Archives for posts with tag: Marriage

One of the gifts of mindfulness has been perceiving sensations have gone unnoticed if I did not regularly force myself to slow down and notice. Those are its gentle gifts. The tiny intricate flowers. The refreshing morning breezes. The lovely and varied bird calls. The delicious and subtle flavors of carefully prepared meals.

It is easy to be mindful when life is slow. The hard part is slowing down.

Some situations demand that I be mindful. They are not gentle at all.

Almost every morning between 4 am and 6 am, both of our kittens jump on top of me in bed and demand my affection. They do this only to me as their designated fur-free mom.

About one second after they land on me, they are already purring. It is anticipatory purring. Basie touches my nose with his nose, REPEATEDLY. Then he starts licking my eyelids. I start petting him for about a half a minute, at which time he starts biting my hands and the rings on my fingers. Then I put my arms under the covers because biting turns into playful scratching and what I call “rabbit footing”, which is when cats grab you with their front claws and start scratching you furiously with their back claws. Rabbits do this when they are picked up by the scruff of their necks, at least ours did when I was a kid, and they were not pets.

Basie continues to try to bite me through the covers and if he is being really persistent, he crawls under the covers. Meanwhile, Leeloo is feeling left out. She is the gentler of the two but she is very affectionate. If my hands are under the covers, she climbs right under my neck on my clavicle. If I don’t start petting her right away, she will try to move EVEN higher. She also likes to groom me affectionately by licking the insides of my ears.

It is hard to be mindful of the gift of affection when I am busy doing something else, in this case SLEEPING. At these times, it can actually be annoying. But the kitties charm me nonetheless. They have tiny brains and I cannot ascribe negative intentions to their behavior. They are just babies and adorable ones, at that. I kick Basie off of the bed when he won’t stop being rough. I keep their little kitty nails trimmed. Their nails are less needle like and they are learning not to bite so hard.

Right after the kitties decided to leave the bed and run around the house, John turned over, put his around me, and nuzzled into the side of my neck. He will sleep like that for a long time. I was trying to go back to sleep. I typically have a hard time falling asleep with a lot of weight on me and I get overheated easily, too. Consequently, I usually say, “Get your arm off of me, please.” (I know I am very romantic. It is a miracle that the man still makes attempts at spooning after all of these years.)

Today, I thought, “It’s really nice that John is being so sweet to me. I’m going to try to enjoy this.” So I did and had a lovely snuggle for several minutes. Then I was really hot and asked him to move, which he did.

My usual response is to anticipate that there is going to be a problem and “nip it in the bud”. I realize that I miss a lot of affection that way. Why not instead be mindful and enjoy the part that is enjoyable instead of working so hard to avoid a minor discomfort?

There are times I need to slow down my thoughts. I need to be mindful of thoughts like, “Oh, how sweet” and not race right to “Oh, John’s arm is so heavy!”

I’ve been REALLY busy lately. Summers can get that way fast because I do a lot of driving to get my daughter to daily summer activities. At her age, she typically has to be somewhere in the middle of my work day. It’s a lot of shifting gears for me and cramming my work into small bursts. It also means extending my work day so that there’s a hole in the middle for transportation. She is now able to navigate public transportation but has trouble with making connections if there is a transfer. Further, the buses run only occasionally during mid-day. She can’t always take the bus and we don’t really like the idea of her wandering around for hours so I try to drive her as much as I can manage. Today there are three places that she needs to be, all in different parts of town. It’s a paperwork day for me and I am doing it at different coffee shops around town while I wait for her.

Needless to say, we’ve been spending a lot of time in the car together. My teen daughter doesn’t talk to me as much as she did when she was younger but when she does, it’s usually while I am driving her some where, often in heavy traffic.

I love talking to her but I must say that sometimes it takes a great deal of concentration I don’t have because there are subjects about which I know little that she loves to talk about. And she loves to ask questions about them, too. For example:

The Girl: “Mom, what is your favorite episode of Dr. Who with the 10th doctor?”
Me (crossing several lanes of traffic on a Friday during rush hour): “I’m sorry, honey. I’m trying to concentrate on driving. These conversations often make me feel like my head is going to explode.”

