It has always been important to me to feel as if I am in control of a situation. I say “as if” because I certainly know that often such a feeling is not really true; that no one can control all of the circumstances of their life. I have always been a very strong person with a very strong will. I have always felt with my will and determination and hard work, I can accomplish anything and can turn anything around. Even though as a trial lawyer, I know that there are times in a trial that things are not always going to go my way and I cannot control the jury or judge, I anticipate that, and have learned to respond and go in a different direction when the direction taken is not going well. That itself is also a form of feeling in control of the situation – I know I must be flexible in changing my approach if the approach I chose is not working with the jury or the judge. My desire to feel in control does not mean I am rigid – I do go with the flow. I had to as a mother who worked full time, as a spouse, and as the daughter of a mother who was ill for over six years and for whom I was the chief caregiver. I knew that I had to be flexible and just respond to the situation. But there is something different with facing cancer, and facing a cancer which is stage IV, which, in the words of my doctors, is “not curable,” and which presents me with the toughest fight of my life, both physically and mentally.
With this cancer, there are times I feel helpless and vulnerable. That is not something I take well. I am used to feeling absolutely strong and unbowed. I am used to being the caregiver, not the one who has to ask my family and friends for help. There are times when I am at the mercy of the medical institutions, at the mercy of the cancer, and at the mercy of the drugs given to me, with their sometimes horrible side effects. When I feel that loss of control and that helplessness, I sometimes feel frustrated and overwhelmed. This happened this week when I went to Karmanos to discuss the next course of treatment. My choices were the standard second round of chemo or a clinical trial of another chemo. After talking with my doctor, I decided on trying the clinical trial, as it is one more option, and if it does not work, I then can move over to the standard course of treatment. Making the decisions about treatment is one form of control I have over this situation. After making that decision, I learned that the trial may not be open to me; that Karmanos had to check on whether there was actually an open space for me in the trial. I am taxine naive, meaning I have had no taxine drugs yet. The trial has both taxine naive and taxine experienced patients, and although it was still open, the question was whether there was openings for taxine naive patients.
When I was told it was an open question whether the trial was open to me, I became emotional and started to cry. In the past, I did not usually cry in front of anyone but my family. Instead, if I was feeling emotional, I would act – as I did the day my mother died. Action distracted me, kept me busy and made me feel in control. But I have cried in front of plenty of people during this journey. The crying was out of frustration and the fact that I simply cannot control the situation when it comes to treatment for this cancer. The crying also came because each time I face the fact that there may not be an option I want open to me, it hits home just how tough my fight will be and how great the odds are against me. The frustration also comes from the fact that despite my willing it not to be, the cancer has begun growing again. I can control some things, such as staying strong, eating well, being as healthy as I can, and not letting cancer rule my life, but there are times when my life is upended and in flux due to the cancer. I hate the feeling of the situation being out of my control. I dislike the feeling of being vulnerable and helpless. I sometimes even apologize to the people who see me crying, as if I am burdening them. I am just not used to feeling so vulnerable. I am used to being the strong person, who can deal with the situation. Sometimes, I feel that I am imposing on my friends and family when I ask for help, and I do not want to be a burden on anyone. All of this leads to my feeling that I have no control.
Even though I learned later that same day that there was a spot open in the trial for me, and, since then, the screening and other prerequisites for getting into the trial have been moving along, I spent a couple of days stressed and close to tears or suddenly tearing up. This does not mean I was a mess the whole time; it just means that I was reacting to the frustration I sometimes feel about the fight I face. My friends reminded me that I am human, that I should sometimes feel vulnerable, sad and cry; that it is healthy to feel that way with the hard fight I have been undertaking and to let it out. They say it is healthy for me to cry over the fact that I will be doing chemo again, will again be putting poison into my body and that this chemo has the same side effects as my other chemo and more, including nausea, neuropathy and hair loss. Surprisingly, although I do not think it is important compared to beating this cancer, even the fact that again I face hair loss after my hair has been growing a bit the past couple of months, adds to the frustration. I have said time and again, and I do mean it, that losing my hair is the least of the issues I face and that if I have permanent hair loss, I do not care so long as this cancer is beaten back. That is how I feel, but I also cannot help but miss the days before my diagnosis when these were not even issues with which I had to deal.
This brings me to the title of this piece – letting go. I still need to learn to let go. In yoga, we talk about non-attachment; to not get too attached to the physical practice because our bodies change, and we face illnesses or other conditions that can affect our practice, and because becoming too attached makes us lose sight of the reason for doing yoga, which is not just physical, but it intended to put you in a state of mindfulness and acceptance. My yoga teacher has told me many times to practice acceptance; to let go, and to practice that philosophy when dealing with this fight. While I have mostly let go when it comes to my physical practice of yoga, and I adjust my practice as needed depending on how I am feeling physically that particular day, it is hard for me to let go when it comes to fighting this cancer. I was near tears after my hospitalization when I first tried to go into a headstand, something I have done easily for years, and could not because my core strength had been so compromised by being in the hospital so long. While that strength is back, it was the frustration of working so hard to be physically and mentally strong, and then seeing that three weeks of illness took away a lot of the physical strength, that caused me to be near tears. It was the frustration over the fact that although I am determined that cancer will not control my life, there are times when it has some control and my life is definitely changed because of it. There are times when despite my strongest determination and my will, I simply cannot do what I want to do. There are times when despite my dislike for being vulnerable and needing help, I must ask for that help and accept it gratefully. I think I have become much better at doing that, but I still cannot stop the worry about being a burden to them.
When I was at yoga today, I told my yoga teacher I was going to write a blog post about letting go. when I told him, he joked about the song Let It Go, from the movie “Frozen.” So I guess my mantra right now will be “let it go, let it go, let it go.” That is easier said than done for me, but I reminded myself this morning that this blog’s subtitle is “A sometimes rocky journey to peace and wellness,” with the emphasis right now on the “rocky” part. While I know intellectually that this will be an up and down journey, in reality it is much harder emotionally to deal with that reality.