Cancer Teaches You Can’t Always Get What You Want

“But if you try some time, you just might find, you get what you need.”  (M. Jagger and K. Richards)

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“What most heroes don’t realize when they stumble on the Road of Trials is that this is where you find your faith.  Your ego will do anything to cling to the illusion of certainty, to grasp at comfort, and to believe that you can control your life.  The tendency to avoid uncertainty is rampant in our culture.  Uncertainty is un-American.  In reality, avoiding uncertainty is the goal of 90% of your ego’s choices.  The search for certainty is an addiction, and it’s deeply related to the pursuit of comfort.  We’ve been programmed since childhood to believe that if you’re successful, you have comforts—big homes, good food, nice cars, a big nest egg for retirement.  But what if we’ve been sold a booby prize?  What if living a meaningful, fulfilling life is about recognizing there is something beyond comfort and certainty, that uncertainty is a gateway to possibility?”

–Lissa Rankin, M.D., The Anatomy Of A Calling

Today is Sunday, July 3, 2016 and I will be having double mastectomy surgery in 2 days.  My dog has diarrhea and is a nervous wreck.  I explained to her last night, holding her cute fox face in my hands, that I am going to be fine, it’s a little, treatable thing I have called invasive lobular carcinoma, and she does not need to be so fucking nervous all the time.  I said it gently and did my best to hope she really understands English after nearly 9 years with us.  But then then the redneck mothers in my town of Golden began setting off M-80s and fireworks and she started shaking so hard she almost fell off the bed.  I hate the 4th of July.  I love the party in my hometown of Crested Butte and wish I was there now celebrating but I hate what the fireworks do to animals.  This morning Lhotse woke up early and needed to go out because of the diarrhea.  The doggie valium we gave her last night did little to quell the terror brought on by all the explosives in my neighborhood.  By this time next week I will also be on valium if I follow instructions from my doctor.  So the dog and I will be drugged and happy lying in bed.  That seems like a good plan for healing.

I woke up with some fear, and fear seems to dance at the edges of my vision these days, never really going away.  One of my dearest spiritual advisors, Alfred, listens to God all the time and really understands Him.  Me not so much.  I do say the “Our Mother” prayer with regularity though, and praying seems to take away the fear, or at least push it to the edges so I can get on with my day.

I’ve set a schedule for myself these next few days that clearly borders on the absurd.  I am making bone broth by the quart as I write this, and will be making mayonnaise, chocolate pudding, an egg—veggie bake, fresh lemon ginger popsicles and beef veggie stew, all of it sugar free and ketogenic diet friendly of course as I continue to starve my cancer.  I need to spend a few hours at work honing my explicit instructions for my staff, instructions they already know.  There is a trial on July 18th I cannot attend and there are clients who need things next week.  But that’s why I have an associate attorney and a paralegal (and co-counsel for the trial).  I have to let go.  I am not just entering a level of uncertainty right now with this big surgery; I have been in it all my life.  But denial runs deep and a little luck and tons of help and some success feeds that denial.  My ego likes to take credit for everything, well except the unfortunate life lessons of course.  And this ordeal is shaking me down to the core.

“There comes a time on your hero’s journey when your ego gets cornered and starts to panic.  You feel busted.  The jig is up.  There’s no place to hide anymore.  Your ego and your soul will battle it out to see who gets control of the wheel of YOU, and it won’t be pretty.  When it’s time for your Ordeal in the Innermost Cave, you’re going to be tempted to run screaming in the other direction.  Fear will rear up like a Tyrannosaurus rex.  This is your initiation, the test of your mettle.”

