Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Cancer Survivorship Can Wear You Down

I was diagnosed with prostate cancer when I was fifty-seven years young. I believed a diagnosis of any form of cancer was a death sentence. Imagine my pleasant shock and surprise when at age sixty-six I was alive and well when my first Social Security check arrived.

The next day I went for an eye exam. I was certain I needed a stronger prescription. I wasn't seeing words clearly with my left eye. I knew bad news was coming my way when my Optometrist said "I can't get your vision in your left eye better than 20-50. We need to find out why.

I was terrified I could be moments away from receiving a diagnosis of macular degeneration. I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I received the news I needed cataract surgery.

My relief, gratitude, and celebratory attitude  over the fact I wasn't going blind, ended abruptly. Soon I found myself feeling miserable about growing old. I'd just finished my third spinal injection for severe back pain few days prior to receiving the news I needed cataract surgery.

My wife who is the keeper of our family history informs me that every year since my diagnosis of prostate cancer, I've experienced some medical emergency or crisis. I know this has taken its toll on me, my wife, and our marriage. I'm a seasoned veteran when it  to surgery. Over the course of my lifetime this will be surgery number sixteen. I'm not the least bit worried about the outcome of cataract surgery.

The success rate for cataract surgery is above ninety-eight percent. The recovery time is short. I was surprised that my level of despair was much greater than the medical challenge before me. I tried a number of ways to talk myself out of my despair.

                     Positive Self Talk Does Squat

According to the literature positive self talk has these benefits:
 "People are becoming more aware that positive self-talk is a powerful tool for increasing your self-confidence and curbing negative emotions." 

I needed to curb my negative emotions so I said to myself:

1. This is a piece of cake compared to prostate or penile implant surgery. If I made it through those and fourteen other surgeries, I've got this.

2. The benefits to this surgery is immediate within a few weeks I'll notice vastly imported eye site.

3. Cataract surgery is as risk free as can be. It's not like prostate surgery where I faced life long consequences.

4. I am grateful that I live in a country and a city where a skilled doctor will restore your vision.

This is the one I expected would turn things around:

5. Diagnosed with prostate cancer at age fifty-seven, I'm grateful that I lived long enough as a prostate cancer survivor to need cataract surgery.

I wish I was feeling greatful. I thought I should be feeling grateful, but I wasn't. I'm feeling overwhelmed and frightened. For the last seven years I've been falling apart piece by piece, at a rapid pace. Every year it's been a new medical challenge, a new surgery, months of chronic pain, and dozens of sleepless nights. My ability to bounce back is rapidly declining. I can't get a break from falling apart piece by piece.

I've  learned a valuable lesson. Sometimes you won't get to where you want to be until you deal with where you are. Whenever you are overreacting to a situation or circumstance, something else, most likely from your past is triggered.

In my situation, I needed to grieve and say goodbye to my expectations regarding retirement. I expected to reach retirement age in good health. I didn't expect I'd be living without a gallbladder, appendix, or a prostate. I never considered the possibility I'd have a penile implant, or I'd be living with chronic back pain. This isn't  my season for positive thinking and gratitude. It  a season for mourning. I can be grateful and sad at the same time.

It's ironic that on the one hand cancer survivorship has made me stronger. On the other hand it's also made me more vulnerable. I feel worn out. I'm emotionally and physically drained, and that's OK as long as I don't get stuck there

We are capable of experiencing more than one emotion, so that I'm capable of feeling greatful and sad at the same time. My plans and expectations for retirement was not how I planned it.