Variation on a blind date: Session #1 with a new psychologist

woman and man on date, woman looks bored while man is talking excitedly

I’m sure you’re all dying to know how my first meeting with the psychologist went last week. Rather than reveal the details of our conversation (boundaries, my friends), I’ll tell you how it felt to talk to her. I arrived there hopeful, knowing this woman’s training is with palliative types like me. Despite her expertise, the session felt off from the outset.

I was thinking afterward about how going to a first session with a psychologist is a lot like a blind date. Someone sets you up thinking you’ll hit it off. You set a first date and hope for the best. Sometimes it’s a match made in heaven, but other times you’re sorely disappointed. After that first date, or even five minutes into it, you ask yourself, “How could Ms. Matchmaker possibly think I’d like that person?” You have nothing in common, your world views are diametrically opposed, and you know you’ll never get that hour back.

Unfortunately, I’d liken my first session to a bad date. Although I don’t know how the psychologist felt about our time together, I imagine she questioned our future together as well. She made a few observations and interpretations that were so far fetched that I must have worn my disillusionment on my face, despite my efforts not to. I lost all hope when the psychologist suggested an intervention more commonly used with preschoolers or those on the autistic spectrum. As far as I know, I am neither. The conversation felt stilted, and I kept talking simply to try to salvage our time together. Sadly, our connection did not improve over time.

I do not blame the psychologist for the bad date; it takes two to tango. I know I am a difficult client. I am quick to judge, I expect a quick and easy connection, and I want a sense that the therapist has the potential to understand me better than I understand myself. My hopes were quickly and profoundly dashed.

Then came that awkward moment: should we have another date? Despite the obvious disconnection, the psychologist asked me whether I wanted to rebook. I hesitated a bit too long. I didn’t want to hurt her by suggesting maybe we should date other people. Instead, I took her card and fled, leaving the door open both literally and figuratively.

I am ashamed of myself for wimping out. Had I asked the psychologist how she’d feel if I dated one of her colleagues instead, I’m sure she would have facilitated an alternate referral. She’s a grown up, and she should respect her clients’ needs. I’ve had many clients over the years who haven’t taken to me. I know that if I take issue with their discontent, that’s my problem.

I may seek a private psychologist to talk to rather than contacting this psychologist for a referral to one of her colleagues. Call me a baby, but I’ve had more than my share of awkward conversations these past few weeks. I need a bit of time to get back on the dating horse. I know, time is the one thing I don’t have. Must you really remind me?

Advertisements

Dying comes with unexpected perks

You know how much I love to look on the bright side. If I look hard enough, I can always find a silver lining. Take dying for example: it may seem like a real downer, but it comes with a variety of side benefits.

The day Dr. Blood Lite gave me The News, he suggested hooking me up with the palliative team, even though I might not need the team yet. (Palliative? Who me?) Not one to turn down such a generous offer, of course I said yes. Little did I know that the following day, I’d get a call from someone on the Pain and Symptom Management team, which is quite the euphemism. I had no idea who she was until she explained, “We’re also known as the Palliative Care Team.” Why is the Palliative Team afraid of using its real name?

We set up an appointment for the following week, when I’d be at the cancer centre anyhow. J. and I met briefly with a palliative nurse practitioner, and learned more about her team’s services. We agreed that I didn’t need the team’s support currently, but would welcome their involvement as my condition progressed. I may be palliative, but I’m not approaching the pearly gates yet.

The other service at my fingertips is a real live psychologist. No sooner did I admit it might help me to talk to someone than I received a call, and scheduled a session within a week. This Friday, I will be hoping to connect well with the psychologist assigned to patients just like me.

You may be wondering why I’d see a psychologist now. No therapist can prevent my impending death, so what’s the point? In the past, clients have often shared similar sentiments with me. “Why talk about my ex-spouse/dead parent/severely disabled child since there’s nothing you can do to change my situation?” All the more reason to talk, I say.