–Lissa Rankin, M.D., The Anatomy Of A Calling

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Fear is a liar.  It is seductive though, and probably addictive.  I am tired of fear.  Instead of acknowledging I am full of fear today, I have made up a schedule that would daunt 7 of the most enlightened personal assistants to the Dali Lama.  It involves cleaning and laundry and visiting with my dad and stepmom and sister’s family, walks, yoga, meditating, making enough food for an army, watering plants, gassing up vehicles, oh and washing them, somehow making my home office perfect, answering well wishes on Facebook, by phone and with handwritten thank you notes, making sure my electronics are all plugged in, organizing the 9 inches of medical papers into neat files, drugging my dog some more (fucking fireworks are happening at 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday around here), and possibly planning my memorial service so Fred won’t have to in the event of a problem on Tuesday.  But maybe that list is too big, and maybe I’m being a drama queen.  Spiritual advisors have suggested I turn to my higher power.  I heard I am on the list at a mosque, St. Joe’s (Catholic), a Baptist church in Texas and other places.  I have been sent prayers for Jesus, Rumi, Buddha, the Mother Goddess, Mother Earth, the grandfathers and grandmothers in a Native tradition, and others.  I’ll take them all and thank you for keeping me in your prayers.  I hope I am saying thank you enough.

My general surgeon, Dr. Stephanie Miller, is about as awesome a human being as I can find to take 98% of the breast tissue from my body in 2 days on July 5th.  We met last week for the pre-op appointment and went over all the worst things that could happen, as well as the expected outcomes.  Sort of like what I do in my head around 4:30 a.m. each day, by myself, with Fred sleeping next to me, and just as dawn is coming.  Only Dr. Miller is more positive.

She told me she asked her assistant about me once a week, and understood I had to go through my own process interviewing multiple oncologists and plastic surgeons.  She said “This process is harder on women who are intellectual.”  I told her Dr. Bateman, my plastic surgeon, told me that his patients who are “hyper type-A’s like you Marie” either do really well or really poorly, depending on how much, if any, of the process they try to control.  He told me that my intuition was correct 100% of the time, to listen to it, and once I made a decision about the type of surgery and treatment and doctors I was choosing, to then let go of the details and trust the professionals involved.  He told me to remember that he does this every day all day and so does Stephanie Miller.  He said to me that I was creating an art project with my body and the cancer, and that I just needed to choose what to do.  Fred almost gave him a standing ovation.

Dr. Miller ran the Colorado Marathon and said that all the way down the canyon she was thinking of me (and, I think, my funny story of having finished dead last out of about 300 people in that race about 5 years ago, a story I told her when we first met).

Because I don’t trust Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, even though I pay $547 per month for a “Silver Plan” with them, I called to make sure the general surgeon, the plastic surgeon and the anesthesiologist are covered.  They are, but Anthem will not put that pre-certification in writing.  In addition, both Dr. Miller and Dr. Bateman will have surgical assistants in the operating room and Anthem will not cover those persons.  Anthem did not give a reason and I spoke to a supervisor.  So in spite of paying $547 per month in premiums, paying $3,250 in a deductible plus 20% of the next $5,500 plus other costs that keep creeping in, I will have to pay $250 per hour for a general surgical assistant and $150 per hour for a plastic surgeon surgical assistant in the operating room for a number of hours on July 5th.  Ridiculous.

So why is another $1000 or so for a surgical assistant so annoying?  I don’t know.  I don’t need a Go Fund Me barn-raising for medical bills but I do need to continue meditating, doing yoga, being in nature, resting more than I ever have, staying calm, talking about my feelings when they come up, reaching out to people to try to be of service (without caretaking of course!) and I need to pace myself before this surgery.  And after too.  I wonder if being angry over an extra $400 per hour in the operating room is worth it.  Probably not.

People love to bash the Affordable Care Act, and it is certainly full of flaws to be sure, but prior to the ACA, at every law firm I worked at, health insurance premiums were going up every year no matter what, sometimes 30%, always at least 20%.  So the ACA didn’t change that, it just stayed basically the same it seems to me.  I do not believe that any kind of insurance should be for-profit.  Why?  Because you cannot have a duty to the people paying premiums, the insureds, and also have a duty to your shareholders to make a profit.  It’s a direct conflict whether it’s health insurance, property insurance, car insurance, life insurance or any other kind of insurance.  Period.

I am grateful today that Fred is on Medicare, that he was able to keep his great doctor, and that his insurance premium costs are a third of mine every month.  I’m also grateful that we can pay for the medical costs I am incurring, at least so far, and that is a luxury that I’m guessing more than 80% of Americans don’t have.  It is unlikely we will have our shelter or food or any basic needs placed in jeopardy because of medical bills, or have to have those medical-related debts discharged in bankruptcy.  It is unlikely I will be unable to continue to buy high quality organic food.  Eating extremely well has been for years a priority, but it is also an expense so many people don’t even get to consider.  Although my income is temporarily a little tenuous due to the inevitable slow down due to recovering from surgery, Fred is getting a job and we will be fine.  And clients will need help.  I have to just stay in the boat and ride out some stormy seas for a few months, maybe a year.

