid, since I’m not forcing the decision to give on others. But still, I would feel irredeemably terrible if others gave of themselves and it turned out it wasn’t necessary for them to bring a potential greater hardship upon themselves.

To compound this issue, a conversation I had today got in my head a little bit, in that it was doubted that what I had was actually cancer. Not that they were doubting I had cancer so much, but that what I have conveyed to this point wasn’t definitive enough to REALLY say what I’m dealing with might not have been diagnosed…and let me tell you…I can’t imagine a worse feeling than having a community the world over rally around you with support and monetary contributions, only to find out it was under false pretenses. And that highlights the fact that I don’t even have a single hospital bill yet. Yes, things aren’t good considering I just left my job and the stack of bills are already staring me down venomously, but I have yet to receive even one hospital bill yet….so preemptively asking for funds is…well..awkward. I worry it even comes off as opportunistic.

If, however, I’m being totally real with myself here…I should probably just tell me to shut the hell up, suck it up and stop projecting my concerns of poor perceptions onto others who have given you no inclination what so ever that they think that way. I know….I know. I’m sorry.

But let me make one further clarification. As I said, that conversation got in my head today and as soon as I got home I called the nurse at the surgeon’s who is my contact through this initial stage. I didn’t quite know how to set up the question so it didn’t come off as calloused or questioning of the surgeon’s expertise, but to simplify what I actually said, I basically asked this,

“So, do I have cancer? Like CANCER, cancer?”

I went on, “I mean, that’s what I gathered you told me and although there is always some degree of uncertainty until you actually go in me and pull the cells out, do I have cancer? Like, did the CT scan show something pretty undeniable, something like beyond all reasonable doubt? Because the last thing I would want to do is say I have cancer, receive an outpouring of support like I’m getting, and then it turn out to NOT be cancer.” Etc. etc. and so on.

And with the same consoling demeanor she has shared with me in the past, she did her best to tell me I had cancer without saying I had cancer. Which is understandable. She assured me the surgeon I initially met with has been at his practice for over 30 years, is highly reputable and knowledgable, and is assured that both the scan and my symptoms are highly indicative of Pseudomyxoma peritonei. She went on to explain that he was so convinced of the diagnosis that he didn’t even want to do a biopsy of the cells due to the risk of pulling the cancerous cells away from my abdomen and into other areas of my body via the insertion and retraction of the needle. She went on to say that there is ALWAYS a chance of misdiagnosis and for my sake hopes that the surgeon is wrong, and that during some operations they will pull out the cells and send them to the pathologist for a confirmation before continuing on. But followed all that up with more assurance that the surgeon doesn’t feel mistaken in his CT scan reading and that I should fully accept the showing of support from friends and family.

So forgive me, I’m wrestling with this. I’m wrestling with the grey areas. I’m wrestling with the tidal wave of support flowing over me. I’m wrestling with the abrupt changes that have taken place and are soon to come. I’m wrestling with the “normative” state of my physical body in the face of what I’m reading is just about to be wiped away for an extended period of time. I’m wrestling with feeling quite satisfied of the life I’ve created on my own as much as I could to suddenly being a charity case that must drop my head and almost shamefully hold out my hands for assistance. And I’m wrestling with not feeling ashamed about it.

So please, forgive me. Time has sped up so quickly…and yet slowed to a halt, and I’m not sure how I’m supposed to be handling all this just yet.

Just know, above all this confusion, I’m inexpressibly grateful for everything I’ve been given to this point…and should the situation ever arise, I’ll always do what I can to reciprocate. Thank you friends.

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