All through the month of December, I had a persistent little cough interjecting itself into my days. My first thought was that the wee bugs of winter were trying to sneak into my temple, a thought that horrified me as I had a couple of much-anticipated fun weekends planned and wouldn’t that just be like the cruel gods, to bring me to my knees and make me watch helplessly as those long-awaited weekends passed and turned to dust while I hacked and coughed and wheezed.
So I intensified the rituals of warding; gobbling Echinacea, vitamins, and drops of throat searing oregano oil. And it seemed to work. I was able to lurch from one debauched weekend to another, although after each my temple was littered with trash and debris that would take several days of diligent work to clean up, to be ready for the next party.
But the little cough, the shortness of breath, was constant through all this. That it didn’t get worse, even when I allowed my armies of immune system soldiers and workers to get so besotted they had to have thrown down their weapons and tools and danced drunken reels and jigs, made me wonder why the wee bugs of winter hadn’t taken over in those moments. And then the horrifying thought that always lurks in the background came forth – perhaps the cough wasn’t from the wee bugs of winter, perhaps it was from…. du du dummm!…. BAD MONKEYS!!!
One of the trickiest things to deal with once the bad monkeys of cancer have visited you, is the fear they will return. It is easy to feed this fear. You see it happen to others. You read on the internet how it happens to others. The doctors themselves tell you they are afraid it will happen to you. There is, no matter how long it has been, how successful the healing has been, a nagging dread that those damn monkeys found a way in before and what’s to stop them from doing it again?
In my case the fear is compounded by two things; there is some thought that my particular cancer, low-grade fibromyxoid sarcoma, does often metastasize in the chest area. That is why, besides doing MRI’s of the leg where they found and removed the original tumour, they want to keep an eye on my chest. In fact, I had a leg and chest scan scheduled for Dec 22 at the cancer clinic, which I postponed until later January, as it seemed insane to travel to town right before Christmas when I didn’t have to. Also, I decided that traveling to town to see a hockey game was a more important priority. Hey, I’m Canadian.
On top of the ongoing concern the monkeys will show up in my chest, is the knowledge that perhaps they already have. Back in October, during a routine check in with my family doctor, I asked him if he thought I should ask for an earlier CT chest scan, seeing as the cardiologist wasn’t doing one like we had all thought he would. My doctor suggested it would be a good idea, especially considering one of my earlier scan results from my stroke adventure had shown an unidentified lesion on one of my lungs. He had been sitting on that information for 5 months. Not sure why. I suppose I just have too many monkeys and such coming and going and he got confused.
So, knowing that all this time the big doughnut machine (CT) had seen “something” (“danger! possible bad monkeys!”), and knowing what little we know of this cancer…. it started preying on my mind that the cough and shortness of breath had nothing to do with the wee bugs of winter or my heart meds, but in fact was bad monkey business.
Imagine my relief then, when after the last guest of Christmas had left my mom’s place, and I was at last free from trying to hold it together, I completely fell apart. My cough became a cacophony, my bones and joints ached and my stomach hung up a “Closed for the Holidays” sign and stopped working. The wee bugs of winter turned into the Monster Who Lays Low All Before It.
I was overjoyed! In between delirium dreams and wretched retching, I delighted in feeling like I was just like everyone else, felled by flu and frost. It wasn’t the bad monkeys after all.
As I recover and head boldly off into this new 2015 landscape, it is important for me to believe that, to know it even – NO BAD MONKEYS.
Fear is a killer. But finding your way around fear when you have had a tussle with the bad monkeys of cancer is no easy thing. It takes mindfulness and a willingness to embrace joy and light and health. It takes bravery and resilience.
If you didn’t know you had such before, you soon discover you do. There is no other way.