Whenever I am faced with a situation where there may be bad news, I am more freaked out by the NOT KNOWING, than by finding out the news is bad. The NOT KNOWING is always the greater of the two evils.
When I don't know something I need to know, and then I get the news itself, of course if the news is good, I am thrilled and relieved. But even if the news is bad, there is still a sense of relief because at least I KNOW. I KNOW, and then I can process it. When I can process it, I can deal with it. Even when the news is "You have cancer."
My reaction when I heard that went from momentary disbelief ("Did I hear him right?") to shock ("Oh holy fuck.") to acceptance ("OK, deep breath. It is what it is. Now let's deal with it.") All of this happened in about 10 minutes, sitting right in my doctor's office. Did I cry? Of course. But I didn't have hysterics. My ability to segue to acceptance sometimes astonishes even me. But once I know something, I am very good at getting past the moment of denial and moving quickly into accepting what is, and then looking quickly for ways to cope with it or fix it.
But today I am at the point in my Cancer-in-France story where I am about to know something new and very critical. The Next Big Thing is about to happen, except I don't know precisely what it is yet. And it's making me crazy that I don't know what I know I am about to know. You know?
Today, I have an appointment with my urologist/surgeon, Dr. D., and this should be a normal post-op follow-up. I haven't seen him since the day before I left the hospital when he gave me the unexpected happy news that I could go home for Christmas. For the most part, I anticipate that today's appointment will be him checking to see how I'm feeling (pretty damn good, just a bit tired, thanks), how my scar has healed (I predict he'll be delighted with his own workmanship), and that we'll talk about these blood thinners and how much longer I'll need to take them.
Next Thursday, I will have my first rendez-vous with the oncologist, Dr. R.
Somewhere between today and next Thursday, I will finally know the rest of what I don't already know, but desperately need to know. Because now it's about the rest of my life.
I will KNOW what kind of cancer I actually have. A nurse friend told me that even though the tumor was on the kidney, it might not be kidney cancer. That was a surprise to me. It could be something else entirely. This is something that is very important to know because it may impact treatment decisions.
I will KNOW what stage my cancer is at. This is also something that we need to know, and it's scary.
I will KNOW for sure what sort of chemo they are going to give me. Up until now, they've told me they plan to give me a pill form of chemo, which is nice because I can take it at home and no IV needles, and that normally the side effects are much less severe. I'm going on the assumption this will all still be the case. But ever since the first visit to the E.R. where they told me "kidney stones" and then 3 days later I heard "cancer" and "internal bleeding", this has been a roller coaster NOT-Fun house ride where surprises lurk around every bend. So at this point I am afraid to assume anything. They could change their minds about what sort of chemo to give me. The pills could still produce side effects - like, will my hair fall out (every woman's worst nightmare, right?) How long will I need to be on this chemo - are we talking 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, a year? While I'm on chemo, how will it restrict my lifestyle? The list of things I don't know about my upcoming treatment is enormous - but I have wisely resisted doing any kind of online research because the subject is too huge and everyone's situation is different. Maybe once I have more facts, some online research could be useful, but without more KNOWING there is no point in scaring myself even more.
Because I am scared. There, I said it. I am scared of what is about to happen next. I am scared of what I don't know, and what finally knowing will actually mean for my life. Even while I trust my doctors and have a good feeling this will all turn out well in the end, there is still a part of me that is being fed by the anxiety of the NOT KNOWING. And that anxious part is the one that is dreaming up all the bad scenarios, the What-Ifs, the "could happens". The stuff I don't want to think about or face. The stuff that makes me cry quietly in bed late at night when Georges is sleeping.
All (well, most of) my fears are rooted in the NOT KNOWING. In the past 2 1/2 months since this all started, I've been able to keep these fears at bay quite successfully by focusing on being in the moment, being positive and dealing with whatever was right in front of me. It was easier to deal with things by compartmentalizing, by taking the one-step-at-a-time approach. By doing this, I could postpone the NOT KNOWING about this chapter of the story, because I had all the other chapters to deal with first.