It may be that my mind is not up to the detailed nerd girl conversations while driving in Seattle traffic. I have to concentrate a lot to drive. I have a poor sense of direction and I am easily distracted. I am intimidated by aggressive drivers.

Maybe I will try a little harder today to be engaged with my daughter while we are in the car and see what happens. I don’t get a lot of opportunities to talk to her. She knows that I would like to talk more frequently and I think it is confusing to her that when she tries, I am sometimes not receptive.

It may be too hard to do but I will try it. The fact that it could get too hard is not a good enough reason to try.

Sometimes opportunity knocks softly. At other times, it licks you on the eye.

Often the kitties just love/bother each other.

Often the kitties just love/bother each other.

I was quite an awkward 11 and 12 year-old, as many girls are during those ages. I was and I still am very close to my mom and I remember talking to her about that stage of not being a young child but not quite being a teenager. Mom had suitable song lyrics for this and sometimes responded by singing, “Too young for boys, too old for toys, I’m just an in-between.”

“In between” is a phrase that has been popping into my mind frequently. I feel like an “in-between” as a cancer patient.

Actually, when I really think about it, I’ve felt like an “in-between” during this whole process and I see my friends going through the same thing. I remember in the early days of breast cancer I was shuttled back and forth between assessment and treatment. And even some of the treatment, that is surgery, was also used for assessment. There are blurry lines. It is a systematic process but there are many data gathering and decision points.

Other than my tamoxifen and Lupron shots, I am not in active cancer treatment. My oncology appointments are more spread out. I don’t even see my surgeon any more, I just see the nurse practitioner in the surgery office who works with “survivors”, the ultimate “in-between” status. Actually, there’s another in-between because if I am to need to have a breast cancer surgeon again, I need to see someone else. Dr. Wonderful not only “broke up” with me for being too healthy, he also retired from clinical practice, just last week. He is remaining at my cancer center doing research and in a leadership position regarding improving patient care. At least I can still send him a Christmas card later this year. He will not have moved back home yet. (He is Canadian, from Toronto, and I’ve always figured that he and his wife will move back to be with their sons and grandchildren.)

My current “in-between” balancing act is juggling my responsibilities. Okay, this is not a new balancing act as I have done it throughout my entire experience with cancer. However, as my energy is increasing, I have been able to work more. During 2013 my income, after deducting my expenses, was 50% of what it was pre-cancer. 2014 will not be a year like 2011 but it will be a much better year. I can see myself getting out of debt. My husband and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversaries along with our 50th birthdays in 2015. We would like to take a trip to Turkey along with our daughter, to celebrate. We have a lot of saving to do if we are going to be able to take that trip. I certainly can’t contribute to that kind of expense without getting out of debt.

I am feeling the tug of responsibility to my friends, especially my friends in the breast cancer community. I know that I am not as available for communications as I once was. Some of my friends I know only through online conversations. I don’t like to distinguish them from IRL (in real life) friends because all of my friends are real life friends. Great distances as well as time differences can make communication difficult, though. And further, I confess that I am less likely to ask, “how are you” to friends who are having emotionally and physically difficult times. I don’t like to ask that question unless I am prepared to respond with the kind of time someone needs if the answer is not, “I’m fine, thank you. And you?”  I am frequently pulled away to other responsibilities at home and at work. I don’t want to do a half-assed job of supporting my friends. I’ve had too many times in my life when a friend has asked “How are you?” during a hard spot in my life and my eyes tear up with the anticipation that I will be able to share my burdon with someone only to find out that the friend really does not have the time or mental energy just right then to tend to me.

I am also worried about losing my connection with the breast cancer community. I write frequently, but when I am really busy, I have fewer ideas. I don’t want my ideas to dry up and then the social connections to dry up as well.

Most of all, I am worried about losing my connection to the opportunity (not “gift”, mind you) breast cancer and my emotional recovery have given me to truly cherish life. I want to be connected to and mindful of the full richness of life.

I suspect I will work my way through this. I also suspect that I will not run out of things to communicate, even if not through blogging. And as far as blogging goes, I think I still have much to write here on this page. But I also want to respect and take note of the anxiety and fatigue I’ve been feeling lately. The anxiety is of the “lurking in the shadows” variety and not the spinning top anxiety I get when I go into overdrive.

