Jay Lake: Writer

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[cancer] Sometimes you lose big, in small ways

Rough day or so, GI wise. The cheesefest that , and I had yesterday certainly did not help, though I thought (wrongly) that I was past the violent lactose intolerance that characterizes the immediate post-infusion period.

In the spirit of continued honesty, I report here something that embarrasses me deeply. Last night I had several painful bowel movements that kept me awake well past hitting the sleep wall. Finally that settled down enough, and I slept about eight and half hours, solid. Woke up this morning with no particular tension in my gut, did the usual morning pee, then set about collecting myself when I passed gas rather violently. That sent me back to the small room, for another painful movement. When I reassembled my clothing, my butt was damp. Yes, I’d loaded my shorts.

That’s the first time I’ve simply failed at sphincter control since chemo began. Given that bowel movements have become an Xtreme sport for me, that’s actually kind of amazing. It’s also mortifying, in the very obvious ways. I mean, we’re all socialized very, very strongly about this from the age before we begin to remember. I’ll do damned near anything in front of other people under the right circumstances, including urination and having sex, but I won’t sit down to a bowel movement in front of other people. It’s kind of my personal last frontier. So admitting this even now is tough, and I’m not doing a very good job of it, but this is important.

This experience is important because it’s precisely this kind of loss of control we fear from illness or eldering. It’s precisely this loss of personal dignity that wrecks people who go through these experiences, whether it’s transient (as mine is, albeit the better part of a year in length from start to finish), or chronic, or terminal. Because in the end, we’re all terminal. And quite frankly, I don’t want to go out in a wave of shit some day. Right now, that’s how it feels the world will end.

I’m a big boy. I washed out my clothing, cleaned myself, and am getting on with my day. But I feel branded. And even admitting that here is very weird. But I’ve been dedicated from the beginning to openness about my cancer experiences, and this has definitely been one of those.

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