The on-going, first-hand tale of a journey through medical oncology... and what happens after.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ignorance and bliss...

I have not felt the need to "publicly" respond to any of the comments that I receive related to my posts has been necessary before. My general sense is that most comments are of the "keep your chin up" or "thanks for sharing" variety. And while I certainly appreciate the support that those type of comments provide, they have not caused me to want to post a response. However, three versions of one question were posted the other day related to one of my blog entries, and I feel somewhat compelled to pontificate...

"Do you feel your experience with cancer has been more difficult as an intellectually sound individual? Has the pro-active spirit made the journey mentally taxing as well as physically? I guess what I'm trying to say is do you sometimes feel others are fortunate with an ignorance is bliss attitude?"

First, I appreciate being called an "intellectually sound individual." Some days I am not so sure that's the case. :) But the question is still out there, and my experience with cancer is what this blog is all about. Yes, the journey HAS been damned difficult... and not only for me. Chemo-therapy and the odd mixture of side effect management drugs is very distracting on so many levels - but I have already blogged (ad nauseum - pun intended) about those issues. I regularly see the world through a different lens than I ever could have imagined using prior to becoming a member of the cancer club. But the idea of "more difficult" than some other person's journey troubles me. I am not sure that any one else's cancer journey is qualitatively comparable to mine, and I have a hard time imagining my new life journey (one, perhaps, dulled by drugs?) that is so different from the one that I am living. Every cancer treatment regimen is ultimately an experiment of one... an experiment that is statistically informed by the individual treatment "experiments" that preceded it. I am lucky to have been diagnosed now (as opposed to a decade ago), and to be otherwise healthy enough to handle the chemo-therapy. I'm not sure if that is a good answer to the gist of the question, but there it is.

So, let's consider the second approach to the question - about mental taxation and a pro-active spirit. (Again, my thanks to the comment-poster for the complimentary manner in which this question is raised.) I, "Mr. He-Who-Must-Analyze-Everything", cannot imagine being less active than I have been. But yes, that does add to the mental anguish I feel about the way that my experience of the world has changed. And by extension I am sure that the energy I devote to thinking about, researching, analyzing, questioning, and re-analyzing the details of my diagnosis and treatments is not available to my physical self. This begs another question/observation though: would I have it any other way (or perhaps more accurately, can I imagine myself not doing these things)? Not really. I am what I am (apologies to Popeye), and that means constantly re-examining what I know and what that means about my world. So, yes it is more taxing to be self-aware and proactive about my life as a cancer survivor than my life before the diagnosis - but only because I have a new reality to understand and embrace.

I am unsure how I should approach the last approach. "Ignorance is bliss" is one of those aphorisms that I only partially understand. I can accept that there are only so many issues or processes or whatever that one human mind can hold and consciously act upon. Can I really affect the abject poverty of sub-Saharan Africa - caused by centuries of tribal and colonial machinations layered atop environmental changes that transcend locale? What about the plight of homeless persons, with the multiple facets of modern existence that confound their ability to successfully interact with their own cultures? I am (selectively?) ignorant about the details of these situations as I work to handle the complications of a cancer in my life - and might consider that ignorance to be a kind of bliss. But applying that attitude to how one deals with a cancer diagnosis (or any other significant, life-threatening event) doesn't work so well for me. I cannot detach the analytical, proactive aspects of my "self" so as to be able to imagine how it might feel (better or worse) without those characteristics. And it is hard to imagine "not knowing" about a cancer (or the details of the diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and recovery) as being somehow better than knowing... but that can only apply to me.

Cancer sucks. Period. There is really no blissful ignorance to wallow in once the "c" word enters your life. My friends and family have tolerated my somewhat compulsive, detail-oriented approach to colon cancer, and have encouraged me to find whatever way forward I need. I have been a cranky dude at times, and that has made it difficult for my nearest and dearest support group. On many occasions I have felt the need to apologize for unfortunate utterances (due to fatigue, or chemo-brain, or just plain tiredness). But soon, the transfusions will be finished and I will be moving back toward a "normal" life - whatever the hell that means.

So, the summary answer? Cancer is hard on everyone it touches, however directly or indirectly. Being proactive or hyper-analytical does not change that statement overmuch. We all struggle to decide how much we need to know about some aspect of our lives, and we make decisions based on the amount of information we feel is "enough." I am sure that there is a spectrum of "responses" to this line of questioning, and it's certainly possible that I am a statistical outlier. (I know some people that would argue that that "possibility" is close to 100% likely!) I feel lucky to be who and what I am, and to know that I can rely on a strong, supportive community for support. And that's what matters.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Ed,
Again, I feel so thankful that you have taken the energy to think it all through and share this journey with others. I think your comment, " Cancer is hard on everyone it touches, however directly or indirectly" says it all. We are not alone. We go through it together. That is why we need to all address it, in whatever way we can: hugs, political action, dinners for those going through treatment, LiveStrong Challenge, money for those that need assistance, environmental causes, driving a friend to a dr. appt. No effort is too small. You've said so many things I haven't. Thanks. Your Pal, A.