Chapter 1 was the assumption of kidney stones. Three days later, it was hearing the word "cancer" and knowing there was internal bleeding going on. Then it was finding out that I'd have to have both tumor AND kidney removed. Then it was discovering (luckily, before surgery) there was a blood clot, and having the most painful medical procedure of my entire life in order to stop the bleeding (effectively cutting off blood supply to the soon-to-be-removed kidney) and to block the clot from moving anywhere. All of these things happened within the space of FIVE SHORT DAYS, by the way.
Then it was healing from that procedure, and waiting for a decision on the next big chapter: when the major kidney surgery would happen. At first we were told it could possibly be put off until after the holidays, then learned the doctors felt it was best to get it over with quickly and that I'd probably spend Christmas in the hospital. Then it was the surgery itself and the week in the hospital afterward, with a great view of the Eiffel Tower that I couldn't really enjoy because I could barely move out of bed. Then finding out I'd have to have blood thinners by injection 3x/day at home. Leaving the hospital and not being able to move without help for the first three days. Slowly, so slowly, recovering. Injections continuing longer than expected. And then even longer. Every day, getting a little bit stronger, being able to do something I couldn't do the day before. Healing, always healing.
About 10 days ago or so, I realized that I am, for all intents and purposes, healed from surgery. The first part of this story is complete. I may be minus one kidney, but still have one healthy one left. The tumor is gone and allegedly no traces of it remain in the abdomen. I can get around, go shopping, do light housework, cook a meal, go to a restaurant, sit in a café and write, and I even took care of Georges when he was sick over the past weekend with a very bad cold.
That's all good, right? So what's the problem?
In the past few days, it has hit me: I now have nothing else to focus on EXCEPT THE STUFF I DON'T KNOW. The chapters that haven't been written yet. The part where I know I will have toxic chemicals put into my body in order to definitively get rid of something that had no business being there in the first place. The part where I don't know how I'm going to feel (or look) while I go through treatment. The part where I don't know how long it will take. The part where I allow myself to think that, even though I truly do believe that my story will have a happy ending, I also know it doesn't always work out that way. And what if?
And that's why I'm sitting here, weeping as I write this, because the next phase is upon me and I can no longer push it off to the future, and because I simply don't know what's going to happen next. Once again, the NOT KNOWING is making my life hell. It's never the stuff I know about that messes with my head. Even learning I had cancer in the first place was not as emotionally charged for me as THIS moment of feeling like I am standing on a cliff and one little breeze could blow me over the edge because I DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING YET. When I go to the urologist today, will HE be the one to give me the biopsy report - or will I have to wait another week to hear it from the oncologist? I don't even know that much.
I will pull myself together, because I always do, it's just part of who I am. I will remind myself that my initial reaction, on the day I learned I had cancer, was "OK, this is just something I have to get through, and it will be fine in the end. I will accept no other outcome than beating this and being well." (Life Tip: Always trust your first instinct, your first impression, your first thought about something because it happens BEFORE fear has a chance to set in and cloud your truthful inner voice.) I will remind myself of what I DO know to be true: that we create or attract that which we focus on most, and I am consciously choosing to focus on good health, on being in better health in the next year than I've ever been in my entire life. I am focusing on the outcome I want: perfect health. And my Taurean stubbornness comes in really handy here, because I refuse to accept anything else than this outcome.
Which means there is no safe haven for the fear to come in and take over. The fear is just temporary, just my reaction to my own thoughts. The NOT KNOWING is my boogeyman, my gremlin, my nemesis. But those are just my anxious thoughts, they aren't WHAT IS and they aren't WHAT WILL BE.
What IS, is that I am loved, so deeply and unconditionally loved, and by many people starting with my wonderful Georges. I am being well cared for and surrounded by excellent medical people. I have a support network that extends around the world with people who are sending me their prayers and good thoughts for me and for my family as we get through this thing together.
So now I just have to "get through" the next few hours until today's appointment, and then "get through" one more week until the next appointment. Then I will know. And then I can get on with doing what I need to do to create WHAT WILL BE: perfect health.