Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Doing the Best I Can

One of my mom's friends recently asked me about the source of my motivation and strength. In the context of the conversation we were having, it was inherently a compliment to my recent perseverence, but I think my response was somewhat underwhelming.

I told her that I don't really have any special source of guiding inspiration. I just tell myself that if I can continue to be, continue to exist, simple as that, then days will continue to pass, one by one, until this whole thing is over. Eventually, it will be over, one way or another, and again there's no use in stressing over the unknown outcome because I'd rather concern myself with the things I can control. And, since there's not much I actually do control anymore, I'd rather not concern myself with much of anything. It's just easier, and I'll take some easy in the midst of so much being hard.

Though she seemed to appreciate my honesty, I wonder what my mom's friend's true reaction was to what I had said. She is a more spiritual person than I, to be sure, and it's no secret that I've been feeling frustrated and rather void of enthusiasm.

It seems that so often while growing up, you're taught to "do your best," or to "try your hardest," and that if you do, somehow things will turn out alright. You may not always win, and things can't always go your way, but you're lead to believe that if you put in enough effort, good things will happen.

But then, there's always the unpredictable. A bad call from a referee can ruin a great game, or a vindictive judge can offer a low score to a great routine, a critic can rip great work, and there's always a chance of rain on the day of a parade. While we can try to prepare ourselves for the unpredictable, it usually forces a deviation from our original plans.

I've asked myself if I have continued to do my best and to try my hardest in the face of my most trying and unpredictable obstacle. The truth is that I really don't know. Every day is a struggle, and for that reason I know I'm trying, but it's hard to tell to what degree my effort reaches.

"Trying your hardest" sounds so noble and deserving of merit, or of positive reinforcement. But in my situation, isn't it okay to just do enough to get by? If I somehow try harder, will it make me less nauseous sooner after chemo? Probably not. That sort of thing is out of my control, but its uncertainty is disincentive for me to give my maximum effort on a daily basis because I know my effort will not be rewarded.

Taking a more far-sighted approach helps, since each day that I try to improve and get stronger may pay dividends in the end results of the treatment and in my recovery. But the chemo is still the treatment and dictates my improvement, and while taking care of myself and being safe constitutes doing my own part, it seems boring and effortless.

Sitting here on the couch, convincing myself to accept the inevitable chemo that looms like a dark cloud over tomorrow doesn't take a whole lot of effort. I don't know what I could really do to try harder at sitting here on the couch. Maybe I'll put my feet up. If I could drink, I'd make a cocktail.

I could try harder to wait patiently, since I spend so much time waiting for procedures to be done. Maybe I've been too concerned with how long it takes to finish them, rather than with their results. Maybe that's because I don't want to concern myself with the results in case they don't come out as well as I want them to, so I preoccupy myself with logistics.

Yesterday was my second PET Scan. The first one, still in the days of I.V. pain meds, was one of the worst experiences of my life, as I was taken off the meds for six hours before the PET Scan administrator had me hold and suspend my arms above my head while lying on my back for 45 minutes. And, though I begged for mercy, she had no way of knowing that I had tumors in my ribs, back and shoulders which were making it torturous for me to hold my arms up. Of course, she could have just listened to me when I told her how much pain I was in, but she had her own agenda.

The doctors later told me that holding my arms over my head was by no means necessary for a successful PET Scan.

I was lucky that my mother happened to show up for the last fifteen minutes of the first scan, because she held my arms in place as I squirmed and writhed in pain inside that plastic tube. Otherwise, I would have had to start all over.

At least yesterday's scan didn't end with me shaking uncontrollably in a pool of my own sweat, letting out an exasperated wail as my arms dropped; a scream that still haunts my mom and sister to the point that they refuse to talk about it. No, yesterday's scan took only an hour longer than expected, with only three failed attempts at putting in an I.V., and finally a successful one that sent blood streaming down my arm.

I departed with my left arm the size of a pillow because of the reaction I had to whatever injection I was given during the scan. And, though I'm quite sure I made my discomfort known to her at the time, the nurse, realizing her mistake after the damage had been done, immediately blamed me for not telling her to stop.

In all honesty, I was relieved to be out of there with nowhere near the headache of the first experience. As far as effort goes, it did take considerable effort on my part to keep from reprimanding the nurse for her idiocy, especially after she had blamed me for her mistake. In hindsight, I commend my silence.

Then, today, I was told that Friday's MRI showed no tumor in the soft tissue of my shoulder, which was thought to be the primary location of the tumor. That's right. The tumor is gone from my shoulder. It doesn't mean anything yet with regards to the PET Scan, which will show us the rest of my body, but I couldn't have dreamed of a better result from that MRI.

At the beginning, the doctors were saying that the tumor was so strong in my shoulder that I would probably need surgery just to maintain close to a full range of motion there. I don't know if this means that I won't, but at least my shoulder is once again my shoulder. It's not some skin and bones with this foreign entity that came in and took over. At least in my shoulder, I've taken back what's rightly mine.

I don't think there's an easy answer to whether or not I'm trying my hardest. Maybe that lesson doesn't fully apply to me right now, though I've trusted it for as long as I can remember. I've always been passionate about the things that are important to me, and while my recovery is obviously important to me, it's just not feasible to give it my all every moment of every day.

And, while I've spoken to God, or whatever supernatural force it is to whom we speak at night, more often over the past few months than I probably ever have before, I'm still skeptical. When I get a card in the mail that urges me to feel God's uplifting presence, my first response will likely still be to crack a joke about feeling God's presense while my face is buried in his porcelain crotch (you know, while praying to the "Porcelain God"). That's just the way I am.

But I do believe that somehow, someway, when this is all over, I will be a better and happier person for having been through it. Just promise me one thing, that you'll remind me of the fact that I just said that the next time I want to give up and throw it all away.


  1. i'm so sorry about your first PET scan...

    i feel the same way you do - i don't really pray or find any strength in anything other than knowing that a) it'll be over soon, and b) i'm sure other people are much worse off...

    glad to see someone else shares my POV


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  3. Jonathan:

    As you may recall, I had encouraged you to adopt the tradition of celebrating half birthdays. I shared with you a story of my daughter's commitment to that tradition. Low and behold, this morning, my 21 year old daughter reminded me that tomorrow is her half birthday!!! Needed to share that - I did not make that up!!!

  4. Being of the "try harder" type myself, I absorb your "continu(ing) to be,... to exist and "taking some easy" as spiritual wisdom. Whoever your mom's friend is is lucky just to get to hang out with you and ask such questions.

    Great news re- your shoulder by the way. Ahh happiness. Your own shoulder back, in the midst of more tests and chemo.