One of my earliest memories is when I was about two years old. I was having an asthma attack. I was always having asthma attacks. It must have been pretty bad because I remember being wrapped up in my blanket by my mom and being rushed into the car. I remember the urgency. I don’t remember being in pain or discomfort. I don’t even remember my parents. But I remember the tension and fear around me.
For much of my early childhood I was sick because my allergies were so bad, it would cause bronchitis. I was always missing school. One Halloween, I sat at my doorstep in my Strawberry Shortcake costume as other children rang our doorbell to get candy. My hay fever was so bad I couldn’t go outside and trick or treat. I also remember going on a trip to High Rock, a nature preserve near where I lived in the spring. By the time I got back to school, my eyes were swollen shut and I was wheezing. This is how I spent my childhood. I was sensitive. Delicate. I believed that even the smallest thing could set off an explosion of discomfort and pain in my body. I lived cautiously.
Eventually, I outgrew the severity of my allergies, although I still suffer from them today. You would think, after all the sickness I experienced, I might be a bit of a hypochondriac. But I’m not. I’ve never been one of those people who got a headache and thought it was a brain tumor. While my imagination can get the best of me in other circumstances, when it comes to sickness, I’m pretty logical. If it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s probably a duck.
Then I got breast cancer. And while I won’t say that my experience of sickness has drastically changed, my mind will go to dark places. Now, when I get a headache, logically I know that it is just a headache and I need to hydrate and take two Tylenol, but a little voice inside my head whispers to me, “It has spread to your brain.” And I know it hasn’t. But tell that to the little voice.
In my last post, I talked about how the plague had hit our home and we all came down with a stomach virus. While stomach viruses are generally awful, this was particularly hideous because I was only weeks post my DIEP Flap and the stress that was put on my abdominal area from vomiting was intense. That night, I was so uncomfortable that I didn’t sleep. If I did sleep, it was only for 15 minutes and then I would wake up and not be able to fall asleep again.
There’s something about being sick in the bowels of the dark night that makes your brain do weird things. You see, I knew that it was a stomach virus. My son had it just days before. It couldn’t be anything else. But I started to convince myself that it was more. That maybe the cancer had spread to my stomach and I was dying. I knew it wasn’t true. But maybe it could be. I started to convince myself that I was dying.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit this next part. It’s macabre. It’s dark. But I like to think that I’m not the only one who has done this so, I’m looking for camaraderie here.
I started to plan my funeral.
I’ve never really thought about what kind of funeral I would want if I died. But I was up the whole night and it’s all I thought about. While I practice Atheism religiously, I grew up reformed Jewish. Most of the funerals I have attended have been solemn events with tears and silence. I’ve heard about other traditions and cultures where the recently deceased is celebrated and there’s a party. Neither of these sounded right.
Well, let me amend that statement a little bit. If, when I go, you want to cry for my loss, I won’t say no. I’m a theatre person and I like a little drama. So a well timed wail would be okay with me. But that’s not what I envisioned for my funeral. As a theatre person, one of my favorite things to do with the groups I work with is share stories. So, this is what I was thinking.
After a speech by a non-denominational person (I don’t know what you’d call him/her), a video will be played. It will be of me. “Well, I guess if you are playing this, that means I’m dead.” I’d go on about how much I loved everyone and wish things could be different. But then, in true applied theatre form, I’d instruct everyone in the room to turn to someone next to them or find someone they don’t know. I’d ask them to share a story. Maybe a story about how we met, about a time I made them laugh, a time I made them angry, a time I surprised them, or any memory that came to mind. I’d have them share the story. Then, if someone wanted to share it in front of the whole group, they could. And then, when everyone finished what they had to say, I’d play a photo montage of all the people I have met in my short life, thanking them for being my friend, my colleague, my family. As the pictures passed, I’d choose appropriate music (from musicals, of course, like “For Good” from Wicked) to accompany the photos. And then, we’d say our goodbyes.
The next day, after my stomach virus had run its course, I knew I was going to live. I felt a little silly about where my mind had gone the night before. But it’s not the first time since my cancer diagnosis that I have wondered if my little aches and pains could be something more. I’ve been to that dark place more than once. My mind has gone “there.”
Have you had more dark thoughts since your cancer diagnosis?
Do you get scared when you have little aches and pains? Are you more of a hypochondriac now?