Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Green Mile

Over a week ago, I began thinking about “the green mile”—not about the story line from the novel and the subsequent movie but about the meaning associated with those words.  “The green mile” seemed to be a good way to convey the fear I was feeling as I waited for the results of my brain MRI.      

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The Green Mile is a book by Stephen King which, in 1999, was made into a movie starring Tom Hanks. The story is about a man on death row convicted of murdering two girls. In both the book and the movie, a prison guard recounts the events of how this man impacted his life. In the end, the prisoner is forced to walk along a lime green floor which ended at the place of his execution. Hence “the green mile” can mean a person’s walk to their death--at least that is the way I think of it.

I am like any prisoner on death row forever at the mercy of their captor. In my case, it is cancer and not the judicial system that has sentenced me; I am not facing this death sentence for any crimes committed, but I am facing death’s permanence. I imagine the fear and despair of a person about to be executed must be similar to mine–at least initially –especially if they are innocent or in the case of victims held by evil people. With every scan, I have no idea if I will get a reprieve or find that my death date has been set.
I don’t think there is a word in the English language that explains adequately how I have felt throughout the last week and the first part of this week. My anxiety about this scan seemed greater than my prior experience with other scans. I am sure this was due to my belief that losing my ability to think or to recognize my family would be the cruelest way to succumb to this disease.

Here are a few synonyms for fear:  angst, anxiety, concern, dread, jitters, panic, uneasiness, worry, aversion, agitation, consternation, disquietude, discomposure, faintheartedness, foreboding, presentiment, distress, fright, qualm, trepidation, timidity, chicken heartedness, apprehension.

I feel and have felt all of those words. None, though, are powerful enough to explain my emotions completely. The fear can be paralyzing preventing even the most mundane activity from occurring.

Certainly others not on death row facing a death not associated with old age have also had these same emotions. If you can imagine how the recent men beheaded by the terrorist group called Isis, the holocaust victims, people sacrificed to their gods, young men and women in war, and most recently the woman in Oregon, Brittney Maynard, who plans to take her own life under the “death with dignity” law of that state feel or felt then you have some idea of how I feel.

Physically my breathing seemed shallow; my shoulder and neck muscles were tense; my appetite diminished; my emotions were fragile. I am involved in a game of Russian Roulette. The gun is pointed at me. When the trigger is pulled, will this be the shot fired releasing the bullet within the chamber or will the chamber be empty?

I nearly had myself 100% convinced my breast cancer had spread to my brain. I played the audio over and over in my mind of how I would respond if one of my doctors or nurses called with news of brain metastasis. Somehow, I felt thinking this way would make it easier to cope if it were true. Isn’t there a saying “hope for the best, prepare for the worst”.  I may seem like a negative Nellie, but there is always a bit of optimism hidden in my thoughts somewhere. So, some moments I played the other audio in my head. The one where I receive fabulous news that my life can continue on the same course it has been for another 3 months until the next scan.

My nerves were so on edge about the impending phone call I decided to put my phone on silent. I thought not hearing the phone ring would protect me from the full-force of any horrific news. I felt a sense of control by being able to get the news on my terms when I was ready to handle it. I thought I would be able to listen to the voicemail and figure whether it was good or bad news based on the message received. If I was told to call to discuss the results, I would know it was bad. If a good message was left, my fears would be relieved without having talked to anyone.

For two days, I left my phone on silent. Every so often I would pick up my phone and look for my missed phone calls and voice messages. Monday, in late afternoon, a missed phone call appeared. My heart raced. I clicked the unlock button and viewed the call. It was my husband. I took a few deep breaths to relieve my panic. The hours moved on and no phone call came about my MRI. I was convinced it must be bad news. In my experience, bad news always comes late in the day when a doctor has no more patients to see, and he/she sits down at their desk and starts returning or making phone calls.

This whole week I grieved because of the things I have not finished. I haven’t written the letters to my loved ones I want to write (I am finding those so hard to begin) or finished little projects around the house. Most importantly, my youngest is only 11 –still too young to lose her mother.

On Tuesday, phone still on silent, I went outside with my daughter to practice tennis, leaving the phone on the counter. Once finished with our fun, I walked in the house and passed the phone several times. When I finally had the courage to look at my phone, I saw that a new voicemail message appeared on the screen. My daughter retreated to the back porch sparring herself of any bad news I might hear.

“Can I do this?” I said to myself. “I have to”.

I accessed my voice mail. My nurse practitioner began to speak with not such an enthusiastic tone in her voice.  I listened.

Then I hear . . .

