Monday, November 7, 2011

I Am a Cancer Survivor (Part II of IV)

Read this first: I Am a Cancer Survivor (Part I of IV)

“I'll show you mine if you show me yours first
Let's compare scars, I'll tell you whose is worse” – Rise Against, "Swing Life Away"

There used to be a correct answer for my hip—perform my exercises and push through the pain. Knowing that I would never play tackle football again didn’t mean I couldn’t try. Things changed years ago, when exercise was no longer the answer, and could have been detrimental. There is no way of knowing how much is too much or not enough.

I strive for a healthy lifestyle. I choose poultry and fresh fruit over beef and processed snacks. I exercise like a maniac and am well-rested. I regularly research healthier ways to live.

I also gravitate toward a Gus Burger—a greasy hamburger topped with a fried egg—and a whole box of Thin Mint cookies for dessert. I want to stay up drinking myself stupid every Friday and Saturday night. My desire for normalcy causes me to question my new lifestyle. My desire to stay healthy and cancer-free causes me to wonder if normal behavior is harmful.

These aren’t algebra problems. They don’t have correct answers. If I knew hours of demanding hip exercises were beneficial, then I’d perform them. But I don’t know. And I don’t know how to balance a “normal” life with a healthy one.

How about my parents’ balance? I doubt they have truly been angry at me since before it all started. When I was still in college, they phoned me twice a week instead of once. When I said, “But you never called JD twice a week,” they said, “What’s wrong, you don’t want to talk to us?”

When I shoveled snow, my dad would say, “No, you stay inside. You don’t need to be doing that.” Of course I would shovel faster and harder.

I’m not ungrateful for my parents’ sacrifices: I could write a book on them, but I'll stick with two examples. For 8-12 days following each cycle of chemotherapy, I received an injection to boost my white blood cells. I injected myself in my minimal belly fat, but hated it: my pain threshold is enormous, but I have trouble inflicting it on myself. My mom refused to administer my shot because she was afraid she’d hurt me, so my dad was left with the responsibility. My parents' nurse-friend visited each night and delivered the shot in the back of my arm, teaching my dad how. Eventually, he was ready to try on his own. He pushed the needle too far and it entered my triceps. It stung and I screamed at him, "That hurt like shit! What's wrong with you, why can't you just get it right?" He called his nurse-friend to re-teach him, again and again. Soon my dad became an expert and even called himself "Dr. Shots."

My mom spent the most time caring for me. On nearly every trip to the hospital, through the countless drips of poison, the ferocious hurls, the days I could hardly walk or talk, the intensely painful rehab sessions, the lonely days and nights—she was there. At times I was like an infant, unable to do most everything on my own. I never paid attention to her feelings or desires. Her career, friends, health, and hobbies took a backseat to me. And what did I give back to her? Nothing. What do I think she wanted from me? Nothing.

Keep reading: I Am a Cancer Survivor (Part III of IV)