Sunday, August 18, 2013

Just Drive

On Friday, my husband took a personal day to help me cope with losing the companionship (and babyhood) of our two daughters when they began all-day kindergarten this week.  We took the opportunity to get out of the house together, in the day time, which felt bizarre because usually any time we have to ourselves is at night with the kids staying at their grandparents' or cousin's house.  And I took the opportunity to drive everywhere we went, and made a point of not using assistive devices as much as possible: walking to and from my wheelchair without canes, stepping on and off a half-size curb without canes, etc.  But we didn't really venture all that far from home, and all the driving was city-street driving.

I've been thinking a lot about freeway driving, though.  Thinking about my anxieties.  I remember when I was a kid, I always got carsick on our trips to the coast.  The highway to the coast was extremely winding with many steep banked curves and dappled with so many patches of sunlight and shade that it almost had a strobe-light effect.  I suffered every time we went until I turned 16 and starting driving there myself.  Controlling the vehicle myself made a huge difference in whether I got nauseous, and I finally started to be able to have relaxed, enjoyable rides to the beach.

So I got to thinking maybe freeway driving would be like that, too.  Maybe when I'm in control of my fate somewhat, I would have less anxiety.  Today, while we went shopping with the kids, I was mulling that over in the back of my mind.  After hitting the stores, we decided to get dinner at a restaurant a few miles away.  It absolutely made the most sense that we should take the freeway there, and get there in less than 10 minutes.  But I was still thinking it over, so while I was thinking, I took the back roads and got there in about 15 minutes.

It's a difficult situation, trying to evaluate the risk of panic attacks or emotional responses and decide whether I'm ready for that step or not.  My instincts are ready, there've been enough ordinary traffic incidents to give ample evidence that my reflexes are as sharp as ever.  I am totally in control of the variety of quick motions and delicate handling that are needed to respond to sudden traffic changes, obstacles, etc.  

I know my body can handle it, it's the anxiety I'm worried about.  What if a sudden swerve brings on a crying jag like the last time hubby had to swerve?  What if there's a near-miss accident and I start hyperventilating and get all weepy?  What if the highly-weaponized vanguard from the planet Snorfblat invades in the middle of our commute home?  Okay, that last one is pretty unlikely, but no more pointless than all the other worries.  I mean, come on, at this point I'm basically worrying about worrying.

I let the whole thing simmer on the back burner while we ate dinner.  I enjoyed my blueberry pancakes with a sense of tongue-in-cheek humor:  I allow myself just about as much blueberry foods as I want because, after all, they are supposedly a cancer-fighting superfood.  Thanks, cancer!  I love blueberry foods.
Sitting in the parking lot while we all got loaded in the car and buckled up, I thought again of my childhood.  When I was 8, I took riding lessons, and was very excited to show my grandma how great I was doing when she came to visit us.  But while she was watching, for the first time ever, I was thrown from a horse.  I didn't yet know it as a guiding principle for many parts of life, but I did know that you were always supposed to get back on the horse when they throw you.  I was hurting and embarrassed, but I had to get back on and finish that ride.  Tenacity has always been a strong characteristic in me.

In the end, it came down to a pretty simple equation.  If it feels cowardly and is more annoying to stay off the freeway than get on it, then it's time to get back on it.  So when we left the restaurant, somewhere we've been many times before, I took the most natural route home that I always used to take.  Sometimes you have to stop worrying and just drive.  I got on the freeway.  

And it was fine.  It was ordinary and without fanfare.  Nothing unusual happened, and we arrived home safely.  Just another outing completed, just one more little victory in living our lives our way.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Summer Highs and Lows

In July, I had another six-month check up with my oncologist.  As usual we did blood work, and scheduled some CT scans.  But unlike the usual, we talked about progressing to only annual imaging if everything still looked the same, and it did.  There have been no signs of growth in the tumors since I completed radiation therapy in March of last year, and my blood continues to be negative for unspecified tumor markers, which would act as an early warning sign if the cancer had spread.  We'll continue to do the blood work every six months to be sure we catch any changes quickly, but it will be nice not to have to go down to the big hospital for imaging for another year.  Because of course, with our luck, we never seem to have a wrinkle-free imaging visit.  This time the scanner broke down, causing long delays, but at least the hospital had another one that was working, so we just had to be relocated to a different medical building.  As scanning hang-ups go, that one was pretty benign.  

Last weekend I got back behind the wheel again, and drove my family to the library, a restaurant, and the grocery store.  I have missed driving, have always preferred to be the driver and loved it from the moment I first got behind the wheel of the '57 Nash Rambler Dad taught us how to drive in.  I still stayed on the side roads, didn't get on the freeway at all.  Even though the car accident that gave me nightmares and still scares the shit out of me when we go places was on a side road, not the freeway, my fear still knows that at freeway speeds, other people's carelessness will be even more damaging to me.  I still get overwhelmed by the fear sometimes, like when my husband had to swerve left to avoid an obstacle in our freeway lane a couple weeks ago, and I was reminded of the desperate swerve left that the medical transport driver made to avoid hitting the street light pole after another car had rammed into the side of us.  I didn't want my children to know how frightened I was, so for the next ten minutes after that I was silent, getting my breathing and my tears back under control.

Summertime is great for going to the park and having fun outings to local museums and art exhibits and science exhibits.  But it also highlights my malfunctioning temperature controls, as there are many activities I have to pass on because I can't be out in the full sun or in temperatures higher than around 72 degrees Fahrenheit.  In such situations, my body fails to sweat, and instead my internal temperature goes higher and higher until it's a serious medical risk.  Once, after 15 minutes in a warm car whose air conditioning really couldn't keep up with the heat, my body temperature rose to 102.  You can just imagine how much higher it would go in longer time intervals, outdoors in the sun when it's over 90.  I hate limiting my family's activities because of my climate issues, but at the same time, my husband and I also don't like to always just leave me at home and have them go do those activities without me.  After all, I already spent so much time in virtual exile, hospitalized and only seeing my children a couple times a week.  We try to find the balance where they still get to do a lot of fun stuff, but sometimes also just hang with me, either at home or somewhere else with great air conditioning.

So, we still have our ups and downs.  But all things considered, I'm doing as well as can possibly be expected, actually much better than a lot of people (including doctors) thought I would.  I might not get to say I'm cancer-free, and at this point there really aren't any treatment options, but at least this cancer is letting me live, maybe for a good long while, and it's making sure I'll appreciate my life as much as possible.  This year for the first time all three of my precious children will be gone all day for school.  I can't wait to experience this milestone with them, to be here for their homework and play with flash cards and hear about their day at school and all the other wonderful things moms get to do.  Every day that I'm not missing that stuff is a victorious day.