Yes, there’s nothing this psychologist can do to prevent my death, but maybe I’d still benefit from talking about my grief. I’ve had a very tough few weeks, as expected. Imagine having to tell your family that your death is looming. Then imagine having to tell your friends, and your dog. (Jelly is taking the news especially hard.) Imagine knowing you are going to abandon your beloved spouse, who has cared for you selflessly through your illness. Imagine knowing you can’t do anything to ease others’ pain because you have caused it. Sure, I feel helpless and hopeless and despairing some days.

Maybe I’d feel a bit better if I could talk about these issues with a therapist.  Maybe I wouldn’t feel so down, or so scared, if I weren’t trying to manage my feelings on my own. God knows I could use more sleep; fatigue and insomnia are horrendous bedfellows. I may know how to help others through their grief, but I can’t be my own grief therapist. This psychologist has been known to need a psychologist on occasion. Like now.

I expect other potential support services for dying people will reveal themselves over time. It will be a comfort to know what’s available, and I’ll be open to anything that might help. So will J. I believe we deserve all the support we can get.

Quote: Grief is like the ocean. It comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim." Vicki Harrison

 

No need to panic. We’ve got time.

Man's hand holding stopwatch

You must be dreading my posts lately. How long can I focus on my mortality without a break? I promise you a reprieve from all this seriousness come Friday, but today is only Wednesday. Please understand it’s taking me some time to process the news of my impending demise.

I hadn’t considered how overwhelming sharing this bad health news would be. There have been so many people to tell, and I’m only just beginning. Beware those acquaintances who ask me how I am. They live to regret it.

I find it hard not to cry when I tell my story, yet I try to hold it together for others’ sakes. It’s ridiculous for me to try to shield other people from my distress, but that’s me. As a helper, not a hurter, the last thing I want to do is to cause another person pain. Still, I’m upsetting others wherever I turn, and I can’t do anything to soften the blow. That pain may only escalate as my health deteriorates.

I’ve shed many tears over the outpouring of love and support we’ve received. People near and far are reaching out, eager to help in whatever way they can. I shouldn’t be surprised by these loving responses to my news because we are surrounded by mensches.

Dealing with death is not new to me, although I’m the one dying this time. I’ve experienced that urgency to tell the dying person how much our relationship has meant to me before I lose the opportunity. When the person has died suddenly or unexpectedly, I haven’t always had that chance. In those cases, I could only hope the person knew how I felt, and that I’d found ways to express my affection during our times together.

As the one whose health is failing, my perspective on telling the dying person how I feel has shifted. Since I’ve gotten my news, as much as I appreciate others’ warmth toward me, I’ve been fixated on what I need to say before I die. Would I have the opportunity to tell my people how much they’ve meant to me? If I didn’t get to everyone before I died, would they know?

Why do we wait until death looms to tell others how we feel about them? It would make more sense to affirm our relationships along the way so we didn’t feel the pressure to connect once time got tight. Since I was diagnosed with leukemia several years ago, I’ve tried to share my feelings for others freely out of fear I wouldn’t have the chance later. Maybe you think it’s weird that I tell you I love you before I hang up the phone, or that I close my letters with so many Xs and Os. Think I’m weird if you must, but I’ll hope you’ve gotten the message nonetheless.

Now that this news is sinking in, I’ve realized there’s no need to rush. My death is nearing but not imminent. For all I know, the clock on my final year hasn’t started ticking yet. We’ll have time to say what we need to say to one another. If we don’t, I’ll still know how you felt. I think you’ll know how I felt too.

When you say nothing at all

As you can imagine, it’s been an exhausting week. Having to share my bad news with people has been difficult. I’ve tried to provide some information in my blog so I don’t have to answer too many questions. Repeating the same story ad nauseum is exhausting at the best of times, let alone the worst of times.

I’ve had a variety of responses to the news. The large majority have been comforting and helpful, especially since it’s so hard to know what to say. Talking to me about my dire prognosis can’t be easy. Some days even I’d rather talk about the weather, but I can’t seem to focus on the weather right now.

You can stop worrying that you’ll make things worse if you bring up the topic of my death. I can assure you that you will not. You can’t possibly make me feel worse than I do right now, whatever you say. Okay, maybe you could. Even if you’re thinking these things, please don’t tell me I brought my death on myself by eating too many Jelly Bellies, or that I’d have been spared had I had only found God. I trust you won’t blame me for my predicament because we both know that my deadly genetic mutations are not my fault.