Maybe the “new normal” that is talked about is actually a radical acceptance that life is always in-between.

As I mentioned last week, I am dealing with anger. I am pretty sure that it is about my stupid cancer. Getting sick for my New Orleans trip was really disappointing. I had seen it as an opportunity for a romantic “second honeymoon”. Adding to the frustration, the trip almost didn’t happen and was also quite expensive.

We still had fun but I’ve got to tell you, sitting on the plane on the way over was pretty uncomfortable. I was coughing a lot, I mean A LOT. I believe that I was the least popular person on the flight. The man sitting next to me had his body turned as far away from me as he could. A kind woman behind me handed me a cough drop. I already had one in my mouth not to mention the fact that I was fully loaded up with cough and cold medicine. And then I started having abdominal muscle spasms, which made me cough even more. That was a new one for me. I wonder if it has something to do with the abdominal muscle that was re-purposed for my TRAM reconstruction. I think that by the end of the flight, the man next to me was wishing that he’d sat next to a screaming toddler instead of next to me while I spewed my plague all over the coach section of the plane.

We arrived to New Orleans at about 3pm on Saturday. I took a short walk to the French Quarter with John. We walked down Bourbon Street until I finally said, “Yuck, I’ve gotten enough of an anthropological experience.”We walked over one block and had a delightful change of scenery to art galleries and such instead of Hustler clubs with horrible names like, “Barely Legal” with young and not so young scantily clad women standing in the doorways.

Sunday was our only full day without any band performances to attend. In the morning, I felt like I’d been run over so after John brought me some breakfast, I went back to sleep and didn’t get up until 4pm. I know I felt a lot better, showered, and got dressed for dinner. I have no recollection of where we went or what we ate though I know we walked there from the hotel, at my insistence and John’s objection. (I was still going to get in my 3 miles of walking in each day.)

On Monday, we went to a band performance, which went well. Then we took the street car to the Garden District to soak up the ambiance and to tour one of the cemeteries. We did a lot of walking that day. There were definitely some positives but I must admit that I was in a foul mood and complained a lot. Then John complained about my complaining and I said lamely, “But I’m sick! On our vacation. Waaaaaaaaaah!” (Okay, I didn’t really say, “waaaaaaaah!”) His suggestion was, “So you’re sick. Can’t you just make the best of it?” “But I am!!!!!!! I am out of bed!!!!! Also, your wife is sick and cranky. YOU make the best of that.”

So at this point of reading this post, you may feel sorry for my husband. And if you do not, you probably should because although I snapped out of my disappointed child routine for the couple of days following, once we’d gotten to the day after the fashion show, I was exhausted and mad again.

I was annoyed about every little thing. I have not been in a nasty mood like this in quite some time. And I don’t remember the last time it lasted an extended period of time like this. And John got the brunt of my perpetual dissatisfaction. I actually felt a lot better after I wrote my post complaining about how John often doesn’t answer me when I talk to him. Writing has a way of doing that for me. But by last night I was exhausted and fuming again. “Why is this house such a mess? Why do I have to live like this? This isn’t the way I want to live!”

Truth be told, although my husband is not the best at housework, he is a really hard worker. He is really bogged down with work and helping our daughter keep on top of her schoolwork. She missed nearly an entire week of school for that band trip and she takes a very difficult schedule. John spent many hours with her over the weekend sorting through what she missed, what she has to turn in, and what assignments needed to be done over the weekend. She is not easy to help, either, and is prone to getting frustrated and losing her reasoning skills. “What do you mean I have to answer in paragraphs? What does that mean? This is so stupid!”

He was so patient with her all weekend and here she and I were providing grumpiness in stereo. By the end of the night, I was feeling pretty remorseful. Today, my first thought was, “Put a cork in it, Elizabeth.” I know that my anger is very understandable and that I need to process it. Managing anger is tricky, though. There are ways of dealing with it that make it worse, for example, constantly complaining to one’s husband.

Maybe writing this post will help. Maybe I need to keep reminding myself that my anger, just like sadness and fear, do not last forever.

