I’m tired of thinking about having cancer. I mean, I wake up thinking about it; I fall asleep thinking about, and think about it during most of the hours in between.

It wouldn’t be so bad if there was some point to all that thinking. There isn’t. It’s not as if thinking harder will change anything; or thinking longer might lead to some new happy place. Nope. It’s just good old-fashioned, wheel-spinning, energy-consuming, time-wasting thinking.

It reminds me of conjugating verbs in French class: I work, you work, he/she works, we work, you work, they work. Great. But if you don’t know how to use the verb in everyday speech, it just becomes that much more useless knowledge cluttering up your brain, like Cary Grant’s real name, the 21st vice president of the United States or the seventh man to set foot on the moon.

In my case, the less I’m able to think about other things, the more I feel like that guy with cancer who writes about it, and little else. Would it have been a better decision not to write about it? Should I have chosen to go through it quietly, telling just people who needed to know only what I wanted them to know? Would I be forced to think about it less?

No. In fact, hell no. It’s only when I sit down to share with you what’s been going on, that the thinking seems to take any useful tack. Writing about it makes me focus on this bit, that bit, this thought, that feeling, that specific part of my treatment.

The rest of the time the thinking is just so much noise: “I have cancer. I have cancer. I wish I didn’t have cancer. But you do. Yes I do. How’d that happen? Don’t know. Guess it doesn’t matter. I have cancer, cancer, cancer.”

Spending so much time thinking about having cancer makes it harder to consider other roles I still need to fulfill.

I’m a husband, father, stepfather, grandfather, whether I have cancer or not, and Christmas is coming.

I trust I’m a friend to my friends, which requires thinking about them, considering their needs and issues. I have to find think time for them, somehow.

I’m a co-worker who, according to the cards and emails I’m receiving from them, could be counted on to lighten things up and make sure we could laugh at ourselves. How’s that working out?

I haven’t been able to go to work for weeks because I am unable to focus on much of anything but myself.

The one person who would have reveled in all this thinking would have been my mother. She was always after me to think more/harder/better/longer. She thought virtually any situation could be helped by extra thinking. I remember she’d quite often suggest the value of an extra thought: “If you think yerrrr goin’ to do that yerrrrr own rrrrrrrrridiculous way, ye’ve got anotherrrrrrr think comin’, so ye do.”

It’s become clear that this fight is going to go the full 15 rounds. I was naive to think otherwise.

• • •

The five weeks since my last face-to-face meeting with my oncologist have seemed excruciatingly more than 35 days. But we met with the oncologist at last and were able to talk about results rather than the disease.

The chemotherapy is working! The biggest marker of progress, as he had said it would be, was the number of proteins that my bone marrow was putting into the rest of my system. The first time it was measured, the number was 4,800. It’s supposed to be zero. This time it was 700. Still a significant number, but … The doctor was happy, our nurse was happy, Sheri was happy, I was happy. It was a regular happypalooza!

We thought the treatment plan might change, but after seeing the results, the doctor decided to put me back on the drug and dosage that I had been on, the same as had caused me to suffer such a terrible rash. He pointed out that the rash was a side effect, and all treatment had its side effects. Overall, I guess the rash, while not very pleasant, is nowhere near the worst. However, if I develop large water blisters as part of it that would move it up the bad scale considerably. Good to know.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I spent a lot of the afternoon/evening feeling confused. It seemed like I should have been happier. Well, that’s not quite right. I should have been more demonstrably happy, maybe. Sheri was the only one to see me, but it seemed like I was sending an unclear message. Kind of a reverse, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.”

But as I processed what was happening, I realized that I was used to setbacks and dealing with them. The good news left me with all this leftover anxiety and worry and I had no place to put it! This cancer thing is really tricky, boy.

Of course, I still have cancer. I’m still taking medication that will most likely cause a rash that will keep me awake nights on end. I still have pain from the lesions in my ribs and the fight is far from over. I’m going into the new year with a new oncologist, when I loved the one I had.

But you know what? That’s for tomorrow’s big think. Right now, Sheri and I are just basking in the glow of the good news before we start basking in the glow from my rash.

Jim Arnold is a copy editor for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. He was born in Scotland and came to America with his parents in 1963, when he was 14 years old. He and his wife, Sheri, moved to Maine in 1998. He has two daughters, Jennifer and Alison.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: