Tuesday, May 24, 2011

DAY 1237 - Day 995 in Recovery Paradise

CANCER is an overwhelmingly fearsome and ugly enemy.

I have found that my mind can choose to play offense or defense in this unasked-for battle.  I was diagnosed with Tonsil Cancer in 2008.  Since I got my unwilling turn in the arena with this formidable (but, not unbeatable) giant, I have become a far more positive–minded person than I could have ever imagined. 

That said, I have not yet discovered anything that keeps the blues, worry, depression and fears of life totally away - it is more in the category of 'manageable'. I have tried them all (maybe some twice) – back in 1970, it might have been grouped under sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.  In 2011 it is closer to hugs, a half-glass of wine and rock-n-roll (some things remain constant – ha).

For a big and current instance - my throat got really sore yesterday in the exact same spot where I first discovered my tonsil cancer.  This was just out of the blue.  Interesting side note: In 2008, three years ago, when I was first diagnosed with Tonsil Cancer, we had just won a charity auction for a resort week in Vancouver, Canada.  I delayed starting my treatment to go on the trip. I was figuring it might be my last chance to do so (you know the 40% survival crap they feed you).

Fast forward three years – last week, we won the exact same resort vacation week at the 2011 charity auction (Orlando, Fla. next year) and I had all these flashbacks to 2008 and hunted up and re-read some of my early blogs – ‘Another Day in Paradise’.  I woke up yesterday with the same pain, in the same spot, in my throat as before.  I couldn’t even swallow water without grimacing. I have to honestly say that worry was creeping under the door, like an ominous, intimidating, eerie fog in a bad B movie, again.

Once treated, hopefully, we can live for another fifty years, but the worry never really goes away.  It is the wolf outside our door.  I can ease the daily worry of the wolf by building my mental house of bricks, but when I allow myself to think about it, even for a minute, my mind is capable of imagining that the damn monster is still sitting out there in the shadows, just beyond the gate.

So, I played my custom, motivational music CD.  I watched my new YouTube video of me finally learning how to play electric bass after fifty years and then actually playing in public with a couple of friends at the local pizza parlor. I read and re-read my best motivational books.  In addition to the world not ending on May 21, 2011 as predicted, today I am back to good as it gets - no soreness and no symptoms (I am drinking a cold one as I write to celebrate the very unappreciated miracle of being able to swallow without fears and tears). 

Our mind is an awesome and powerful tool. I figure that if nothing is really wrong, but involuntarily (at least sub-consciously) my mind can imagine that it something is, I must, conversely, have the same power to consciously invoke my mind to imagine that nothing is wrong, when I have a tendency to think that it might be. I feel that there will be time enough to deal with the real if (not when) it happens.

Depression and worry is an ugly and dark maze we conjure for ourselves.  We each have to find our own light to discover the way out of this maze or we will be consumed by it.  Life holds enough real issues to worry about without us adding to it with our over-active imaginations pitching in to help do the Devil's handiwork.

When I was trying to pull myself out of self pity, worry and depression following radiation and chemo treatment, I placed my borrowed motivational thoughts on 3 x 5 cards and posted them everywhere (literally – not figuratively), in every room of the house, on all the mirrors, the outside and inside of the cabinets, my sock drawer, next to the toothpaste, in the cars, even inside the refrigerator, ha.

Have you seen those commercials about how to go about learning a foreign language and so you put the Spanish word for everything on post-it notes throughout your house?  For me, it was akin to hanging garlic everywhere to ward off the vampires from the dark regions of my thoughts.  I highlighted certain positive words and phrases with a yellow marker (live forever, dream, win, perseverance, courage, defiance, success, 'every day is a gift', friends, love, appreciation, power, control. gratitude, etc.).

Sometimes, I would be near tears, because I was not in control of my life and things were happening to me I seemingly could not fix.  I would shuffle over to the nearest 3 x 5 card and read it as best I could (my eyesight was very messed up during radiation - normal for me is 20/1250 in each eye with high power trifocals; so I was half-way to blind already..ha).  

