I don't mean JUST cancer patients. I am also including people in general who live with a deadly disease and some elders who may not have a scary diagnosis but whose bodies are letting them down in old age.
And oh, how bodies can do that.
These thoughts came to mind Monday when a couple of reader comments about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's cancer caught my attention. From Darlene Costner:
”Logically she must have suffered terribly during her struggle with cancer (not to mention broken bones). In spite of it, she just keeps going on like the energizer bunny.”
Reader Carol Leskin (who contributes to the Tuesday Reader Story feature of this blog), left this note on Facebook:
”I have often wondered what it is that keeps you moving forward. On days when I struggle and just want to give up, I think of you. It helps me and I say, 'what the hell' to myself and get on with the day as best I can. I am glad you look to RGB for inspiration...”
I know exactly what Carol Leskin is talking about. But even though I resolved early on to write as clearly and honestly as possible about my cancer predicament and, now, COPD, I've shied away from the day-to-day difficulties which in shorthand are this: it's hard. It's really hard sometimes.
Mostly, old people don't talk about these things – the difficulty of just getting through a day. Part of that is succumbing to long-term, societal prohibitions against old folks' “organ recitals.” We're not supposed to mention our health troubles because younger people don't want to know.
Another part for me is to avoid sounding whiny but both of those reasons are stupid. It's what is happening to us and if it comes as a surprise, it's because nobody talks about it.
So let me take a stab at what an average day has become. It can apply – often unexpectedly and with differing particulars - to pretty much anyone in the age group we are concerned with here.
That said, let me tell you about my mornings.
When I wake at about 5:30AM each day, I feel terrific. The bed is warm and cozy and my comfort level is near 100 percent, not a twinge of pain and I cannot imagine that I hurt anywhere.
Then I try to throw back the covers and realize that no, the body and muscle pains have not gone away since yesterday. How is it that an arm, a hand and fingers can hurt that much, I ask myself.
I wince as I turn on the light, fingers screaming to me, “don't do that”. I do it anyway and then I try to stand. Depending on how much my left or right (never both at once) ankle hurts, I slowly crab walk to the bathroom for morning ablutions (isn't that a fine word?).
Or, on a good day, I can walk almost normally.
I do a mental check of what else hurts. For the past month it has been some combination of fingers, ankles, an elbow and/or knee and back of my neck. Have you tried brushing your teeth when you can't close your hand around the toothbrush handle? Hint: Holding your hands under hot water helps loosen them up.
In the kitchen while the coffee is brewing, I grab some ibuprofen for the pains and sit down to wrangle the newest inhaler into submission.
I've been using the new one only since Tuesday but it seems to be improving my breathing.
Sometimes I think the coffee might be what does the most good but either way, it will be two hours before the pain killer fully kicks in. I use that time to meditate, read the news online with TV news droning in the background, answer overnight email, plan the day or the next blog post or whatever else is on my mind that doesn't involve physical exertion. Like walking. Or showering. Or dressing.
It is astonishing how precise the timing is. Within 15 minutes one side or the other of two hours, I am close to pain-free. So – breakfast, shower and dress which seem to take forever compared to pre-cancer life.
And then, about 9AM my day begins. Before cancer and COPD, I could shower, dress, have breakfast and be out the door by 6:30AM.
Here's a little secret: if I don't need to shop or see a doctor or meet a friend or some other outside activity, I've been known to skip showering and sometimes I stay in my jammies all day because it's not unheard of around here to lose my breath just dressing or undressing.