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Friday, April 22, 2011

Post-diagnosis

Prior to Diana having lymphoma, I confused it with emphysema. That was the kind of cancer for folks who didn't take care of themselves, right? Karmic payback, in a way, for those who knew smoking was bad for them, but they kept smoking throughout their life?

Moreover, I thought of lung cancer in the context of Walter White on Breaking Bad. The guy never smoked a day in his life and now he has a rare (and very aggressive) form of cancer. You couldn't blame a guy for being drawn to full measures because he has nothing left to proverbially lose. But that's a TV show, based on provocative, one-in-a-million stories from real life and turning them into a gripping drama. This was Sunday night entertainment, not everyday life.

The first time I heard of Hodgkins lymphoma was when Mario Lemieux said he had it. I knew he was leaving hockey and would lose his hair (and nobody knew if he would come back to the NHL). I remember watching Sportscenter and feeling bad for the guy. Here was a guy, in the prime of his career, and he had to put everything on hold. Maybe indefinitely. So that's why I was quite happy when he returned to the ice after recovery, receiving a standing ovation in Philadelphia when the Penguins played the Flyers.

Again, all of this exposure was from a distance, through the window of pop culture. I didn't know anyone who had it and I was not expecting to know anyone who had it. Then the news came down last month about why Diana couldn't stop coughing.

With two sessions of chemotherapy done, she still has a ways to go. Her days are not filled with dark, depressive thoughts between bouts of sickness. Sure, there is nausea, weak feelings, difficulty sleeping, and other matters. And sure, chemo drugs can cause depressive thoughts and mood swings. Still, at the end of the day, Diana remains determined to beat this and make a full recovery.

As expected, there have been many emotional effects for those closest to her, including me. I've had moments of very sad and worrisome thoughts. And while the thoughts have been fleeting, they tend to swirl around, usually during times of duress about other matters. Not helping is when I hear tragic news, like what happened to TV on the Radio's Gerard Smith, who died only a few weeks after his diagnosis with lung cancer.

Cancer treatment isn't a walk in the park. But the park doesn't have to be surrounded by brown grass, red skies, and carcasses lying around. Yet it would be foolish to think every day will be a walk on sunshine.

It's always reassuring (and quite comforting) when I talk to her and hear how well she's holding up. We might not get to see each other every day, but we're in contact at various points of the day, whether we're talking about how we're feeling (physically and mentally), how crazy Mimo and Victory are, or food cravings.

Yes, life's continuing. We're not forgetting the good things (and there is plenty to be thankful for) while still on unstable ground.

And what's helping us along this journey is hearing from those who have been through a similar journey. A few weeks ago, pure happenstance led me to meet a woman who survived brain cancer (and kept a blog throughout the whole process). Earlier this week, pure laziness led me to click on one of Keith's blogs (which had not been updated since late last year) and I was reminded of a blog he linked. Written by a college friend of his going through chemotherapy, this blog seemed right up the alley for Diana to read.

These are the things that keep us sane, even though we're far from going insane. You have to keep things in perspective every day and we're doing our best to do so.

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