Even though all feelings are right. Anger FEELS wrong and I find myself looking ways in which I feel that I have been wronged in order to justify its expression. And then once I realize this is what I am doing, I feel wrong again.

 

When I talk to my husband, he often doesn’t answer. This is not new to our relationship. It has been true for decades but waxes and wanes depending on his stress level.

Sometimes, he is just spacey and lost in thought. Other times, he is feeling anxious. He is very sensitive to rejection at these times. I may actually be annoyed or mad at him. I may not be mad, at all and just trying to get the business part of our lives done and coordinate household responsibilities. I am an organizer and a “big picture” person when it comes to administering a household. John is not. After many years, he asked me to start writing tasks on a “honey do” list, a little white board in our kitchen. I don’t really like doing this. I think he would be more likely to remember to do the task if he wrote it down himself. For some reason, that is something he just won’t do. He wants me to write it down. Sometimes this feels like a face saving move on his part. I wouldn’t mind writing it down if I didn’t know that a number of the things I’ve written down, stayed on that little board for years. So it filled up with tasks, most of which never got done. And every time I worked in the kitchen, I would see it and it was a visible sign of my frustration.

I hate the silence. The non-answers that could mean many different things. But even when my husband is merely lost in thought, the silence hurts. Relationship intimacy doesn’t just come with the package, it is something that must be continually nurtured and protected. It is important for marital happiness, for sexual health, and for emotional well being.

I nag, it is true. It is not a super power but I am also not an evil villain. I often feel caught between a rock and a hard place. John tells me that he is going to do a task and then he doesn’t do it. An excellent example might be doing the dishes. I’d say that between 1/3 of the times that John says he will do the dishes before he goes to bed at night, I wake up to a sink full of dishes. About half of the time, most of the dishes are done but some are either still on the dinner table or on one of the kitchen counters. And almost 100% of the time, either the table, counters, or the stove top are dirty.

If I say something, he probably won’t finish the job because he’s already gone to work. If I need to use the sink, then I need to clean it out. Later, when we are discussing dishes, because they are never to be taken for granted because they are not yet a habit, I might clarify that what I am asking is for him to do ALL of the dishes and if the kitchen stove top needs to be wiped, I expect him to wipe it. By this time, I am at my best, using a businesslike voice and at my worst I am doing nothing to conceal my annoyance.

The follow up discussions almost never go well. John feels criticized. And you know what? I am criticizing. I am complaining about the job he did. I understand why he doesn’t like it but he often communicates to me an expectation that a loving wife doesn’t ever criticize or complain. Although I don’t think he 100% believes this, it is an ideal he has and I even think he believes it to be attainable. These are the the times when my husband’s dreamy romanticism conflict with my pragmatic realism.

Relationships are full of noise. Some of it is like beautiful and romantic music. Some of it is not. Some of it is disagreement, some is problem-solving, some is negotiation. Relationships are also full of silence. But this kind of silence, the not answering with clear words but instead answering with confusing actions or lack of actions, is not helpful. These are the times when I feel that I am to match his silence with my own. And sometimes that is what I do because I have already tried to make my point and failed time and time again.

These are the time I feel silenced, that my job is to pick up after the many unfinished tasks in my household and not say a word. Just do other people’s work and carry through on other people’s promises. There are times in my life I am resigned to this. There are times in my life when I know that my husband has many other wonderful qualities that compensate for these shortcomings.

At other times, I feel alone. I feel like there is work that I have to do and for which I will never be appreciated. If I say something, I get a negative response. If I am silent, I get no response. To have to have no routine between the two of us to take care of these things is a perpetual stress to me. Routines can make life a lot easier and require a lot less higher order thinking. I would like to preserve my mental energy for things other than working and reworking the daily household routine as well as keeping track of so much of the family’s schedule. People who do not have organizational skills like this, the skills for carrying out and managing the most boring and perpetual household tasks just don’t get it. They don’t get the value they don’t get toll that it takes on the very most developed part of the human brain. My husband and I do not have a traditional marriage but my brain works like a housewife’s and his does not.

