Monday, June 6, 2011

Escaping Cancer Island

I have had some unusual dreams this year.  It is amazing how one's subconscious takes what is going on in the conscious world and twists and twirls a dream around it.  

So, at the risk of turning into a boring dinner party guest who bangs on about her dreams, I am going to share a couple here.   

(extremely overpriced lily which graced the table last week. I know they are funereal but I love them)

I have always thought recurrent dreams are the most interesting.  They must speak of something deep deep inside. 

My most frequent recurrent dreams since about the age of 20 have been:   (1) waking up on the morning of a university exam and realising I have not done any study or preparation for it  at all (actually that part was true in the case of Ancient French) or (2) running really hard but getting nowhere (often with not enough clothes on).

(frangipani lifted from a tree in the street on our last holiday in central New South Wales)

My new recurrent dreams are (1) giving some very dry legal presentation but I have forgotten my wig so I am with my 'No Hair' as my son calls it in front of 50 unimpressed strangers (2) dreams where I think I am wearing my wig at a meeting but realise at the end that I wasn't and everyone was being very polite and not saying anything (3) the Dr Suess Wig Dream where I think I am wearing a wig but it's the wrong wig and I take it off, then another, then another and underneath them all is the 'right' wig.  

And I had a very memorable epic dream which seemed to go for hours and hours where I was on an island and all the power went out and people were desperately trying to get off because they knew if they got stuck on the island that they would die and all the boats had left and all that was available were charter planes and they were all taken by the old people with brown leathery skins wearing lots of gold jewelry and pastel nylon tracksuits and I was crying at the airline desk saying I don't care what it costs, I will pay anything and do anything to get off this island.    (I can interpret this - the money reference is the fact that this cancer thing is costing a fortune and the older people thing I think relates to the fact that with a couple of exceptions, when I have my chemo I am the youngest person in the oncology suite by at least 15 years.   And I would be lying if I said I didn't feel trapped, if not by the diagnosis then definitely by the endless treatment.)

(my mother's herb pots.  And she didn't need Martha Stewart to tell her to do it this way).

And so it is that I don't want anything to remind me of this time. When it is all over I don't want to listen to a song and think 'Oh yes that is what I listened to when I was having chemo'.   Kind of doesn't have the same nostalgic ring to it as 'Oh yes that was the song I listened to a lot when I first fell in love'.    Which means that I have stayed away from music largely except classical.  

And equally, with books, I don't want to think 'Oh that is the book I read when I was in hospital', or 'that is the book I used to read whilst waiting in the oncology suite'.  So I am reading books I have read before, or books which involve such a sheer form of escapism I will never remember them.    More on those another time.  

(last year's daphne.  This year's lot is just coming into bud.)

It surprises me that some friends of mine who have been through cancer and chemotherapy can't remember the names of the particular chemo they had.  The detail obsessive in me thinks 'how can they possibly not remember something that important?'. But then I realise that they have forced it out of their mind.  They don't want to remember.  They don't want that recall.  

I can't blank out my recall.  And in the typical manner of a lawyer, I need to read as much as I can about new experiences.   I have already mentioned that the Internet can be dangerous.   And books too.  But I have done a bit of cancer book reading. Some has been upsetting, some badly written, others moving beyond words.  I am a bit picky with my cancer books.  Any book that recommends that I 'find my special place' and 'sit there quietly'  gets thrown across the room pretty quick smart. 

Here are the three of the best  writings which I have dipped into whilst on Cancer Island.   And you may say: how are they relevant to me? But I say - they are all well written, and -  ultimately -  about life, not death.  Because that is what these experiences do teach us - to respect and value life and not to worry about its end. 

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. My oncologist suggested it to me, as he worked at the Royal Marsden in London when John Diamond was being treated there.  Believe it or not, on Cancer Island there are good cancers and bad cancers.   I think John Diamond had a bad one: throat cancer which had spread to his tongue and lymph nodes.    

John Diamond was a journalist and broadcaster, perhaps better known for being married to Nigella Lawson.   His 'cancer journey' was pretty horrendous from start to finish but he kept his perspective, and writes so clearly about  his experience that it moved me deeply.   

Diamond (like me) hated being described as fighting a 'battle' or being 'brave' and writes of his desire to whinge, moan and just give up. He also writes hilariously of the policy of 'partial disclosure' most oncologists follow, meaning that they just give you enough information progressively to be going on with, not the whole box and dice (because that would be just too overwhelming). 

