By Craig Davis
I once read an interview with an actor who criticized scripts that called for the character to vomit at the sight of a dead body or upon hearing some disturbing news, like the brutal murder of a child or loved one. This actor claimed that in real life, strong emotions don’t cause retching.
There may be some truth to that. It is hard to say. However, sometimes when I read Dr. Patrick Walsh’s Guide to Surviving Prostate Cancer, I get physically sick to my stomach. Occasionally, I need to set the book down and flip on the TV to take my mind off of it. A few weeks ago, I was sitting in the office of a radiation oncologist, and I felt a surge of nausea arise as he explained various details of my cancer and a treatment to me. I didn’t feel the need to vomit. I was just a little ill. I felt the need to shut down. Get out of his office. Go home and climb into bed and watch TV by myself. I didn’t want to speak to anyone or think about the cancer any more.
In fact, since the initial diagnosis, I have often felt like sealing myself off from the rest of the world and wallowing in my emotional nausea.
Of course, I can’t. I have family who relies on me. I have to work full time. I have bills to pay, decisions to make, loved ones to comfort. I have to be responsible, read and collect information on potential treatments. I have to schedule doctors’ appointments, medical tests and procedures. I need second opinions that require airline tickets, hotel bookings and registering for online access to medical websites for a host of health care transactions.
I have to make dozens of phone calls with physicians’ offices to transfer records and test results, with the insurance company to verify coverage and network status of health care providers. I must coordinate plans and share updates with my very understanding and flexible supervisors, coworkers, staff and loved ones. I have to run flights of stairs or walk a few miles every day to keep my sanity.
I have to fill prescriptions and take medicine. I have to cook a little something or order in, go shopping, and wash my clothes and dishes. I have to talk to my wife who has returned to Honduras with the kids so we can make informed decisions, not only about cancer diagnoses and prognoses, but about movers and dates to transfer from our leased home in Tegucigalpa to a new rental five houses down (long story). We have to decide if we should sell our condo in Florida and if we should cancel our family trip this summer and try to get our deposits back.
Life goes on.
I guess that I am grappling with the relentless progression of life. The bills don’t stop coming just because of a cancer diagnosis. Grocery store prices don’t suddenly drop. There is no acinar adenocarcinoma discount at the gas pump or for your credit cards. All life’s challenges that existed before the biopsy results—children’s missed school assignments, family battles, relationship problems, landlord obstacles, internet problems, work-related stress — don’t suddenly disappear or even diminish.
I don’t have the luxury of falling apart, of binging Netflix and Hulu for the next six months. I can’t just walk away from all my responsibilities to experience goal after goal on my bucket list (I’ve had one for years, by the way).
The mental health challenges that accompany this new reality are perhaps the most annoying. And I know something about depression. After the trauma of my son’s death, the Al-Rashid Hotel terrorist attack in Baghdad that cauterized tiny BB-sized shrapnel into my head and back, a second attack in Mosul that killed a friend of mine in the vehicle in front of me and a terrorist media campaign against me in Pakistan; I struggled with layers of depression.
But this cancer experience is something entirely new. I am not really sad or anxious. I am certainly not worried. I am just psychologically nauseous. While I am in no danger of a breakdown, I must remain emotionally healthy so that I can make well-informed decisions: Radiation, surgery or active surveillance, for starters.
After just two and a half sessions, my new therapist dumped me. She said, “I can’t help you” and recommended that I seek a specialist in trauma. While I don’t think trauma is the real issue, I did schedule an appointment. I also am keeping up the exercise, breathing techniques, my gratitude diary and healthy communication with loved ones.
I also decided to write a blog “Living with Cancer” as a visiting author at MarvinGray.org, a website I use to promote my fiction. I figure that every week, I can share my experiences and hear about my readers’ experiences.
Writing has always helped me process things. Not just trauma and pain, but doubts, challenges, frustrations, and emotions. I look forward to hearing from you at [email protected]
Craig Davis, who was born in Seymour and graduated from Brownstown Central High School, currently lives in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and works for a U.S. government contractor on school-based violence prevention. He is the author of “The Middle East for Dummies” and is conducting research for a genealogy and social history book in Kurtz and Freetown. Send comments to [email protected]