Are you worried you’ll start crying if we talk about my future? Worry not, dear friend. Cry your heart out. What a better way to show me that you care, that my life has had some meaning to you, and that maybe you’ll even miss me when I’m gone? In the depths of my despair, I worry that no one will miss me at all; that, in fact, the universe will heave a huge sigh of relief. Your tears could convince me otherwise.

You may feel a need to cheer me up. If so, give that one up. There’s not much that anyone can say to soften this blow. You can’t take my fear for the future away, however much you might want to. What you can do is to be there to support me for the duration.

On that note, please don’t ask J. how I’m doing; I’d rather you ask me directly. I’m fully capable of answering even the hard questions. If you want to ask J. anything, ask her how she is doing since she’s got quite the burden on her right now. She could certainly use your support, now and in the future, since she’s the one who’s going to be left behind.

Thanks for acknowledging what I’m going through in whatever way you can. The elephant is in the room, and it will be here with me for the duration. If you pretend none of this is happening, I’m going to feel terribly lonely, and I know you wouldn’t want that for me.

Talking about death is scary. I wish my dying didn’t force you to face your own mortality, but maybe it’s for the best. You’d hate to be caught by surprise like I was.

Once we’ve got the heavy stuff out of the way, let’s do lunch. I’ll choose the restaurant. There are so many places I want to try before…well, you know.

Indian feast--butter chicken and naan on table at restaurant

 

Living while I’m dying

That last post was not easy to write. I don’t like having bad news, nor sharing it. Who wants to read a story with such a sad ending? It turns out many people do. Thankfully, only a few of those people LIKED my post.

The reality of my health challenges has not yet hit. I may have suspected bad news was coming, yet that suspicion didn’t temper my surprise. Shock is a common response to learning of a terminal illness. Grief is funny that way. I’ve worried about dying for as long as I’ve been sick, but having to face my own demise head on? That’s another matter altogether.

Now that I have the results of my biopsy, I feel unexpected periods of calm, as if I’m walking around in a fog. Every so often my panic erupts, but I shove it away quickly. Thank goodness for my defences, which help me from falling to pieces at times like this.

I even feel some relief at the news, as weird as that sounds. I don’t want to die, of course, but the threat of death hanging over me for so many years has been wearying. I’ve spent 18 years containing my anxiety about a situation I have no control over. If only I could sustain this relief.

How can my emotions be so chaotic? I think it’s because my body doesn’t feel any different today than it felt yesterday. I know that my health is declining–my biopsy results confirmed that–but my body has not registered these changes. I’m not in hospital, and I’m still able to go about my day. How do I accept that my life may be ending when I don’t feel all that sick?

When I am faced with a crisis, I often get stuck. I can help other people manage their stresses–that’s what a psychologist does–because the solution is always easier to see from the outside. But I’m on the inside this time, and I can’t seem to find my way out. Not worrying about dying is far easier said than done.

I was telling a friend how distressed I’ve been, and she wisely reminded me that focussing on death while I’m still physically well is a waste of precious time. She suggested I might as well keep living for as long as I can. J. has been saying the same for years whenever my anxiety about my health has escalated. My life overfloweth with very wise people. I should listen to them more often.

This afternoon, I had the perfect opportunity to stop feeling sorry for myself while Jelly and I attended a PALS visit at the university. The stressed students needed comforting. Jelly’s howls echoed through the hallways as we approached the visiting room. Once we arrived, Jelly kissed and cuddled dog-loving students for 90 minutes, in between naps. For those 90 minutes, I put my worries aside and remembered that I’m not dead yet.

If you catch me moping over the next while, please tell me to snap out of it. Sometimes an outsider’s wise perspective is all I need.

Several hands petting Jelly as she lays on the floor, head raised

You are not going to LIKE this post

thumbs down emoji

I created this blog as a way of sharing news about my health. When I first started writing, blogging seemed an effective way to keep people in the loop. Thanks to your diligent readership, the blog has helped me feel connected with you.

