Monday, July 2, 2007

Keep Kicking

The closest I ever came to gasping my last breath was nearly 25 years ago at Makapu Beach, a favorite body surfing spot in Hawaii.

The pounding surf was gasp inducing, so I wisely (and uncharacteristically) chose to stay on shore and watch George catch waves. But soon the unrelenting sun sent me scurrying into the water to cool off. Before I knew it, a strong current had pulled me far from shore. I was sucked into an area where the waves were breaking on jagged rocks.

I should have swam out beyond the current, but I got the idea that I could ride the waves to the rocks and then pull myself up and out of the water. Instead, I crashed, face first, into the rocks, before the tide pulled me back into the ocean.

After three rides into the rocks, I thought I was a goner. Just then, two lifeguards grabbed hold of me. I remembered that many drowning victims attempt to fight their rescuers, so I immediately relaxed into their strong arms.

They worked very hard to pull me through the crashing waves and strong current. When I emerged from the ocean, George was waiting and rushed me to the emergency room for six stitches by my right eyebrow.

All ended well, but to this day, I feel a little guilty for not doing more to ease the burden of those lifeguards. A little flutter here, a kick there may have made their jobs easier. I wasn’t fighting them, but I wasn’t helping them either.

Fast forward a quarter of a century. I’m receiving care at one of the country’s top cancer centers with one of the most respected hematology doctors in the country. Believe me, it would be very tempting to relax into the strong, capable arms of the brilliant and compassionate staff at City of Hope.

But I don’t want to one day rue my passivity and think, “I could have done more, a gentle kick here a flutter there.” (If George was reading this, he would probably say that there’s no danger of my ever becoming passive.)

So how does a patient (or a drowning victim) find that happy balance between passivity and fighting the rescuer? I stay active on a list serve for mantle cell lymphoma patients, a group of decidedly non-passive cellmates. The group stays current and questions extensively. I research everything exhaustively. I do my best to question and communicate with my doctor. And I plan to keep on kicking for the long term.


janet aird said...

Great story - and great point. It reminds me of something someone I met once told me. Years before, she'd gone to Hawaii with her husband and parents after being treated for breast cancer. They went deep-sea fishing and while she was strapped to the chair, she hooked a gigantic fish. She said they fought for an incredibly long time, and while it was going on, she saw it as her fight with cancer, too. I've always felt kind of bad for the fish, but she finally landed him. She was still cancer-free.

Karen said...

Terrific story/analogy. Like something the Maharishi would teach! I think that, with your natural tact and sensitivity, you will help just the right amount, because you are aware of both the risks of resisting and of giving in. If you ever have doubts, we will be glad to be your sounding board (little qualified though we may be).

Mrs. Duck

Anonymous said...

I think it's great that you are doing a lot of research on lymphoma - I was just going to ask you about that, too. I think it also helps when you talk to your doctor, it keeps you more informed --

Lisa C.

Karen said...

I think I have to agree with George on this one - I cannot even imagine you in passive mode! :-)

Here's my take: You're doing everything just right except maybe pushing yourself too hard. I know you feel great - that's wonderful - but if you're bleeding a lot from a small scratch, now you'll know your platelets are low and you need to get in for a transfusion, even if the doctor hasn't scheduled one.

Otherwise, you've researched; you're in touch with others who are sharing information with you; you're communicating well with the professionals; you were proactive in getting the best doctor, the best treatment, the best facility around; you've got such an unbelievably great attitude - what more could you want?!?

At this point, what you need to do is exactly what you did when those lifeguards swam up and grabbed you - relax, take it easy, and allow the pros and your body's natural resources to do their job. :-)

(the other) Karen

Lisa Cooper-Keil said...

Don’t confuse surrender with passivity. Passivity does not involve the intentional choice that surrender does. You ARE doing everything you can to get well and although I know it was not your original intention, your writing skills combined with your natural wisdom are proving an inspiration to us all. Love and Hugs, Lisa

Lilli said...

Kick away girl! A great doctor and some great kicking make for the best possible healing combination.

BTW, when I heard the body surfing story before, you ommitted the part about the lifeguards. Or perhaps what I heard was a different near-drowning story.

Frankie said...

I almost drowned myself in St-Tropez when I was in my early twenties. I didn't fight my rescuer, as soon as he got close enough, I was in such a state of panic and weak and sure I was about to die that I pushed his head under water so that I could breathe. I don't know what was worse, the fact that I almost died or the fact that I almost drowned him!!! Back on safe shores, I collapsed on the sand, almost lifeless and the lifeguards surrounded me and yelled at me for going in the water even though there was a red flag. A red flag? I thought. Thank God I didn't see the red flag while I was drowning, the only reason I survived is because I kept telling myself, this is not possible, not in the Mediteranean, this can't happen. This is not happening. I understand the lifeguards' frustration. They see people getting killed for no reason. But their yelling at me while I was half conscious didn't do me any good. If I had any strength in me, it would have made me cry.
Take care Susan. I didn't know we shared a submerged by the current story. :)