Son of Meltdown

One thing about cancer is if 10 days after surgery you are weepy and feeling sorry for yourself, everyone says, Yes, of course, you just had a mastectomy; you're having a meltdown, it's only natural. And if you feel that way when you're going through treatment, people say, Oh yes, of course, you're going through treatment. But if you have a few days of terrible headaches and crying, more than weepy but less than jags, and feel ever so sorry for yourself, you can't say to people, I'm having a meltdown, of course, because I had breast cancer, OK, chemo ended in July 2007, and I do have cancer still, that darn polycythemia vera, blood cancer. Because the timing is wrong. Really, haven't you gotten over cancer yet?

And so when your personal trainer (Personal trainer! What privilege!) is sarcastic; when she is once again incredulous that you can't line up your toes by looking in the mirror and have to look down at your feet; when you can't remember which way to move after that squat in which you must keep your head up, you must keep your back straight, your hips back and what is the purpose of this anyway; isn't there something less complicated you can do in order to stretch whatever muscle you're supposed to be stretching because no muscle is aching yet as it should be becuase you aren't angling the squat right and because even though a second grader would have learned this by now--large side step, squat up, squeeze, step to the other side--it all stymies you. You can't let the trainer see you cry. She's upset herself because the lock in her apartment malfunctioned and she had to wait for the repair guy. It does not do to be an adult in this world and cry in the gym for no reason.

But there is never no reason. There are many reasons: You did not sleep enough, you returned to sea level from the mile-high city--why not blame it on altitude, why not on the stars instead of ourselves, Brutus?--where you had headaches and hay fever and terrible heartburn and had to throw up just a little bit. B thought it was because of your oral chemo, throwing up was normal, but that wasn't it. It had to have been the dark chocolate you bought to lure buyers to your table where you were signing books, or would have been signing books had they not sold out. You took orders then.

But that was all the day before yesterday and closer in time, Y has written imperious emails and during the squats and leg movements (not jerky, smooth, squeeze at the end) you think of retorts: You must be so unhappy. You must really feel powerless or else you wouldn't try to control me. Why don't you at least pretend that you believe everyone is equal? But you must not engage. And haven't you been imperious with Y? But yeah, he started it, really Mom really.

You think if, if only you had a brain tumor there would be a reason for this--this head pain, this heart pain. Horrified. You don't want brain cancer but you want a reason--a socially-acceptable reason--and yeah, it could be medically related: you are sick, you are disordered, you have general anxiety disorder, a basket overlarge diagnosis, everyone's got it.

You were weepy and you were running out of potion, red-capsuled Effexor, in that mile-high city. You took half a dose yesterday, your last pill and none this morning. You were out, flat out.
And then you get more Effexor and you sleep eleven hours and the next day you are Good As New. You are yourself again. Though anyone could argue that the unmedicated you is the unmediated you, the real you. Without chemical additives.

{Effexor, hero of the day}
To read about Meltdown I, click here.


Michelle Burns said...

I totally relate and was writing a blog about this myself. I am training for the Danskin Triathlon in June for the Team Survivor team here. It is my first. And the training is hard and my body is fighting back and I am exhausted and i hurt and I am totally graceless and awkward and frustrated and resigned and you name it. And then, yesterday I just wanted to cry. For no particular reason. I just wanted to cry. And I can't blame it on treatment or chemo or anything. And, it has been 18 months and I should be ok and, and, and...... But I just wanted to cry. But, of course, i didn't cry because i didn't have a reason.
Thank you so much for sharing this. I will link to your blog in my blog post:)

Cancer Bitch said...

Congrats on your training. Sometimes it seems that things should be easier, but we all have parts inside us that are contradictory. And what you're doing is hard physically!

Michelle Burns said...

Thank you.
Yes, what I am doing is hard, but what we are all doing is hard. Yes, the "hard" part is over--for you in 2007, for me in 2009. But really, that isn't, to me, the hard part. The hard part is that I am not the same--my life is not the same. Things sometimes are just too much--for no reason. Except I am sure there is a reason--I just don't see it.
We have a right to have an occasional meltdown--to just let our internal systems release all that energy from being shaken (not stirred) and let us shut down for a while. Problem is, we don't allow ourselves that--for many reasons maybe. We want to be "normal" again or we don't give ourselves "me time" or whatever.
And, we often don't give it to others either. We really are focused on ourselves--not in a bad way mostly but it is after all our perspective we use to see.

Patty O'Furniture said...

I presented with a low volume of mets last August. I had cancer yesterday, I have it today and it will still be here tommorrow.
I can't throw out my Susan Love book or the cancer library I have accumulated. I try not to guess what drug I might move onto after this one fails. I'm just glad antiestrogen therapy is working.
Now I am a candidate for a mastectomy. If I were really ill, they couldn't do it--so to me, it's a good thing. Weird, huh?
Having cancer is like being Harry Power among the Muggles. The noncancer population doesn't understand your world and frankly, they are scared to hear about it.

Michelle Burns said...

You are right. Noncancer people think "there but for the Grace of God..." and hope if they don't think about it, they won't have to deal with it. That being said, those who do try to understand can be amazing support. I am glad the antiestrogen therapy is working. It really worked for one of my friends and I know it can be powerful.

ruth pennebaker said...

Live better through chemical drugs -- that's my motto. Don't even think about stopping; I know I don't.

Cancer Bitch said...

Stop? Why would I stop?
I encourage everyone to take SSRIs. The world would be a much better place if everyone did.

moe99 said...

Well, I have lung cancer where the tumors are growing again after a good ct scan in Feb, the April scan showed an increase in size that brings them ahead of where they were in December before they decreased. I'm a member of Group Health, which has no lung cancer specialists on staff and although they advertise that they will refer you to the necessary specialist, I received a run around from them that lasted a week and a half with everyone telling me I had to get approval from someone else. No one would say no, but that is what they were saying. I got rather pissed about it and then got an email from someone who I thought was a friend who chastized me for criticizing Group Health and letting my anger rule me. I thought about sending him to you, CB, but told him off in as nice a fashion as I could muster.

So that's my meltdown

Cancer Bitch said...

That is a bad meltdown. Are there any helper types in your local newspaper? The Chicago Tribune has a guy who investigates consumer and other problems.
There are so many problems of this type in our society. You do have to spend valuable time to get the medical service you need.
Voodoo doll, maybe?
C. Bitch

Cancer Support Community said...

Sandi, thanks for sharing your experience with us. Through our work at the Cancer Support Community, we know patients hope for a treatment that will bring them back to normalcy. But, we also know the transition is easier said than done and most women experience some form of distress due to their disease. Now women touched by breast cancer can ban together to help patients and survivors of tomorrow get though the emotional struggle of breast cancer from diagnosis to survivorship. Learn more and join at

Anonymous said...

Hey, I can't view your site properly within Opera, I actually hope you look into fixing this.