This book only peripherally touches on cancer in one chapter when it looks at the 'positive thinking' mantra which plagues so many with serious illness (as in, if you think positive you will be cured, when in fact that has not been proved to be the case) but otherwise reviews the history of positive thinking in the US and forensically dissects the downside of such an approach.   I am all for being optimistic but to me the idea that thinking positively can bring me money, fame or good health for ever is ludicrous.   She also writes scathingly of the infantilisation of breast cancer, and in reference to the teddy bear she was given as part of a support group care package asks if men with prostate cancer are given Matchbox toy cars? 

And finally, I have been avidly reading this man's series of articles published by Vanity Fair:

Like or loathe Christopher Hitchens you would not wish Stage IV oesophagal cancer on your worst enemy.  And he has finally lost his voice, and writes brilliantly and movingly of the pain this causes him, and the importance of being able to voice one's thoughts here. 

I read just a day or so ago that Hitchens has won an award for his cancer writings.  Very well deserved.  I so feel for him.  

Weird chemo side effect no 467:  bye bye big toe nails, baby bye bye.  Yes it's true. I can cope with this I think as I lost one when I dropped a tray on my toe on New Year's Day 2000.   But I wasn't expecting it. Isn't life unpredictable? 


JOE. D said...

It's early morning .. I read every word .. and maybe because it is freezing cold and my eyes are still half shut (and my mind) all I can manage to come up with after that huge post from you is .. a smile. A smile for the humour. A smile for your dreams (and your interpretation - loved that the best). And a smile to help you along the day.


Just Martha said...

I eagerly await your posts Jane to check on how you are. As a nurse I'm going to suggest 'Mona'days to my gorgeous clients when they can have a good old whinge and not be 'brave'. Have a lovely day

Sarah B said...

I'm one of those annoying people who like to talk about their dreams as I have a log of them. I even decided the other day that I have Super Advanced Dream Sequencing. Yes, I get teased a lot!!!
Those books sound very interesting and I imagine a lot of the other sort would get really frustrating. I like the point about the Teddy bears and toy cars. Do people think these things through?
I love your flower photos. I don't think of the lilies as funeral at all, they're too pretty. My Daphne is flowering for the first time this year so I'm happy about that.
Have a happy week :)

The House That A-M Built said...

Jane, you move me with your posts. You have it all worked out ... good move with the music memories.. you're planning your memories for after the big C... good thinking 99. I too had those Uni dreams with the no prep for exam day... it was always a Geography exam... I never did geography... go figure. Great to hear from you. A-M xx PS rats about the toenails.

Makeminemidcentury said...

Toe nails?


Maxabella said...

Isn't life just!! This was a great post, Jane. I think yours are the first dream rundowns I've listened to and haven't fallen instantly into a (dreamless) coma. Fascinating stuff - your lawyer's brain just captures the detail and your writer's brain pulls the emotional insights together. Nylon tracksuits indeed!

Daphne is my face. Lillies not so much.


mel @ loved handmade said...

I'm always trying to think of where my dreams have come from & what they mean, though last nights were particularly bizzare, no hope there!I like how you've put your island dream into context, it's fscinating how our minds work.
Daphne is one of my favourite flowers but I've never had success growing it and lillies were my wedding flowers..

jules @ The Diversion Project said...

i'm so grateful you're telling us this stuff. sounds weird i guess, but i am. xx

Kerry said...

Your posts always make me think. I like that :) I dream constantly and sometimes it drives me batty. My partner is an epileptic and he says he doesn't dream...perhaps it's the medication. Then again he could be pulling my leg! But I couldn't begin to imagine how boring not dreaming would be. I found your comments about the music you listen to and the books you read while having chemo really interesting. You are very clever to have thought that through so well. Thanks for the book recommendations. Hope the toenails grow back by summer :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jane,

I think you should be whatever you want to be - sad, happy, moaning.... Everyone deals with things differently....Do whatever feels right honey.......I like to pop in and read your blog - to see how you are doing and what your are up to....Dreams are funny things aren't they??

Warm Regards

Jenny said...