“Lisa, I am looking at your scan right now. It appears to be clean”, the nurse practitioner said.

Good news CAN come late!

I paced the floor and listened to the rest of her words.

I retrieved my daughter from the back porch. “Good news”, I screamed. We hugged and jumped up and down for probably 10 minutes.

I am not dying today, and I am not dying tomorrow. I am walking “the green mile”, but it is a long walk for now.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Treatment #25 TDM-1 #8 Sept 29th

My appointment with the doctor and the infusion that followed were uneventful. I truly prefer it that way.

I love grapefruit. One of my fond childhood memories involved eating grapefruit at my grandmother's house in Tampa, Florida. Since I was on a new treatment, I thought that maybe I could once again enjoy this fruit. But, sadly once again I was told I could not eat the fruit or drink its juice. Grapefruit can interact with many drugs - prescription and over-the-counter. Follow this link to find out if any drugs you are taking may be causing your drug to be less effective or even toxic. Always ask your doctor about food interactions with any new treatments.

Scan #2 for TDM-1 October 15th
My scan results still read "No Evidence of Active Metastatic Disease"!  Isn't that fantastic?

Treatment #26 TDM-1 #9 October 20th

My head is still having strange tingling sensations that have moved from the back of my head to my left temple. The back of the head may be the result of a pinched nerve in my neck. My scan showed nothing unusual - thankfully. The tingling sensation at my temple is more concerning. It could mean that there is something compressing the trigeminal nerve inside the skull. This nerve splits into several branches and exits the skull spreading out to the sides of the face. There is one on both sides. There are several causes with one being a tumor that can cause pain or tingling around the eye, cheek, lips and mouth.  My favorite nurse practitioner thought it was worth taking a look at my skull and brain to see if there was any metastasis of breast cancer to the area along this nerve. This of course sent fear through me.

Though efforts were made to have the MRI department fit me into their schedule that day, it was not to be. Instead, it was decided that an MRI would be done in Wilmington. If there was anything found, the scan would be read again by the radiology department at Chapel Hill.

Next post, I will tell you the results.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Losing Time

I need it.
Will I have enough?

Troubling, tormenting, terrifying thoughts,
miserable me,
thinking as I do.

Fear grabs me and refuses to let go --
haunting me,
scaring me.

I fear having
no more

No impact on humanity.
No clever book written.
No painted picture from my own fingers.
Moving . . . no one.

Will I have enough time?
To move someone, anyone?
So my life is not forgotten.

Writing –
a quiet, possibly futile attempt
to leave something of myself to the world.
It is all I have to offer.

Thoughts in my head
trapped by fear.
Fear that the words won’t match the emotions I feel.
Fear no one will be moved.
No one will care.

It must be done.

If I wait too long,
there will be no

My mother lost her time.
Too sick to do, too sick to plan  
gone – within a month.

All her memories,
all her words –
hidden forever
within her.

Twenty-two years ago
my mother died.

We abandoned her.
Leaving her there
in the hospital
never to wake up.

After surgery,
a blood clot in an artery
began robbing her vital organs of life-giving oxygen.
The doctor said, “I can make her conscious,
so you can say goodbye”.

Would she want us to? Would I want that if it were me?
“No”, we said.

I regret leaving her
in her artificial slumber –
in a quiet, cold room
to die

My grieving father
wanting to go home to be near his alcohol and cigarettes
needed me
I thought.

My mother --
no longer throwing back her head laughing,
no longer providing comfort when I needed it
lie dying.

I did not want that to be my last memory of her.
Keeping instead the one I had of her smiling at me
in the hall
by the elevator.

My father, sisters and I
-- without his wife, without our mom --
went home.

Rain pouring from an unforgiving sky
reflecting our emotions
making travel slow.

Few words passed between us
as we made our way to a house
soon filled with sorrow.

Four-thirty in the morning,
the hospital called.
Her body finally breathed no more.

Heavy rain on any given day
refreshes that memory.

Taking me back
to that day so long ago
but somehow not.

I saw her last,
in the hall
on a gurney
before disappearing behind the elevator doors.

She smiled at me and said, “Ah hun”.
“I love you. This will make you feel better”,
was all I could say.

Then away from me,
she was taken away from me

My life was never the same.
With all the happiness I had experienced so far in life,
Never had I experienced until that day,
life’s most painful and permanent part.
There is an end.

Tears flowing less often,
pain still persisting,
longing still lingering.
Never had I lost someone I so deeply loved.

Too quickly her time

Time is my worry now.
Will I have enough?