Over the years, I have played a part in the care of several family members who suffered from cancer. To top it off, I am a service provider, a massage therapist--and a classic codependent.
For a codependent, it is always easier to take care of others than to surrender to acts of kindness. Around the time I was diagnosed with cancer, I realized that all my life I had based my value on what I did for family, friends, and clients, and not on my inherent worthiness. How could anyone love me for being me?
Clearly, I had a lot of healing work ahead... and not all of it involved an IV bag in a large, white room.
Anyway, my first appointment was with my oncologist. Right at the start, Charles warned Dr. Li that I didn't want to hear the prognosis. It was hard enough for me to wrap my mind around the fact that 1) I had cancer, and 2) to prolong my life, I would have to submit to conventional cancer therapy, which I had always said I would never do.
Dr. Li assured me that chemotherapy would shrink the tumors. She also said that I had half the blood I should have in my body and that I needed iron infusions. That was pretty much the gist of this meeting. Not too intense for a talk about having cancer... considering we didn't discuss the prognosis.
But wait--jump forward to the next appointment. This one was with Dr. Hayman, my surgeon. This was the tough one. To start with, I had to give myself an enema to prepare for a rectal exam. Contrary to what I had been told, the enema put my body in a twenty-four-hour spin of agony and urgency. I ran to the bathroom every fifteen minutes... if my body cut me a break for a spell.
Charles drove me to the appointment while I lay in the backseat, clutching my abdomen. I imagined the pain being like what a griping baby feels. Horrible. When we got to the hospital, I needed to hit the restroom, stat. Unfortunately, the one I chose was in full use...except for an old woman who stood in front of the only unoccupied stall.
"Are you going to go in there?" I asked her. "Or are you waiting for the handicapped stall?"
"I don't know... is someone in there?" The woman gestured at the handicapped stall.
"Yes. Someone is in there. Do you want to wait for that one, or do you want to go in this one?" I REALLY had to go.
"I don't know..."
The woman really wanted the handicapped stall. But she was still considering the empty stall in front of us. Finally, after asking her several more times if she wanted to use the empty stall, I apologized, edged around her and took the one unoccupied stall.
Meanwhile, an old woman in a muumuu (nothing against muumuus, but that's what this person was wearing) standing by the sink said to me repeatedly, "You're a horrible person," because I had cut in front of the hesitant woman. It didn't matter that I kept apologizing with tears running down my face and that my bowels were retching.
Then the muumuu-wearing woman went outside and told the janitor too what a horrible person I was for cutting in front of the woman who couldn't decide if she wanted to wait for the handicapped stall or take the unoccupied stall... at which point, I heard my husband shout, "Yeah? So what? My wife has cancer."
My heart melted at that. This was a gross, awful situation--not to mention absurd!
Finally, we got to Dr. Hayman's office. A couple of friends met us there to advocate, gather information with a clear head and offer general support. Charles and one of our friends met with the surgeon in another room while I went back and forth between the exam room and the restroom. For all the urgency I had suffered through for the last year, this was by far the worst experience I had ever gone through.
Anyway, after their mysterious discussion, the surgeon examined me. Everyone came back into the room and we started talking. Dr. Hayman told me my cancer was inoperable. The only surgical intervention she would consider was a colostomy. And here I was, thinking the winner of two "Top Doctor" awards in Portland Monthly Magazine might cut out my rectal tumor.
I asked about remission. Dr. Hayman told me that was impossible. The cancer had spread to both lobes of my liver, making an operation on my liver unviable. So...this was the prognosis, then. Kara Muir: Incurable.
Now, at one of the lowest moments of my life, I knew what the Western doctors thought. According to my medical team--supported by the opinions of a board of tumor specialists--I would never be free of this cancer. I might live with it for some years, but I had no hope of remission. Of becoming cancer-free.
No hope. No hope. No hope.
Class dismissed. Charles and I went straight home and I crawled into bed. I stayed there until the next day.