Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Waiting For Godot And A CAT Scan

In Samuel Becket's play "Waiting for Godot" Estragon mutters to Vladimir, "Nothing to be done" as he struggles to remove his boot and continues waiting for Godot, who they both admit they don't know, and wouldn't recognize if they saw. They seem to imply that "nothing is a thing that has to be done" and that they will spend all day doing it in order to "hold the terrible silence at bay." They intermittently stare into and feel inside an empty boot or hat and find nothing. There are days when I feel trapped in this theater of the absurd.

I am exhausted, trying to care for myself, my family, my home, and preserve some connection to my career while feeling pain, fatigue, and the emotional rollercoaster of my inner life. Some days, especially when I am feeling well, I am optimistic and enjoy my spacious "free time." On other days I struggle with the simplest tasks, and spend all my energy quieting the voices in my head that comment on everything past, present, and future. I struggle with "doing nothing." I can create a list of things to do that seems to temporarily keep me out of trouble and provides the brief satisfaction of crossing things off as I complete them. Am I fooling myself? Am I just holding the terrible silence at bay?

On a good day, my pain is minimal, my energy is up, and I am full of beautiful blog entries, long beach walks, and silent awe-filled meditation. I can breathe and move in my limited way with deep satisfaction... and then the "Editorial Board" as I collectively refer to the voices in my head, starts commenting on my prognosis, on my symptoms, on every little bump and brown spot on my body. I re-read a lab report and ponder the differential diagnosis. I need to be stopped. I take a breath, say to myself, "there you go again" and try to get in the bathtub or outside, even if all I can make myself do is walk to the mailbox and back.

Today started out as a difficult day, morphed into a great day, and ended on a low note, as I collapsed from exhaustion at 7:30 pm. One minute I'm crying, the next minute I'm laughing. Being with me is like being with a newborn with a rapidly changing progression of sensations and reactions. The emotions move quickly through me and can make an abrupt about-face without notice. I think of my emotions as if they are blustery weather, just passing through.

The symptoms I have now are somewhat different than what I experienced back in the summer and fall. I don't know whether to attribute how I feel to cancer or to medication side effects, but I suspect it's the combination of effects from Zometa (an inhibitor of "osteoclasts," the cells that breakdown bone) and Arimidex (an estrogen blocker). As my tumor-related bone pain improves, fatigue and muscle and joint pains not related to tumor growth have gotten much worse.

Tomorrow I have my third Zometa infusion. Luckily, I can get it right here in Santa Cruz. I don't have to drive up to Stanford. I get an IV line put in, and it takes about 30 minutes. I usually fall asleep holding my Kindle or a book while in the recliner chair in which they have you sit for chemo infusions. I feel nothing until the next day, when the intensity of what I feel has been different each time, but involves some flu-like achy state with some intestinal chaos (a nice euphemism).

The waiting is excruciating. My life has been devoted to knowing what's knowable, so I find it challenging to have to wait to find out what the next test shows. So much of what goes on inside my body is not measurable or perceptible. Being with these particular unknowns, learning how to become comfortable with the mystery, and trusting how I feel is hard work. The Editorial Board complains. When they get too rowdy, I bark, "You're Fired!" and try throwing them out of my head. Sometimes it works for a while. They always regroup and return, occasionally in a subdued style.

Like my friends Estragon and Vladimir, I wait, not sure of what I am waiting for or when it might make itself known to me. Waiting for Godot or a CAT scan isn't much different. There's nothing to be done but develop the art of being in the nothing, and give up trying to master doing nothing.