When it comes to managing my cancer, I am even more alone. And that’s one of the main reasons that I blog. I don’t need my husband to attend my appointments any more. He has no idea what my schedule is like and how it impacts the rest of my life. He can read about it here but he can’t experience it. And when I talk about the anger I feel, the fears I have, or my annoyance with the inconvenience of it, I know he gets afraid. He wants to do something. And there’s nothing for him to do but there’s a great deal he could say.

I empathize with him, really I do. I empathize with him when I don’t know what to say to one of my friends with mets, when they speak of incredible pain or fear or anger. Every once in awhile, I think I rise to the challenge and say the “right” thing. Other times, I just do my best to communicate the fact that I care. It never seems like enough but I also know that I can’t solve the problem of cancer. I can just do my best to be present. Sometimes, and I’m ashamed to admit it, I feel negative toward my friends’ cries of pain. I have thoughts like, “She must have waited too long to take her pain meds.” It doesn’t happen frequently but at those times, I understand why so many of us have lost the support of friends and family. Our brain tricks us into blaming someone with a painful and life ending disease to protect ourselves from our own helplessness and guilt. At these time, I am forced to stare at hard truths about the vulnerability of life and that fact that people I love are in excruciating pain and experience incredible isolation.

I am a loving human being. I am also flawed. I do, however, commit to keeping present with my family, my friends in face to face and cyber worlds. In our relationships, I will make noise.

 

Yesterday, I was reading through my posts for 2013 as a review. I’d had a good and productive day. I was happy all day. And then I came to my post from August when I was hit with grief over the anniversaries of my mastectomy as well as the death of my friend, Gina. I remember that day in August. I cried for hours, which is something I have done less than a handful of times in my life outside of the two times I had clinical depression.

Yesterday I cried for about 20 minutes and then I actually felt good again. I’m not one of those people who usually feels better after crying. I mean I know that it is necessary to express grief but I still usually feel exhausted and cotton headed after I cry. The grief startled me because I found instantly found myself loudly and sloppily crying. The intensity of my grief felt like the day Gina died. And my worries about my own mortality, especially the prospect of dying before my daughter is grown, only intensified it.

I’m of the opinion that life is complex and there’s usually not one reason why something happens. But I will say that viewing a series of black and white photos of a husband and wife over the course of the wife’s treatment and later death from breast cancer, likely was a catalyst for this latest crying jag. One of the photos is a head shot of the pair in bed, holding each other, each with a look of utter bliss. It’s a beautiful and happy image. And it reminds me of my husband and I. John is a very affectionate man. He hugs me in his sleep and if I awaken in the middle of the night and put my arm around him, he makes a sigh of contentment and holds my hand. And I don’t mean that he sometimes does this. He always reaches for my hand, every time over the past 23 years. So I looked at that photo and immediately inserted myself into the image. And this woman who was born in the 70’s died. And you can see the progression of her illness in the photos with each photo showing loves and losses in the most poignant way. I found myself thinking, “That could have been me. That still could be me.” I didn’t dwell on the thoughts but I had them nonetheless.

I had nightmares that night. (People, when you wonder why I am careful about watching intense, violent, and/or scary films. This is why. They have given me nightmares since I was about 6 years old.) In one, I was at a parade that included some past beauty queens, women who were now middle-aged. They were beautifully dressed but instead of being on a parade float, they were lying in open caskets on wheels! Even in the dream I thought, “What on Earth? What is this supposed to symbolize about women, beauty, and aging?” And then later in the dream, I was at the funeral of a relative. I don’t remember anything except she was a woman in my family. I remember having grief during the dream about missing my grandmother who died in 1993. In the final part of the dream, my daughter was acting completely and utterly out of control. As rebellious and angry as she could be. It was terrifying.

I am a genuinely happy person. One who has been through a lot. And lots of people have been through a lot in their lives with different impacts and different ways of coping. I am a person who feels things deeply but I am also a deep thinker. And I feel both positive and negative emotions as well as having positive and negative thoughts. I feel happy and calm most of the time. I think part of these intense moments I have of sadness and fear come from the enormity of what I have to lose, my family, my friends, my independence, my capacity to help others as a psychologist.

Today’s New Year’s Eve resolution is to remind myself of the strength of my connections, my connections to myself through my own self-awareness and the purposeful way in which I try to lead my life. My connection to my daughter who is doing so well and so happy right now. My connection to my husband who loves me so dearly that he reaches out to me even when he is fast asleep. Who trusts me so deeply that he allows me to be very open about the ups and downs of our relationship as well as our own personal shortcomings. My connection to my parents; I can’t imagine how hard it must be as older people, to worry about your child’s health and mortality. When my friend, Preben got cancer over five years ago, while still in his 30’s, I noticed that his parents started visiting him much more frequently. I told him half jokingly, “That’s what you get for getting cancer and scaring your parents.” My connections with my extended family have also strengthened. I have some wonderful cousins and sister-in-laws and my brothers have actually nudged themselves out of their comfort zone a little to be a bit more affectionate with their sister.

My friendship connections over the past year and a half have seen the most change. I have made a number of new friends who have startled me with their intense and generous kindness. I know that some of them will come and go but I think that a good number of them will be lifelong friends. I have had old friendships that have evolved into something much deeper than they were in the past. But I have also experienced some lost friendships and some that have been made weaker by my cancer. This mixture of bitter and sweet, of gains and losses, is somewhat dizzying to a person like me who craves consistency and solidity. But I have learned to cope with chaos in my life. I want to be happy and I know chaos happens no matter what I do. So what is my choice other than to try to make peace with it, live along side of it, and accept that I sometimes lose my footing.

Finally, today I remind myself of my reconnection with nature. I spend time outside every day. I have been able to travel to the mountains and to the sea. I am outdoors during good weather and in bad. Even in the most exposed and vulnerable parts of nature, there is beauty. I feel a strong spiritual connection to everything when I walk. It is both intensely personal and beautifully communal.

That is today’s resolution. Tomorrow is a new day and a new year. I wish all of you good things in 2014: moments of joy, moments of peace, and fortitude among the suffering and chaos. Thank you for your connection and support. Xoxoxoxo.

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John Gottmann, a psychologist at the University of Washington wrote a book called, “The Relationship Cure.” In it are strategies for strengthening marriages and other relationships. But Dr. Gottmann is a well known expert on marriage so that emphasis of the book is there. I have read a number of his books and know that one of the things he talks about quite frequently are perpetual problems. 69% of marital arguments are never resolved. And it’s not so much that happy couples need to resolve them as they need to cope with them together.

My maternal grandparents had a long marriage of 60 years. I wish I could say that it was a happy one but it was not. They had a number of perpetual conflicts but one I distinctly remember is the fight they had about a photo that my grandmother had taken with the Hawaiian entertainer, Don Ho. They took separate vacations by the time they were in their 60’s. My grandmother would frequently visit Hawaii to see their daughter, Judy and her family. My grandmother loved Don Ho’s shows. Apparently, he used to invite the grandmothers in the audience to take a photo with him. My grandmother, who was one of the most star struck people I’ve known, of course got the photo op. But she wouldn’t show the photo to my grandfather. I don’t know how many times I heard them yell at each other over some stupid photo. Like my grandmother would have an affair with Don Ho! But the argument was not about the photo. It was about some deeper issue that they were not able to manage. But because they were of a generation, a social class, and a religion that didn’t divorce, they stayed together for many unhappy years.

John and I have been together for nearly 27 years and we have our share of perpetual arguments. And conflict is part of any close relationship. It is to be expected and to be dealt with. But never in a million years would I expect to have a perpetual argument about a plant part, more specifically soursop leaves. Soursop is a fruting tree indigenous to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. I first became aware of the soursop when I was visiting one of my best friends, Cheryl, for her mother’s funeral. Cheryl’s parents were both immigrants from Trinidad. Cheryl’s Uncle Norbert, a retired ichthyologist with more than a passing visual and vocal resemblance to Harry Belafonte, first told me about soursop ice cream. It is as I understand, an acquired taste.

Many years passed and I didn’t think again about soursop. Then I was diagnosed with cancer in late May of 2012. I had my first surgery scheduled for June 27th of the same year. One day, shortly after my diagnosis, John came home with a plastic bag of leaves. One of his co-workers had learned of my breast cancer and told John that tea made from soursop leaves would shrink my tumor. In fact, he thought it would help shrink my tumor even prior to surgery, which was scheduled for a couple of weeks later.

