An Honest Look

This is the essay I’ve been struggling with. I’m still not ready to write it, but I desperately need to get it out of my head.

You might wonder why, if you’ve called me. I haven’t answered or called you back. I’d like to try and explain. See, if we talked, I’d have to choose a way to present myself or choose an acting back story. I think I’m a pretty good actor, but I’ve learned it takes a tremendous amount of energy.  Here are my choices as I currently see them.

 

Denial: Ignore the whole thing. Pretending that this isn’t happening is certainly tempting. Some days I wake up and feel like my old self. When I’m immersed in an engaging book – often a mystery—or a TV show with compelling characters or plot – let’s hear it for Netflix – it’s pretty easy. Unless, of course, there’s a mirror in the room. Seeing myself bald shatters any possibility of denial. Talking to someone while denying that anything’s wrong is beyond my ability to sustain for any length of time which is why visiting my mother is so difficult. The innocent question, “How are you?” is amazingly tricky.

Truth: The whole truth and nothing but the truth. Unfortunately, I don’t exactly know what the truth is and won’t until I’m re-scanned next month. What I do know is that the cancer (tumor in my breast and one lymph node) that they originally discovered on January 10th has proven to be far more extensive and more aggressive than originally thought. Surgery isn’t an option. I believe the chemotherapy I’m receiving is intended to be palliative rather than curative. (Palliative chemo is intended to extend life while maintaining quality of life rather than curative chemo which is intended to eradicate the cancer.) Originally my oncologist said he felt I had 3 to 5 years. The scan coming in April will give us new data to identify a more determinative prognosis.  This level of truth without significant certainty is something I discuss with myself, Dr. Onitilo, and two very close friends. (Frank and the kids get a somewhat edited version of this one.) This is the dark night of the soul identified by poets and philosophers.

If this was a magazine article the following paragraph would be in a boxed and shaded sidebar. Please don’t think I’ve given up. I will certainly partake of all the possible life lengthening opportunities for treatment while measuring the effects against QoL. (That’s Quality of Life for the uninitiated.) I also believe that miracles – big and small, expected and unexpected – occupy a place in life. Odds exist because someone gets to beat them!

The Positive Patient: A motivational speaker in action. Not to be confused with denial, this posture contains the “glass is half full” approach. You’re strong, if anyone can beat this – it’s you, and get well soon all need to be met with a nod and a smile of agreement. My mom. my aunt, I had the same thing and she’s/I’m fine 10 years later, also requires this response. All of these spoken-with-love, encouraging comments are meant to provide the encouragement everyone needs and I appreciate their intent. (Note: this is the paragraph that has kept me from writing this essay for so long. In no way do I want to denigrate the wonderful email messages, cards, and advice I’ve received from so many friends and colleagues.  I treasure each and every one. This is a walk in their shoes situation. I know, I’ll change my behavior with others in the future. See the book I recommended in my last post.) The positive, everything will be okay response requires my finest acting skills and tons of energy. I use this script for my grandchildren and friends I encounter in daily life. Friends who call and leave messages and, in my mind, want and need this response, create the most guilt when I ignore them.

Here’s what I’d like to be able to do. Matter of Fact: Telling the resolved truth. Once I know what the scan shows and what my actual prognosis is, and have processed it with my family, it will be easy to share the future. Promising or bleak, I’m really good at expressing this kind of reality. (If you’re a MBTI aficionado you know, it’s what ENTJs do best.)

 

So, here I am counting the days till the scan while the voice mails and conversation requests mount up. Thanks for reading and understanding. I promise, we will talk soon.

19 thoughts on “An Honest Look

  1. Chris, praying for you and your family every day. This essay is poignant, a little bit funny and an awful lot real – and that’s how I’ve always thought of you. If I can do anything, I will.

  2. Chris,

    I am moved beyond words to read your latest entry. You are dealing with a plethora of complex and varied feelings & experiences. I feel grateful to learn from you, read your powerful insights, & hold you in love & light on your incredible journey. I am holding a vision of you wrapped in a comforting blanket of peace, strength, & love. Blessings my friend, Nancy

  3. Always thinking of, praying for you. This is such an”out of control” thing. Merciless out of control thing. Right now I’ll pray and remind myself (and you if you want to hear it 😊), where there’s life there is hope.

  4. Chris, thank you for your courage to speak up… Or not to speak, if you don’t want to. No excuses or explanations are needed.
    Sending you thoughts of strength, courage and love.
    Marty Stanley

  5. Thanks Chris for giving us this platform to stay connected to you and feel like we’re walking along side you on this journey no one wants to go on. One of the gifts ENTJ’s have in crisis is the ability to “compartmentalize” which I think is extremely effective. Thank you for your honest, direct and thoughtful writing which always makes an impact. Your next book should be a collection of these posts. Love you and sending lots of yellow healing light!

  6. I got it. No words. No affirmations. This disease sucks. Reminds me of the well-meaning friends who surrounded my sister when we lost her husband, our beloved Noam Pitlik. I learned to be silent , to cry with her, to rage and to just be. So too for you my friend

  7. Thanks, Chris, for these honest posts. We will all learn from you how to walk through terrible things when our own time comes. Continue to pass on your wonderful insights, your feelings, and to tell it like it is. So sorry you are having to go through this. Will pray for you.

  8. Words seem empty, when hugs would speak loudly.
    I will count the days with you until the next moments of truth….and know you will share because you can…and very few people could!! Love, Naomi

  9. We stand with you at this time, Chris. You are sharing honestly and in reality. That is your life and you have helped us in so many ways.

    Thank you for sharing your courage — as well as the real-world, to-the-gut fear. We are all humans. At this important time, we are reaching out to you, Chris, from various places around the world and embracing you with love, care, and healing hugs.

    We optimistically look forward to hearing good news. We stand with you strong with best wishes and hope for healing. You are an amazing woman. Thank you for what you’ve done. Get ready to experience “waves of wonderful” as you experience good, healing, and much continued love from many of us around the world. All the very best to you, Frank, and your entire family.

    Love ya bunches,

    Terry

  10. Chris – As always, your raw honestly and eloquence in penning thoughts to paper beg us to rethink our “thoughtfulness” in these moments. Of course, you graciously point out the fact that our best intentions and efforts to encourage and support often create the opposite. You know, probably like many, it took me a long time to even write to you after speaking with Frank. The hesitation came from searching and not finding the right words – from feeling powerless with nothing helpful to say. I know that you know how much people respect, admire and love you. This post I’ve just read in yet another reason why. Your constant insistence in learning from each and every challenging moment, then sharing those insights with others has changed many lives – mine, for sure. I cherish you and your family, dear friend.

  11. Waiting (for a scan; for a diagnosis) sucks. You just do what you gotta do.
    [Apologies for the language — don’t show it to the kids.]

  12. Chris, You have your hands full with family, treatment, waiting, reflecting, projecting, writing, living each day and so much more. Your day-to-day existence this past two months has been so complicated, is so convoluted, all you can do is try to keep up.
    You’re so razor sharp intelligent you clearly know where you need to “be,” where and when to best channel your energy, and how much. What we, your friends/bosom buddies can do is send you love, best wishes, hope, and dreams of miracles, with the only expectation being that you continue doing what you need to be doing.

  13. Chris, each time I read your posts it takes me awhile, sometimes days, to formulate what I might say in this comment box. Your ability to capsulize your journey and all it entails is truly amazing. It is not only therapeutic for you, it is for all of us who love you.

    Just know my friend… YOU ARE ENOUGH… YOU ARE PHENOMENAL.

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