[cancer] How do I get through the bad bits?

Overnight I was asked in comments by :

What got you through the bad bits? I’m dealing with my own, less-serious, health issue now, and I’m just not able to shake the anger, frustration, and depression of dealing with being forever damaged. What works for you?

That’s a tough question, my friend. I can (and will) answer it, but I’m afraid my answers may sound quite facile. But it’s what I’ve got. In no particular order:

I have a very supportive emotional environment. My family almost all live here in Portland, and we don’t have any notable dysfunctions, so I have lots of love and support, both emotionally and logistically, from my dad and stepmom, from my mom, from my sister, from Mother of the Child, from her own self. All the more so from from her San Franciscan remove, in the context of our very strong and very powerful relationship.

Likewise my many friends, both immediate and personal and more distant in time and space through the Internet. The support of my IRL and online communities has been enormously important to me. Social capital is an intensely underrated resource, I think.

I have a lot to live for, in the most classic sense of that phrase. just finished fifth grade. She needs me in her daily life for a long time to come. Likewise my writing career is life-wide and soul-deep. One of my biggest anger points when confronting the possiblity of short term mortality was over all the books I wouldn’t get to write.

I have a good long-term connection with my therapist. I don’t see him routinely these years, but I went back to him in the month before the cancer checks in May to discuss my anxieties and fears. As it happens, thing got a lot worse than even my most dread fears, so it was good I was in train with him. Just had my last session (for now) yesterday. We’ll reconvene in October when the next set of medical tests comes over the horizon.

I have solid health insurance and a stable, supportive work environment. My managers and co-workers back me strongly, our corporate HR policies are fairly generous and supportive, and my employer continues so far to be profitable and growing even in this economy, which helps my sense of job security. Together, these nearly eliminate the usual bullshit around major health scares that we Americans tend to go through, at least insofar as my experiences to date have indicated. The stress from that alone, if it were an issue, might have been enough to wreck me.

But most of all, perhaps, I simply let the feelings you describe happen as they need to — anger, frustration and depression; along with grief, rage and fear. The only emotional response of mine that I’ve categorically rejected has been the sundry variations on “It’s not fair” / “Why did this happen to me?” I don’t think I’m served by whining, and neither is anyone around me served by any whining I might do. Anger motivates. Fear is a deep response. Grief is a method of processing. Depression and frustration are reflections or distortions of all of those.

By “let them happen” I mean acknowledge them, experience them, talk them out with friends and family, and (as you know) blog about them. For me, this is very important. Secrecy, silence — those are my enemies. Some of this is a quirk of my personality. I’m essentially an exhibitionist. A part of me is always jumping up on the stage and screaming “Hey, look at me.” says I live in terror of being forgotten. I’m not sure he’s wrong about that. But I find that being an extrovert, an exhibitionist, an external processor, that these things rob the anger and fear and depression of their power when they get spilled upon the ground in daylight, instead of quietly nurtured in darkness.

Does that work for everyone? I can’t imagine it could, would, or should. But opening up keeps the emotional wounds from festering. Being as frank as I can about that opening process, just as I’ve been frank about the medical process, can sometimes help other people understand. And that’s a kind of subtle bonus which reinforces my tendency to say even very hard things in public.

I hope this helps. I hope it helps other folks who might be reading this. Like I said, perhaps facile, but it’s what I’ve got this morning. Like you, I am forever damaged. Like you, I am forever living. Like you, I go on. What else is there?