Sunday, February 17, 2013

What does it mean to have strength?

A friend of mine said to me last night “Wish I had your strength”.  I’m sitting here, on a Sunday night of a long weekend with nothing to do except watch old episodes of Parenthood and I find myself thinking, how strong am I?  Does battling a chronic, rare, incurable disease make me some kind of superwoman? 

I never thought it did.  After I got sick I did what I had to do.  There was never really another option.  Fight through it, get better, go back to normal.  Don’t get me wrong.  There were days when I wanted nothing more to give up.  I distinctly remember the first few days I had to take the Cytoxan, and heaving up everything in my stomach.  After that, it was just bile and sadness.  It always happened when I was home alone, so there was never someone to hold back my hair or wipe my head or pass me a washcloth.  I watched my hair fall out, I watched my face change because of the prednisone... but I did it on my own because I didn’t know any other way. 

So here I am watching the middle of season 4 of Parenthood, and (spoiler alert, sorry) Kristina is pale, profusely sweating, vomiting and lying on the bathroom floor because the chemotherapy she takes to get rid of her breast cancer is dissolving her from the inside out.  That only lasted two days for me, and it was nowhere near what was depicted on this television show that makes me cry every time I watch it.  Towards the end of the episode she and her husband are in bed, and they are so clearly supportive of each other and so devoted to each other that my heart aches… because I wish I had that when I first got sick.  I wish there had been someone to help me through it. I wish there was someone now who was willing to take the time to understand my journey and to stick with me for the rest of it.

My four year diagnosis anniversary is coming up.  I’ve passed the four year “remembrances” of the first ear ache and the fever that sort of set me spiraling downward.  Two weeks ago, after my third round of Rituxan I came to a rather sudden realization.  I felt so good after that infusion that I felt normal.  That elusive normal that I never thought I’d get to again.  That realization came in stark contrast to the previous week’s infusion when I cried and felt my heart break a hundred times.  Why?  Because I was alone.  Everyone else at the infusion center had someone with them, except for me.  There was no one to talk to, to sit with… I was, yet again, alone.  Not that it was anyone’s fault, after all, how could I expect someone to sit with me for 8 hours on a Friday?

Would it have been fair for me to ask someone to come with me?  Part of me says no, because it would be intruding on someone else’s life, and their time, and their commitments.  But I suppose it also goes to show that there isn’t anyone in my life who would have felt like it wasn’t an intrusion on their time or their commitments.  

Is that what makes me strong?  Not being selfish?  If that’s the measure of strength, then there are people stronger than I am.  Take my friend for instance- busting his butt to make life easier for someone who is sort of just piling the stress onto his life.  Yet he works through the exhaustion and the stress and what I can only imagine to be anger and sadness because he isn’t selfish.  

Is being afraid to ask for support (or is it that I’m incapable? I’m not sure) what makes me strong?
Is being single what makes me strong?

I’ve spent four years being strong and not once has anyone really let me break down over everything I’ve gone through.  Part of that is my own fault, I don’t know how to open up because past experiences have shown me that opening up made me someone who complained all the time.  But shouldn’t my friends know enough to sit me down and make me talk about it?  Shouldn’t my family know that I need a shoulder to cry on?  I don’t know.  The social stigma of crying is that it is a weakness.  So I cry alone, usually at night.  Sometimes at lunch, when I am alone in my classroom. 

But my god, I am tired.  I am tired of being strong and I’m tired of crying alone.  

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