My husband is a software engineer for Disney Internet. The co-worker who gave him the leaves also had a high tech background. He was also rather eccentric, priding himself on storing his container of almond butter upside down so that the oil was easier to stir into it and it would remain creamier. I know this sounds snarky, because it is, but my mother taught me the same practical tip about peanut butter when I was a girl, with about 1/100th of the fanfare.

John brought home the leaves with instructions to make tea. I told him, “I’m not drinking that. Your co-worker is not a physician. He’s an engineer. And he’s weird.”

Okay, so that was not the best way to handle the situation but I was overwhelmed with information, trying to be the best patient that I could be, and the soursop leaf suggestion just seemed surreal to me. Go away, surreality. I need less of you. I am swimming in this cancer Hell hole as fast as I can. I don’t need any Salvador Dali in my life right now. My reality is spinning and melting enough as it is. Now, since it was so important to John I did a literature search on the use of soursop in cancer treatment. There was no evidence to support its use that I could find and some suggestion that it could be harmful. I considered his request considered, albeit in my own feisty way and ruled out for reasonable reasons.

As you might imagine, John was none too pleased with my response. He told me, “You only trust people with credentials.” Seriously? He said this as if it were a bad thing. Months later, he changed his criticism to, “You are so Western in your thinking.” I replied, “I believe that natural substances can be potentially very powerful for good or ill. I want to see an expert not just take advice from anyone. And by the way, you know I see a naturopathic oncologist and a practitioner of oriental medicine IN ADDITION to conventional oncologists, right?”

The argument comes back from time to time without resolution. I invited John to my last two psychologist visits as we work to transition from a crisis managing couple to a different sort of life together. The kind of  life that includes the possibility of cancer and has already included past cancer. We are still dealing with the aftermath.

The soursop leaf debacle was discussed during the last session we had together. John explained why it was so important to him. He said, “I wanted to cure Elizabeth’s cancer.” John clarified that he did not think that he was a physician or that he had more expertise than my physicians. But he, as my husband, wanted to “help” in a way that was “curing” my cancer. It was important that I understand this. I had no idea. It makes no logical sense to me. Why would John be expected to “cure” my cancer. There is no cure for breast cancer. And if there were, it would not only be known by John and another software engineer. In fact, it probably WOULDN’T be known by a couple of high tech guys.

But John is my husband who loves me dearly. I know that when he is scared, he is not always “reasonable”, in fact he can be downright romantic and sometimes nearly magical in his thinking when things gets really emotionally tough. And guess what? I am not the paragon of reason at all times. I get scared, feel out of control, and have my own little irrational dance that I do.

I don’t know what it is like to be a spouse of someone with cancer. I hope never to have this experience. But I know that it is important for me to try to understand my husband’s experience. This way we can cope with the conflict of the soursop leaves, which is really conflict about neither of us having control over the disease of cancer.

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As you know, I frequently write about my husband and our marriage in this blog. John reads all of my posts and I am very grateful to him for supporting the level of personal information I share about our lives. He’s never expressed hurt or anger with anything with anything I’ve written. He did disagree with something I wrote about myself, namely when I referred to myself as a “drama queen”. John told me that I was an “anti-drama queen” and that this is actually somewhat annoying to him at times. Although I was happy to hear that my husband views me as having good emotion management skills, I was kind of shocked.  I was so shocked that I actually asked him to tell me what he thought a “drama queen” was just to make sure we talking about the same thing. And we were talking about the same thing except when I gave him the example of losing my cool when I come home to a sink full of dishes that he was supposed to do days earlier, he said this was “nagging” rather than being a “drama queen”. Okay, I can work with that. So I’m not exactly Spock. I’m a Spock who also nags on occasion.

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I read a number of memoirs of other women who have had it. The most helpful of them was one that was written by a woman and her husband, both of whom are professional authors. It was clear that they had a loving marriage. It was also clear that cancer had thrown their lives upside down. Their stories were told in tandem with each set of chapters written about the same time period but from their different perspectives.

