October 21, 1996
I was told that I might have breast cancer almost a month ago-on September 24. This is the first time I have been able to muster the psychic energy to write. There has been much to deal with both emotionally, practically and medically. But most of the preliminary crisis management has occurred and I am ready to start receiving chemotherapy tomorrow. People say that I am coping with the trauma quite well. My only response to their admiration is that there is no point in making the situation worse than it already is by being histrionic about it. I do have terrible fits of anxiety, but so far not much anger or depression. I have become acutely aware of how the human mind works-how we suffer in anticipation and retrospect in our attempts to control our experiences. I am resolving to try to endure my sufferings only in the present moment-although I realize after writing this that my resolve is yet another way to try to exert control.
I don't have a Pollyannaish attitude-no perky speeches about being determined to beat this disease no matter what. Everyone stresses the importance of a positive attitude, but I can't have a magical belief in the efficacy of will. I watched Barbara Lehmann die even though her attitude could not have been more positive. My attitude is more existential-I am trying to embrace the unknown, to acknowledge that I don't know what will happen, just as none of us knows what will happen to us from one moment to the next.
Points to elaborate:
Initial visit to doctor-vagueness and lack of support/information at this point-political implications-reading behavior of doctors and nurses Sense of relief-not having to teach classes, deal with computer art disappointment with being here vs. San Francisco-taking as a death sentence
Picking up mammogram analysis-reading in bathroom.
Ecstasy of preciousness of life-going out to walk or drive-music on radio: "Don't fear the reaper." Going out to dinner at Chinese restaurant-fortune: "Your time is not plentiful but your opportunities are great." Being overcome with memories of sweet moments-hearing music from Elvira Madigan
Struggling to come to terms with death-my acid trips as preparation? It seemed that the scenes I had lived out in foreshadowing were now being consummated-shortness of breath, anxiety attacks
Imagine accepting death-one is alive until death and then there is nothing or something unknown-the concreteness seems less horrific than the abstract concept-this is unexpected. I tell Minnette I have a message from her daughter Barbara: It's not so bad
Biopsy and meeting Dr. Jakowatz - S& M fantasies, shamanismParty at Stephen's the day after diagnosis-some people know, most don't-I try to act as though everything is normal and succeed pretty well-those people who know are very sympathetic and this feels awful since I have no pain or symptoms, it makes it seem almost like they know something I don't
Get book from Michelle and other books-have avoided reading about it because I know how my imagination will fix on every frightening detail-for the first time I read about survival rates and the seriousness of my own diagnosis because of the lymph node involvement-feel like I've worked on accepting death, but now realize the horrors before death after reading about the treatments-side effects of chemotherapy-realize that cancer is a slow death not a quick one-idea that we choose the mode of our death-I would rather have a slow contemplative one to savor the nuances-my hunger for new experiences Thoughts about priorities-my propensity to workaholism and delayed gratification
Talk with D. J. Otten cheers me up-something about the tangibility of speaking to someone who has had the disease and is alive is vastly reassuring
Visit with Cindy-dramatize having fatal disease-her beach house and environmental malady-take them out to dinner-wonder if I will ever enjoy food again after chemotherapy
Reception for new faculty-it seems terribly ironic, as though I'm watching a movie of the life that was mine but no longer is
I decide to ask for a leave of absence from work-I don't want to struggle through my demanding job feeling drained-that seems like too much martyrdom even for me-and if I feel okay at times I want to have the time to do what I want-but after I make the decision I have a feeling of loss, probably because I went through so much to come here to teach, the grueling application process, the move, etc
Stress and uncertainty of the artist's life - wondering if that contributed to the disease
Dream about saving Emily from a disaster of some time - fleeing with her from a city in chaos
Meeting with Dr. Ho-he gives me hope-70% survival rate at 5 years with stem cell transplant-finally I have a doctor who has accepted me as a patient rather than being shuffled from one specialist to another-I'm impressed by his authority and the time he takes to answer my questions
Ho immediately orders bone scan and CAT scan. After CAT scan I am again terribly anxious-I try to analyze the doctor and nurse's behavior which seems too sympathetic-I feet sure it must have spread to other organs-I must wait from Thursday to Tuesday-I decide to go to San Francisco to see my friends, thinking it might be the last time-lots of poignance and ecstasy-Robin and Maria and meeting Cynthia-dinner with Anne Healy and Jeannie Wieffenbach
Feelings of losing control over my life-wanting to be in San Francisco, my parents coming to take care of me-regression to infantilism discuss options for future with Maria-returning to SF to teach at Inter-Arts or commuting to UCI from there-moving there for future treatments or commuting to UCI from there - moving there for future treatments
Almost lose it in Orange County airport in some horrible restaurant waiting for flight-Minnette says the waiting is the worst part-and it keeps returning-waiting for results at different phases Get results from CAT scan-it hasn't spread incredible relief Parents arrive-I look at doctor's chart again realize a lot of the 30% who die do so in the first year-presumably because the chemotherapy is not effective against the disease-even at the best outcome expecting a shorter life-the chemotherapy weakens the heart muscle
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