Colon cancer diaries IV: Light and shade
I've said earlier that "I've been to Hell, returned and went back again". Fortunately I did not linger there and I am not there now. I may go back, I will probably go back, and then the thought that will give me most hope is that it shall pass. In an effort to describe for you, reader, what my personal Hell is like and what triggers it, I write this post at a moment when I am experiencing some of the usual pain and tiredness of my worst days but also the benefit of joy and clarity of the best ones.
Fogginess, heaviness, the inability to think and to articulate, chaos with just enough awareness to see it; that is what Hell is for me. It is also an absolute lack of intention, motivation, to act in any specific way, to continue to be, no longer knowing who I really am. Finally, it's a dark attitude of abandonment, sometimes mixed with a pure frantic emotion, despair. There are different degrees of Hell and I'd rather not know the depth it can reach. It builds on episodes like the following one, day after day, week after week, month after month, until all of a sudden, I know Hell is there.
"After yesterday's diarrhea I anticipated a calm day, but it is not happening. I went to bed already with discomfort, with the sensation of having the anus contracted, or dilated? In short, sore. With that and with gases that are common at night and hurt when I expel them and hurt more if I don't. The hotel noises last night did not help and woke me up shortly after falling asleep. It was difficult to go back to sleep and I got up very tired this morning. I had breakfast with appetite though, as usual, trying very carefully not to overeat. After the ingestion comes the typical itching in scar number one, the one in the anus from the first surgery. Sometimes I am able to bear it until the inevitability of a bowel movement occurs but other times, like today, it feels unbearable and I cannot wait so I go to the bathroom to push very deliberately.
The following thing generally happens when I try to force it: exhausting effort that triggers violent contractions in my gut in an expulsion reflex that makes me scream or, rather, grunt loudly; not so much from pain but from the effort . I always wonder what poor Elva thinks when I scream and, today, I also think of my hotel neighbors, who could be heard in the shower just a moment ago. The pain was greater than other times, the same stinging in that area, scar number one, but more intense. Perhaps I was already anticipating it, with little energy from not having slept and with fear of what might happen. I do not know whether it is the pain or the effort the thing that leaves me absolutely wrecked.
I alternate my squatting position on to the toilet bowl with sitting on the toilet to rest, and today also with squatting into the bath tub. It is much more comfortable than doing it on the toilet but I am concerned about hygiene if feces fell into the bathtub. Peeing a little is inevitable, as with each "contraction", with each load grunt, some urine comes out ... no wonder my entire sphincter is in a daze ... I leave the bathtub option only for those times when I'm exhausted.
After seven or eight contractions, with three or four variations of position, all that has come out is a bloody droplet of stool. I stop trying. There is no stinging anymore. this is what usually happens ... it is as if the movements of my intestine, having tried to relieve myself, displaced the load and no longer pressed the scar (but who knows?). However, what is left is a feeling of being full and uncomfortable, particularly when walking, which does not allow me to stand or sit for a long time (just to lie down). The sensation reminds me of that one of having to go urgently which I had before the surgeries, before the tumor. I can't expect anything to come out now if I tried though. Nothing but blood when I clean my anus. Blessed clean blood that both scares me and informs me, although I don't really know where it is from: scar number one, hemorrhoids, or the second tumor that they discovered weeks ago?"
Enduring such pain for many days does not take me to Hell until I meet hopelessness: the realization of how tough it has all been and that it might not get better or it might even get worse. I do not take that road or I come back quickly if I listen to my body, to something automatic instructing me to do the minimum: no requirements, no thinking, no decisions, no conclusions... yet. Then, I stop spending any energy in fighting any thoughts as much as in creating them. And soon after that... they disappear, I'm able to understand them, put them in perspective. I make room for them instead of becoming them and even turn them around later for my benefit. Then my spirit and even my body recovers on its own, relatively quickly, and I´m back to normal. You may run into me a little while after the previous episode, for example walking in the beautiful city of Ciutadella, in Menorca, and never be able to guess what had been going on in the bathroom one or two hours ago. Thank goodness for my meditation practice. It doesn't spare me from those moments, but keeps Hell at bay.
Photo: Hontoria del Pinar, Spain. Courtesy of my sister Josefina