I would repeat it over and over (mentally only, as my mouth was so dry and my tongue was so sore I couldn't speak).  For those few seconds and minutes, I discovered I wasn't wallowing in self-pity.  I was not “THINKING” about my situation. I stepped it up and for me, it was a Godsend for a Type A personality control fanatic that was not in control. 

I had discovered that there finally was something I could proactively do to exert positive control over the out-of-control negative experience of Cancer and the ensuing kick-my-butt, but necessary, chemo and radiation treatment.  

Did it work all the time, 24-7? NO.  My mind-over-matter plan became increasingly powerful, but it was not invincible. On a really good day in the beginning, maybe 50% of my waking hours, I could successfully stave off the demons.  Because I couldn't sleep - I had a lot of waking hours, far more than I wanted. For me, it was far better to get up and do something, anything, rather than lie there, letting the hob-goblins into my thoughts, while everyone around me was sleeping like an innocent.

I liken the experience of proactive, positive motivation as a defense to hold off the enemies of your biggest battle until (for you old folks) John Wayne rides up (or for you younger folks) Gandalf on a white stallion, with ‘Thank God, they are here’ reinforcements.  We do what we have to do to, just to keep the enemy from coming over the walls and breaching our last barely defensible mental position. 

I had thought I was an Iron Man for going to the end of Cancer treatment without a feeding tube and still be able to sip soup and water and walk by myself to the bathroom.  Several trips to the emergency room and a four day hospital stay later after not being able to eat or swallow water for a week, I often felt that I was a beaten man.

My personal Goliath was not seemingly affected by my little sling full of motivational stones, but I kept at it, as it was the only weapon I had.  As I am not an overly religious man and any conversation with God to ask for divine intervention would have to have first been prefaced with a request for a explanation of why I got this damn Cancer in the first place.   My take-away from my early experience with the Bible had always been ‘God helps those who first help themselves’ and I always have had an inherent personal disapproval of being a whiner.

Finally, the day arrived when I was felt I just a tiny bit better than I was the day before.  Albeit, it was about two months after treatment ended.  That was the day for me that John Wayne and Gandalf and my reinforcements arrived with a little bugle blowing faintly in the wind.

My iPod with my positive, or at least, and my “you are not alone – I CAN relate to it" music was one of my new best friends. ‘Help’, by the Beatles was good for that.  Who knew that John wrote that for me?  I heard it at least a thousand times before I finally listened to it and have it touch me.

Help, I need somebody,
Help, not just anybody,
Help, you know I need someone, help.

When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody's help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I'm not so self assured,
Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors.

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round.
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won't you please, please help me?

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways,
My independence seems to vanish in the haze.
But every now and then I feel so insecure,
I know that I just need you like I've never done before.

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round.
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won't you please, please help me.

When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody's help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I'm not so self assured,
Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors.

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round.
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won't you please, please help me, help me, help me, oh.

While the whole song isn’t compatible with cancer survivor circumstances, how about  Yesterday’, also, by the Beatles…

All my troubles seemed so far away, 
Now it looks as though they're here to stay, 
Oh, I believe in yesterday. 

I'm not half the man I used to be, 
There's a shadow hanging over me, 
Oh, yesterday came suddenly....

Zig Ziglar, Benjamin Franklin, Helen Keller, Roosevelt, Dale Carnegie, William Earnest Henly, Winston Churchill, John Lennon,Yoda, Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Bukowski and my favorite, ‘Anonymous’, became my newest and wisest best friends.  Their inspiration was there for me in ways I couldn't have imagined.

Has battling Cancer changed me forever?  I would say, Yes.  Will I still experience worry and doubt?  I have to say, Yes.  Will I find courage in having discovered my sword of positive motivation, forged in the midst of battle, from inspirational words of steel?  I say, Yes.  Will I succumb to future opportunities to experience depression and tears?  I hope not.

Should I ever pat myself on the back because of my new found strength and even begin to imply that I discovered this powerful mental ally to keep the demons at bay? 

I have friends that, as they have had more conversations with God than I have, would probably say  “You know Bob, because you did choose to help yourself, therefore, is it possible that God……..?”


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