Jane, I enjoy your blog, always. The dreams are speaking to you and you do listen. I took a dream analysis class given by a Methodist minister and she showed me what certain people represent and how different situations speak to concerns and fears. I still dream of the exam and I'm 66. Write them down when you first get up.
You are beautiful! xxoo Jenny

First House on the Right said...

Well I say escape cancer island however you want! I read John Diamond's book a number of years ago and was extremely moved by it as well. Nicolex

Jane said...

Oh, Jane, I never have good dreams. Only the anxious type with the horrible details like yours. Hmm, maybe it's the lawyer thing? The name? J x PS That daphne is heavenly.

Southhamsdarling said...

Hi Jane. It's great that you have still got your sense of humour through all this. One day my friend, this will all be over, and I pray that it will be sooner rather than later for you. Prayers and hugs, as always.

Anonymous said...

Insightful observations. I read the Hitchen's piece elsewhere and was moved, but reading it here had an impact deeper than I could have imagined. And yes, to lose your voice, physically or metaphorically, you would wish upon no-one Go well, my friend (friend...I would hope should we meet).

Dumbwit Tellher said...

I appreciate your honesty more than you know Jane. Knowing what you & others go through fighting cancer, how it effects everything in their daily lives, helps us all be better people. Also helps prepare us for when we, should we, get that diagnosis. My mom just wouldn't discuss it. It likely made her more comfortable but it hurt like hell because every day when we'd talk, I didn't know how to help? Cancer Island sounds like the best reference to cancer that I've read yet. Next I need to hop over to read Christopher's writings. As for side effect no. 467, that's just not fair, especially when it's not sandal season.

Always thinking of you,

Amanda (Small Acorns) said...

The pastel nylon tracksuits are indeed a worry. They must be deeply imbedded in your subconscious. Dreams are fascinating aren't they? Christopher Hitchens writes brilliantly. Maybe I'll be brave and check out John Diamond's book too.
It's great to have a catch up with where you're at. Being brave or moaning - it's just good to know. xx

Anonymous said...

Really good post!

Elsa May said...

hmm your dreams are interesting - weird and wacky how dreams come back sometimes years apart. a good selection of books - I like the sound of Smile or Die - whilst I think a bit of a pollyanna attitude can help at times, it needs to be tempered with a good dose of realism. I recall mid-chemo being given a copy of a book called The Secret (by someone I did not particularly like) and being told that it could help me or make a difference....and I recall thinking "surely you're not serious".
As for forgetting about chemo etc - I was obsessed about every details, thoroughly researched and read everything at the time and was certain it would stay with me. Some of it has, but a great deal of it has gone by the wayside - I think it's not so much not wanting to remember, but having over more important/more worthy things take space in my memory bank...
Anyhoo sending you warm thoughts - Annie x

Unknown said...

I am enjoying catching up with your recent posts Jane.

I remembering reading John Diamond's weekly column in The Times every Saturday during his illness, what a great read that was...

Really liked your comments about Gywneth....I find her incredibly smug and annoying BUT I think you may have somehow convinced me to order her book!!!

And finally, you're not going to believe who won my SIXTEEN BOOK SUMMER READING LIST GIVEAWAY...... xx

Design Junkie said...

I'm a 12 year survivor of BC and with diagnosis I obsessed over every detail of my surgery and treatment. But the only lasting recollections - not including my scar, which ceased freaking me out a long time ago - are the disgust of the 5FU part of the CMF regimen and some cancer coping strategy called "Downward Social Comparison". It was meant as a reminder to yourself that there's always someone worse off than you. That was easy for me to say, and so I did. My children, at least, were young teenagers. I don't know how I would have taken it if they had been younger. Your narratives are strong and engaging. Good luck to you in your treatment.

Unknown said...

You are terrific Jane. I so enjoy listening to you write.

First House on the Right said...

PS I hear your WTF to Shane's face! Have been wondering if it's just weight loss (highly doubtful) or whether the lovely Liz has been sending him to her Botox peeps? Hope you have a nice weekend, Nicolex

Anonymous said...

Jane - we love your blog - truly - and this post was one of many that we read today from pear tree house.

so we did a little "blog crush" post here on our blog to say thank you :-)

sad to hear about your big toe nails. and very happy you have left the island - hope you have a lovely white handkerchief from us girls at bletchley park to wave goodbye as the island moves out of sight!

much love, team gloria.

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