It can’t have been easy to read my posts sometimes. You have joined me on the ups and downs of my cancer roller coaster, sharing your wisdom and words of support. You’ve laughed at my jokes, which I realize are often funny only to me. You’ve stuck with me as I’ve muddled through both physically and emotionally. I couldn’t have asked for more from all of you.

You know my worries about my health have been rampant of late. I was hoping that my concerns about my recent bone marrow biopsy were unfounded, that my anxiety had gotten the better of me, that I was facing a challenge that was surmountable. Unfortunately, I was wrong. My story will not have a fairy tale ending today.

The results of the biopsy were not good. The fibrosis in my marrow has increased significantly since it was last assessed three years ago. The more scarring there is, the less space is left for healthy blood cells to be produced. This progression explains my recent anemia and my drop in platelets. Unfortunately, as the fibrosis continues to take over my marrow, my body will have increasing difficulty producing blood cells.

All is not lost, however. With the help of a red-blood-cell producing hormone and IV iron infusions, my red blood cell counts should improve in the immediate future. This will help me to feel less fatigued, thank goodness. I will also receive the occasional whole blood transfusion as needed. The doctor has reassured me that my low platelet count is manageable. We’ve agreed to my abstaining from touch football and full-contact hockey for now.

Sadly, my health will continue to decline from here. At some point, there will be no more room in my bone marrow for the creation of blood cells. The methods I described of raising my red blood cell counts will no longer be effective. I will feel increasingly unwell, and yes, I will die.

The doctor asked if I wanted a time line. However anxious I am, I find not knowing much more stressful than knowing, so I said yes. He believes that I have a year or so left to live. This may not seem like much, but for me it is an eternity. I’ve had the fear of death hanging over me since I was first diagnosed with polycythemia 18 years ago, and I have outlived all predictions. Now I will be grateful for however long I have and will do my best to relish every moment. So will J.

There is so much more to tell you about what I’ve learned and what the next steps are, but I think this post has been heavy enough for one day. Furthermore, I rigidly adhere to my 500-word post limit no matter what. Thanks as always for reading. I’ll continue blogging for as long as I can, and hope you’ll stay on board. I could use your support now more than ever.

A sure way to generate LIKES for your posts

Black puppy wearing tie in Adopt Me shotAs you may have noticed, matters have become quite serious at my place. I don’t know how you guys are hanging in because it hasn’t been all rainbows and puppy dogs here lately. (That’s not really accurate; there have been a few puppy dogs; I can’t help it.)

I’ve been dealing with significant changes in my health, and I’m still awaiting the outcome of my bone marrow biopsy next week. This past few weeks, I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time at the cancer centre sorting my sick body out. Being a patient has become a full-time job, and, trust me, there are so many other ways I’d rather be spending my time.

Despite this turn of events, my blog has had a flurry of new visitors lately. My 300th follower signed on this week. Welcome to my personal soap opera! Thanks to all of you who have shown an interest of late, and to those of you who’ve been with me for a while. I’m not sure what has brought you here, but I’m grateful for your interest in my life.

Over the past while, I’ve also had a huge increase in Likes, at least for me. When 11 readers Liked a recent post, WordPress informed me I’d attained a personal record. I didn’t even think it was that great a post, to be honest.

I’ve always found Likes a bit funny because I’m not sure what Like means in certain contexts. If I’m in distress, how about an I Feel for You, or a That Sucks emoji? I know; those emojis don’t exist in the world of blogging. I’m not meaning to sound ungrateful for the Likes since I know you don’t have access to other emotional reactions to a post. Maybe WordPress should follow Facebook’s initiative by allowing a variety of reactions beyond Like.

I honestly don’t deserve to be Liked. I don’t Like others’ posts, and I don’t follow others’ blogs, as those bloggers who’ve been on board for a while know. I lack the social graces you savvy social media types possess. Furthermore, I am too overwhelmed with my own life to read others’ stories. Frankly, I avoid others’ blogs because I don’t want to be reading the type of material I’ve been posting lately. Bad news in others’ lives would surely fuel my own distress, and I’m barely hanging on here as it is.

I’ve realized, by the recent uptick in Likes, that many readers are drawn to trauma and sadness and emotional upheaval more than to the humour or triteness that is my specialty. Why, I wonder. Somehow you tolerate the sordid and sometimes depressing details of my life; I’d have fled my blog screaming long ago if I were you.

