Being “of service”

We Are Happy To Serve You, by Nancy L. Stockdale on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
We Are Happy To Serve You, by Nancy L. Stockdale on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

I’m back. I’ve been back. The week has been this endless rigamarole of doctors’ appointments – one every single day – so I’ve been gathering elements of this post in my head, but unable to actually write. Now J is watching his beloved Mets play, as he will be into 2016, it feels like, and I have decided to stop wasting time on the web.

I had a lovely time away. It was the perfect week for watching the leaves turn, the cottage had a loaded apple tree out front that drew lots of visitors, and I sat and wrote. Finished one essay (I think) and started on a new one. Also, read. Also, cooked and ate, rejoicing in making small portions of whatever the hell I wanted. Here are some highlights:

My shrink this week asked me how cancer entered into my thoughts while I was away. It was a hard question to answer, because it was not some constant, hovering presence. But, after all, cancer was the entire reason I found myself in that beautiful place, and it was the impetus behind my writing the things I did, and it was the reason I had a small container of meds sitting in the fridge. I didn’t actually experience the luxury of forgetting – that is gone. It’s more that I’m getting good at shrugging cancer off so I can enjoy myself.

Would I, in healthier circumstances, have taken this kind of time off? It seems highly unlikely. Self-care always gets demoted until circumstances are dire. And once they are, hopefully you aren’t too late to take advantage of the situation and make the most of it.

My reentry home was kind of tough for the first hours – who were these short people flinging themselves at me and needing things  all the time? But I’m glad to be back. I am reminded I belong here. I am needed. (And loved, of course. What purer expression of love is there than bottomless need?)

Wow, this post is getting away from me, and I was planning to keep it short and sweet because I’ve been staying up way too late lately. What I actually came here to write about wasn’t What I Did On My Fall Vacation. It was a topic that I feel I need to approach with great care, because presenting it in the wrong way will make me seem like an asshole. And that’s the last thing I want.

From the beginning of this… thing… I’ve been pretty determined to make my experience count for something. Not just for me. I’ve hoped that people would find my posts and take some comfort from them if their own health trajectory was similar to mine in any way. WordPress, lately, has been occasionally showing me the search terms used to find the way to my blog. Unfortunately, not all of the searches are hopeful – one concerned steroid withdrawal in the last days of brain cancer. I’m sure that my post on that was the opposite of useful. I’m sorry for that, anonymous web searcher. On the plus side, I have managed to connect with a few other patients in similar situations to me., and in some cases trade useful information or provide reassurance. That feels really good.

Anyhow, even before the blog, I was telling the many, many people who wanted to help me out, help us out, that the number one best thing they could do was to start seeing a dermatologist regularly. I meant it. And over a year later, I am still hearing from friends who drop me a line before dutifully going for their skin checks. I feel happy and maybe a little proud to have brought this about. And especially happy that no one yet has wound up in my same boat.

Sometimes, though, I hear from people who are responding to my situation by linking it to something they themselves have recently gone through, or some change they have made in their life. The formula is usually “I have decided to do/stop doing x, because of what you’ve been going through.” (The first part of the statement is never related to cancer.)

It’s… complicated. I want to be happy for you, when you tell me this. You made a decision or a big change or you went through something difficult, and because I am your friend, I commend you for it! But at the same time… what you did really had nothing at all to do with my cancer. So is this a rhetorical device? Is it as poorly thought-out as someone who asks, in front of my kids, for a detailed update on my current condition? I don’t want to think that. Still, it chafes. Makes me kind of uneasy. As though you’re using me, in some odd way, to justify something you’ve long neglected to either do, stop doing, or do differently. Like my cancer is your catalyst.

There, I do sound like a total asshole. I’m sorry. Will it lighten the mood if I post a song in sort of the same spirit? That is, one that is on the surface kind of peppy and positive, but on further examination, kind of a downer?

(Lyrics here)

Signing off for now. Hopefully you haven’t been offended and will return. And remember, enjoy yourself! It’s later than you think!!

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