Yesterday I remembered that book. I asked John if he would write a guest post for my blog. We discussed a few ideas and he indicated that he was interested and that he wanted to think about what to write. I think he will do it and I’m pretty excited about it. My husband and I met in a writing class at the University of Washington. We both love to write. When I first met him, I thought he was an English major and was surprised that he was getting a computer science degree. Both he and I took a number of creative writing classes in college, though not the same ones. John’s mother is a published poet who founded a writing conference in eastern Washington state that ran for several years. John still writes poetry and occasionally gives readings at local coffee shops. A few years ago, he and his friend, Rex had a booth at Artopia, one of the Seattle neighborhood arts festival. I thought the idea of a poetry booth was a little crazy given the venue and especially since they were planning to write lines of their poetry ON PEOPLE.  They had tons of multi-colored markers. Rex had also made stencils of lines from some of his poems and was using paint to apply those. Their booth was actually pretty popular. I had totally forgotten about how this fit nicely into the tattoo scene, which is very big in Seattle. And then at one point, the line for face-painting really long and a number of moms successfully convinced them to draw butterflies, flowers, and dolphins on kids’ cheeks. And yes, I had my husband write on me. John wrote a line from a love poem he’d written for me on my upper arm. It was a fun day.

I am hoping that he will write something soon and I don’t have to Spock nag him too much. 😉

Stay tuned.

P.S. For those of you keeping score at home, his work situation has improved somewhat and more importantly, he is taking off both Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks!

As I have mentioned in the past, I was not always a psychologist in private practice. I worked as an academic and research psychologist for a number of years. And in the course of those years, I gave a lot of presentations at state and national conferences. Sometimes, those presentations were attended in part, in order to earn continuing education credits. And to earn continuing education credits to work toward maintaining a healthcare provider license, requires that the presentation, workshop, or whatever I was offering, be rated by each participant.

I remember being part of a workshop while I was a post-doctoral fellow at Indiana University. We picked up the evaluation forms and I saw a number of evaluations with comments along the line of “not enough time was spend on x, y, or z.” I was at the presentation and I reframed the comments to the graduate students who made the presentation with me, “Look these are not bad comments. It meant that they liked the presentation and wanted more than we could provide within the time allotted.”

My husband has been working a lot of hours in the past year, much more than usual. He and I came to an agreement early in our marriage about what we wanted in terms of a work/home balance. This issue was primarily driven by him, as I recall, because he was ,afraid, given my aspirations to be a university professor, that I would work too many hours. My husband and I truly enjoy each others’ company. He is my best friend and I am his. And sometimes we want more.

This is one of those times. John knew that this project might mean a lot more work for him but he also felt that it would be both interesting and good for his career. We discussed it prior to his committing to it. Little did either of us know that I would soon be diagnosed with breast cancer and that our lives would be turned upside down.

John has been working extra hours for a long time now. In August, there was a party at our house celebrating the end of this project. It is now mid-October and the project is still going on. After a significant time of being told, “We’re almost done. I see the end in sight,” he has recently told me that he really doesn’t know when it will end. On top of this, he has started getting cranky and irritable with his work situation.

I have been very patient with his work, especially compared to years past. Last weekend I felt as though I had hit a wall. And John got kind of cranky with me and I responded, “John, I am hitting the wall with your work situation. You are officially starting to be a pain in the ass.”

The fact that I let those words come out of my mouth was perhaps a cue that I had waiting too long to say something. Because I was being kind of an ass. John, to my surprise, reasonably and lovingly responded, “I know, Honey, that’s why I am so glad that you are going out tonight with Jennie. I hope that you have a great time. You need to have a good time!”

“What?????????????????” My husband’s reply completely disarmed me. We have had times in our marriage of frequent bickering and second guessing of each other. We have been through my cancer together. We have relearned how to be close and stay strong under some pretty scary circumstances. I have very much enjoyed the increased happiness and stability in our marriage. My frustration with his work situation was starting to distress me some.

I talked to him about it again recently. He indicated to me that he had a plan B regarding his work. Just to know that he was thinking about it and planning for it was a huge relief to me.

I remembered why I want to spend more time with my husband and why I want him to be happy. He is a wonderful man who loves his wife and family. I have been distressed because I want more of him. And I want more of him because I love him and he is my best friend. And I know he feels the same. So until we solve this current problem, I will try to spend the time I do have with him enjoying his fine company.

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