• Emily

candlesticks always make a nice gift

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

Most of you probably know that one of my favorite movies is the 80s baseball classic Bull Durham. I will reference one of my favorite scenes here, and you will maybe understand why as I go.


The scene starts with all the ballplayers hanging out on the mound and chatting, delaying the game.

Larry : [Larry jogs out to the mound to break up a players' conference] Excuse me, but what the hell's going on out here? Crash Davis : Well, Nuke's scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man's here. We need a live... is it a live rooster? [Jose nods] Crash Davis : We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose's glove and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present. [to the players] Crash Davis : Is that about right? [the players nod] Crash Davis : We're dealing with a lot of shit. Larry : Okay, well, uh... candlesticks always make a nice gift, and uh, maybe you could find out where she's registered and maybe a place-setting or maybe a silverware pattern. Okay, let's get two! Go get 'em.


The reference here is that I'm dealing with a lot of shit. Since coming back from the hospital and dealing with my own side effects with the slew of pills and patches and things, I can successfully report that I have kept my issues pretty much at bay. I still get nausea here and there, and I am often somewhere in the realm of "not quite comfortable but I can deal with it" -- but I am EATING. I can eat and drink and I am no longer losing weight. (I had lost about 20 lbs in the past three weeks which gives me conflicting feelings because YAY I lost the COVID weight but it didn't just stop at that -- I am getting back to normal now and selfishly hoping to stay there).

More annoyingly, I have found myself on the edge of tears more frequently than I care to admit, but if I'm going to be keeping an honest account of my cancer experience, I have to own up to it. I cry a lot these days. Nothing is particularly wrong right now, so I feel guilty for harboring such sadness.

When I was in the hospital and spoke to a member of the palliative care team, they recommended some counseling which I enthusiastically agreed to. I'm no stranger to depression and anxiety, I've dealt with both in my life (can't say I've conquered either, but have learned to live with them peacefully) -- but the cold, dark sadness that's been seeping out of me since my three weeks of terribleness was something new. I'll just be minding my own business and some thought would bring it back into my mind like the oil monster from that weird movie Fern Gully -- it would just slop right up in my brain and turn on the waterworks and uproot my inner monologue.

am I a burden? am I draining on others? am I hurting others with my own pain? how do I stop? how do I stop hurting when I technically don't actually hurt anymore? why won't my brain shut up about it?!

I met with the palliative care counselor this evening and she pointed out, correctly, that what I have is trauma. Those three weeks of intense, unexpected, debilitating pain and fear became trauma. And I am having a trauma response when I consider when and what my next treatment will be, and when I wonder how my body will react this third time. It is not that I am crazy. It's simply that I'm afraid of the unknown, especially because I now have a level of how bad the unknown can get. Of course, I don't want to go back there.

Honestly, I feel like I completely lost three weeks of my life. I feel like it was my birthday, then I sang a concert at church, then all of a sudden it was November 18. Everything in the middle is an uncomfortable blur. I don't remember Halloween. I don't remember how many days I even got out of bed. I don't remember how I even updated this blog between hospital visits. I only remember visions of running to the bathroom, laying in the tub, lying on the floor under a blanket because I couldn't get up or move. I am only 38 years old and I don't want holes in my memory.

The palliative care counselor gave me some very good homework to help me manage my fears and my emotions so that I can stay strong for what's to come. I am writing them here to keep me honest:

  1. A comfort object. She said it can be a blanket, stuffed animal, a rock, a piece of jewelry, a trinket, anything. I will likely find my smooth labradorite pocket rock because when I hold it in my pocket it stays warm and smooth and helps ground me. Either that or the orange cat stuffed animal Isaac got me from the hospital gift shop. I am not embarrassed to be a grown woman with a comfort object. I am dealing with a lot of shit.

  2. A mantra to repeat to myself daily. On the many panicked drives down to the cancer center that poor Isaac had to do with me slumped down in the passenger seat with the blue hospital-issue barf bag in my lap, I would whisper to myself "I'm okay, I'm okay, I'm going to be okay, I can do this, I've done it before" and it was the stream-of-consciousness self-talk I would give myself on long runs when I needed a boost. But I'm considering amending it to something that I feel will be more powerful when needed: "I can do this. I can do hard things. I can do things even when they are scary."

  3. I forget what she called the last thing but essentially it's mental imagery. She recommended connecting with a comforting memory of something I love to do, someplace that brings me incredible peace, and taking that walk or reliving the moment in my mind. I am thinking of building out three solid peaceful and empowering memories to relive each day to keep my soul happy. One is running the rail trails near my house, where everything smells green and beautiful. Another is an outdoor performance I sang last summer behind a library where I felt I nailed the song and I had never felt more in control of a performance. The final is laying on the couch in my parents' house in the dark living room lit only by the Christmas tree, both my parents wrapping presents or snoozing in the other room and the old holiday classics playing on the stereo. I believe these three peaceful memories will help ground my mind in happiness when I feel I'm straying too far into fear.

It's been a tougher experience than I thought it would be if I'm being honest. I didn't expect so much change in my body. When I look in the mirror I see someone sick. Pale and washed-out sunken eyes. I feel like my face shape has shifted. Worse yet, I am having trouble singing, and I'm not sure how much of that is due to the fact that I'm coming off 3 weeks of the sickest I've ever been, or if the medications are taking a toll on my vocal production. I'm trying to practice and stay positive. I will relearn what I must.

The palliative care counselor told me that she saw in me a very positive and optimistic person. I think she can see my mother. I don't think that's me at all. But I guess it is because even though I am dealing with a lot of shit here, I refuse to believe that cancer is anything but a temporary pain in my ass. I will beat it. I will beat it because I can do hard things. I can do things even when they are scary.

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