There is a lot to be grateful for these days.  I am grateful for clean sheets, going to bed early, good books, waking up to the first, tentative streaks of light around 4:30 a.m.  I’m grateful for Fred and his insight and telling me to take it easy (I sometimes even listen to him about that).  He is good at reading me and he is saving me from myself daily.  I love that man.  I’m grateful for my sister Kate coming to all of these appointments and for listening to me whine, cry, laugh, be scared, be happy and just be me multiple times per day.  I really don’t know what I would do without her.  I am so grateful for Sherrie, my old friend from Crested Butte, and her sister Debbie, for being there for me no matter what.  There are too many people to name who keep checking in and seeing if I am ok as surgery looms.  I might have to just list all the good things people have said and written to me and read that over and over again.

Last Friday my friend Steve Glazer died.  He outlived his pancreatic cancer diagnosis by over 3 years.  We’ve known Steve 44 years this summer.  He owned the Princess Theater in Crested Butte.  I saw Harold and Maude there, Bless the Beasts and Children, Sleeper, Slaughterhouse Five, King of Hearts, Midnight Express, Five Easy Pieces and Fantasia, among others, all by the age of 10.  I know, I know, not appropriate but those were different times.  We brought our sleeping bags to the Princess to lie down in the areas where there were no theater chairs, near the big potbellied stove, and we passed around huge bags of homemade popcorn and watched movies with a bunch of adults who were often as not, passing joints or tripping on acid, or both.  Tapley manned the projector and always let us in the theater no matter what the rating of the movie.  It was so much fun.

Steve gave me career advice all the time, beginning when I was a little kid.  In 7th grade I remember him saying, “You know Marie, two dishwashing jobs is not a good long-term plan.”  I told him, “Steve, I’m only in 7th grade!”  He told another, younger friend, when he “hired” her at age 11 to sweep the Princess, that “dinner was included” with her job.  Her parents were always in the bars and she was always hungry so of course Steve fed her.  What a treat to hear that from her this week.  The last time I saw Steve, last summer, he told me he was proud of me and that he “liked the direction the firm was going in” and told me to keep up the good work.  I remember so many things about him, mostly his kindness.  He let my sister and I housesit his geodesic dome when we were deeply untrustworthy teenagers.  He gave us Oreos when our mother, who was a hippie and very anti-sugar, didn’t allow it.  He gave us rides into town when we lived at Wildbird for a few summers.  He clucked over us when we were left to fend for ourselves early on.  He always told me I would be ok, that good things were coming if I worked hard.  He was right.

Steve knew my mother was not going to show up at my high school graduation in Colorado Springs in 1981.  I was “asked to leave” Gunnison High School my freshman year after Social Services discovered I was living alone in a trailer at age 14.  So I moved in with my dad in Colorado Springs, somehow made honor roll, and was awarded an academic scholarship to a college in Oregon.  Steve continued to check in, and showed up at my high school graduation along with my friends Debbie and Sherrie.  He drove nearly 4 hours to make sure an unsure kid knew he was proud of her.  I will miss him so much.  He championed us and loved us for a long time before we even knew he did.  Vaya con Dios Glaze, you made a difference.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Cancer Teaches You Can’t Always Get What You Want

  1. Marie, thank you for your wisdom, insights, courage, CB [and your!] history and ability to write so beautifully. I love hearing the stories about Steve, too.

    Blessings to you, throughout your surgery and healing.

    If it would help, I’ve drawn some mandalas for meditation and visualization in healing cancer. They are on my website, carolconnor.net, in the blog section, February 12, 2015. The beginning of the post has things that you already know, so please continue reading. If you feel that you can use the mandalas, I’d be happy to send you prints, along with some more current ones. Sorry I don’t know how to put a link in here.

    I’m with you, on the 4th of July. Loved those times in the ’80’s here, before it got too crazy. I’m fortunate to have been here then.
    Sending love and support,
    Carol

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