You don’t need my permission (encouragement?) to bail now before my life gets messy. I fear, for your sake, that you won’t want to go because things are just starting to get interesting. Maybe you’re gluttons for punishment. It can’t be a party to hang out with me lately, but it’s your choice.

So feel free to keep Liking if you feel so inclined. I’ll interpret your Likes as your unfailing support and kindness, even through bad times. For that, I Like you too.

Like emoji--hand with thumb pointed up

The dangers of following in Chicken Little’s footsteps

Newspaper heading: The sky is falling

Warning to all: if you ask me how I am, I will respond honestly. Expect an earful of my medical worries, and of the challenges of waiting for more information. Is Dr. Blood Lite’s recent concern valid? This question will not be answered until next Tuesday morning.

Considering what I was dealing with, I felt that I was holding it together at least somewhat. I wasn’t happy and, in fact, me and my little blue Sadness doll were likely spending an excessive amount of time together on the couch. I also had moments of panic because Chicken Little is my first cousin. After the initial shock passed, I felt I was coming to terms with the fact that my health may be in peril.

Then I got more bad news. Prior to the corkscrew procedure last week, the doctor sent me for blood work, which he reviewed with me before I left. In only a week, my red blood count had dropped significantly, to the point of my potentially needing a transfusion.

These ups and downs in various blood counts are not new. Sometimes the doctors know why and sometimes they don’t. In this case, with so much hanging over me, that little piece of potentially bad news threw me over the edge. I was a basket case for the following few days. A mess. Hopeless and terrified. Many tears were shed between naps.

My discombobulation is a reminder that despite my efforts to prepare myself for whatever may come, when I am truly threatened, all that preparation flies out the window. In this case, when I wasn’t overwhelmed during the day, I had dream after dream of hospitals and illness at night. There was no rest for the very weary.

What I managed to forget was that I don’t cope well emotionally when I’m feeling crummy physically. Because of the anemia, I’m exhausted and all I want to do is sleep. I am also likely dealing with the effects of withdrawal from the chemotherapy Dr. Blood Lite reduced two weeks ago. I recall vividly Dr. Blood telling me long ago that I should stay on it because the side effects of withdrawal are so adverse.

Somehow, Sunday morning at 2 a.m. when I chose insomnia over nightmares, I put one and one together: I realized my moving so quickly from feeling well to feeling sick was not helping my mood one bit. When I woke up Sunday morning, I didn’t have to drag myself out of bed. I made it to yoga, and even stayed awake through not one but two coffee dates later that day. My body did not demand a nap that day, and I felt better on all fronts. Today, despite a sleepless night, I feel even more like myself. Might my anemia be abating? I can only hope.

Sure, I’m still scared of what my little corkscrew procedure will reveal, and I’m expecting a sleepless night next Monday. Still, I can’t imagine feeling worse than I did last week when I could actually see the sky falling. Even if the sky does fall, I expect it will take some time to reach the ground.

Mastering the effective use of imagery in writing

Apple corer with three apples, one cored

How’s your week been? Mine’s been busy. Between blood draws and bone marrows, I’ve been run off my feet.

I’m sure you’re dying for a vivid description of the bone marrow procedure. I wish I could tell you that Ativan knocked out my memory for the experience, but, unfortunately, I took the pill a little late for that. I was barely wobbly through the procedure, but stoned for the two days following. Reminder to self: next time, take the pill early enough for it to take full effect.

The nurse helped me onto the hospital bed fully clothed, only to tell me I’d have to expose a wee bit of flesh. He suggested I half moon the doctor, and he was not referring to the advanced yoga pose. Thank goodness for my best underwear. Then the nurse moved my legs into the fetal position, lightly placing his hands on them so he could hold them down. Some patients feel the urge to kick the doctor once he starts working.

The procedure itself was almost a breeze, truly. Dr. Blood Lite froze my half moon first, and then got to work. The needle itself felt like dull pressure, with the odd brief pain thrown in. At no point did I feel like kicking anyone, so rather than hold me down, the nurse regaled me with stories of his new girlfriend and his world travels. His levity was the perfect antidote.

Through it all, the doctor was calm and efficient, informing me of what he was doing and frequently assessing how I was tolerating the procedure. He could not see my expression since he was facing my half-draped posterior, but he frequently looked to J. for feedback.

This whole experience made me wonder how a doctor as caring and gentle as mine can undertake a procedure that is going to hurt his patient. He has to gather that information somehow, but how does he tolerate knowing that he’s causing pain? I feel for him.

His discomfort shouldn’t have been my focus during that procedure, however. I am often so worried about others’ distress that I completely forget about how I’m feeling. Or maybe not, at least in this case. Despite my concern for my sensitive doctor, I clutched J.’s hand so fiercely that I could have injured her. When the doctor looked to J. for feedback, he may have mistaken her grimace for smiling.

In the end, after several unsuccessful attempts at tapping me like a maple tree, i.e., bone marrow aspiration, the doctor had to move to the corkscrew–or is it apple coring?–method, known as bone-marrow biopsy. Thus, he removed a small cylindrical sample of my marrow, bone and all, for assessment. No biggie. In a few weeks’ time, my inner core, my deepest darkest self, will be revealed to all.

I will admit that I miss that little piece of me. I barely felt it at the time, but the ache in my lower back is a reminder of my loss. Thankfully Tylenol is effective at eradicating the pain.

I’m glad it’s over. Now I must wait. Since J.’s tooth is now healing, I’m open to happy distractions to pass the time. Coffee, anyone? They say it prevents cancer.

 

This is what happens when J. goes to the doctor (or the dentist)

Yellow upper case: Can I have your attention please?

You must be eager for an update on my last post. First off, thus far Jelly remains an only pup. I’m not hopeful.

Also, I am pleased to report that J.’s condition has improved dramatically. She has reduced her pain medication substantially, is eating more, and even sucked down a few potato chips yesterday. These are all excellent signs. Keep your fingers crossed that her infection has finally been quashed.

This medical crisis was uncharacteristic for J., who rarely visits the doctor. She doesn’t even have any specialists! When she does make an appointment with one of the medical professionals we share (Dr. Family, Dr. Tooth), I know she is terribly ill.

Sometimes when J. sees these docs, instead of focussing on her concerns, they ask about me. “How is Annie?” they inquire timidly. J., who oddly enough is not at the appointment to talk about me, finds their queries annoying. “Hello! I’m the patient here!” screams her inside voice.

I was first to see Dr. Root, the go-to guy for dental crises, years ago when I had a dental emergency that landed me in hospital. He treated me upon my discharge, ably fixing what a colleague had botched.

Dr. Root and I got along famously from the outset. Since my injury was so dramatic, he remembers both me and J. well from that initial encounter. He managed my care so well that J. has sought him out in her subsequent times of need. Of course she landed back in his chair last week.

While J. was writhing in pain in Dr. Root’s office last week, he asked her, not unexpectedly, how I was doing. As they chatted, J. could feel his anger escalating at how I had been treated long ago and the danger his colleague had placed me in. Then he showed J. the PowerPoint presentation he has used in his teaching ever since, which includes two head shots of me at my worst. I look like a monster, one side of my face and neck completely black and blue. When J. told me about this exchange, I realized I’ve become a haunting celebrity to local dental students. Thankfully I am unrecognizable in those shots.

I didn’t meant to hijack J.’s emergency appointment; I wasn’t even there. Even when I’m not there, I am, it seems.

Focus on the positive, J. You should stop complaining about these queries about me since occasionally our sharing medical professionals works in your favour. For example, I know you have slyly asked Dr. Family to check my thyroid if I’ve been crankier than usual. What joy you must feel seeing Dr. Family respond with her knowing smile.

Enough about J. already; let’s get back to me. Shortly, I will head to the Cancer Centre. Once I am in a drug-induced loopy state, Dr. Blood Lite will complete a procedure on me akin to tapping a maple tree. With the help of my Ativan, I will not leap off the hospital bed and flee in a panic. Today is no big deal, I say, but I’d appreciate your praying for me two weeks hence when we will reconvene to review the results. I’d do the same for you.

Picture of tap running out of maple tree