From Denial to Acceptance?

acceptance is keySlowly but surely, cancer is chipping away at my dignity, my autonomy, my self-image.

Last week I agreed to my oncologist’s suggestion of treating my apparent depression and anxiety disorders as a quality of life issue, and accepted my GP’s prescription of an SNRI. I know that objectively that was a good decision. I know that this is one way of taking care of myself and being sure that my needs are met.

Nevertheless, it feels like humiliation. I wrote about that recently, so I won’t repeat myself here.

Back to pain management, a quality of life issue par excellence. For a year or so now I’ve been white-knuckling, trying to avoid taking the narcotic pain relievers and when I eventually do take them, I’ve been taking minuscule doses that have little or no therapeutic effect. It’s not like I don’t know that; I’m reasonably conversant with these dosages.

As I’ve written before (as in this post from about nine months ago), my issues with narcotics are dual. On the one hand, I hate the way they make me feel. I hate that sleepy-dopey feeling, the impaired judgment, the excessive emotionalism, the lack of impulse control, the inability to do things that have to be done. I live alone. I have a house to maintain. After requiring my medical retirement, my employer was kind enough to give me alternative employment that I can do at home when I’m up to it. That has to get done if I want to keep getting a paycheck.

The other issue with narcotics is that I’m mildly allergic to them. My whole body starts itching, inside and out, and so I have to take an antihistamine at the same time as the narcotic. Antihistamines feel yucky, too.

So the decision for me involves balancing two elements. Which will be worse at any given moment: the narcotic-antihistamine impairment and discomfort or the unmanaged pain?

Last night I realized that (yet again) I’ve been an idiot, that my pride and self-will, my “machisma” has been causing me to make really bad decisions. I took a ridiculously tiny dose of Percoset last night and not surprisingly was up pretty much the whole night in pain.

So, a bit more of my self-image crumbled away last night. My image of myself as strong in body, mind and will, as a person who copes, a person who is in control… *poof*. I need to find a new base to stand on, and I’m going to try to start thinking of myself as a person who does whatever is necessary to take care of herself, even when that means adjusting long-held ideas and values.

Reality changes. Fundamental human values, in my opinion, do not change, but other kinds of ideas do. It is time for me to adjust the way I gauge my personal strength. It is time for me to step out of these last tattered remnants of denial and squarely face the reality of where I am with this disease.

I have metastatic breast cancer. I will never be healthy again. My pain and disability will increase. That is reality plain and simple, and as I wrote in a post about another issue:

Accepting an unpleasant or bad situation – war or abuse or cancer, for instance – doesn’t mean that I endorse it or like it. It just means that I have looked at reality and noticed that it is real. Not accepting reality is fairly insane. I can’t even work to change something until I have noticed and accepted that it is real.

At the same time, I am still the same person I was before diagnosis. I am still bright, I still have talents, I still have the ability to love and be loved, the ability to work effectively. The disease has not yet taken everything from me, and I still have the ability to cook, to watch movies, to read or listen to books, to be in touch with friends, to tell abysmal jokes, to help others and be helped by them. I can be grateful for these things while still acknowledging the devastation my disease has wrought.

It’s not going to be easy, but I’m pretty sure that this what is the landscape of the next part of my journey will look like.

39 thoughts on “From Denial to Acceptance?

  1. I see you as a very strong person dealing with Breast Cancer in the best way that you can… Your illness does not make you less as a person… You are still you… Strong and determined… Facing this in your own way…

  2. KT,

    Excellent, excellent post.

    Seeing things as they are, and not as we wish them to be, is one of the hardest things in the world to do.

    You have taken the next step in doing that.

    Your self-care will be the better for it.


    • Thank you very much for your kind words, Greg. Yes, I think this is one of the hardest parts of clinging to sanity.
      Thanks as always for reading and commenting.

  3. I tip my hat to you. I am no fan of either narcotics or antihistamines. For the exact reasons you describe. I think I saw it put best when someone said “I have cancer – it goes with me everywhere.” What I like about that statement is the cancer is in the backseat – part of life, but not the star. You are still the star. All my best.

    • Thank you, Margie; I like that image. I think of cancer as an undesirable roommate in my body, one I can’t get rid of, so I have to work out the best way to get along that I can.

  4. Recently you admitted that you had become one of my ” admirers”.. Well let me tell you, I have become one of yours. Every morning when I wake to another day of horror and disbelief I look for your blog, your posts, your comments. Others have told me that they look for mine just so they know that I am ok. Well, I now know how that feels. Always right behind you, to catch you, to hold you, to lift you up. Whatever you need, you only have to ask !………….Mike

  5. Dear Knot,

    “God grant you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.

  6. KT

    Reality…honesty…genuineness…truth. These actually empower us to move on, even in the midst of really nasty trials.

    You have just empowered yourself!

    Good girl!


  7. In most instances, there is a dosage which can take the edge off pain without putting you in a stupor. Ask your health practitioner if your Rx is water soluble and if it is okay for you to dissolve it in water and experiment with how many drops it takes to get to a place you prefer to be. Best of luck to you.

  8. As a nurse I can tell you there is a time for Rx and a time to abstain. You’ve made the choice that’s right for you so that’s the right choice. Anti-depressants will probably help with the pain as well as pain worsens with depression. I hope it works. Sending prayers.

  9. Thanks for the update and check-in. Please do hang in there and use what you need to feel as comfortable as you can. I think most people get used to some of the side effects, or they lessen with regular use.

    And yes, you are neither a diagnosis nor a symptom–you are a very articulate, funny and caring person–don’t let go of all that, KT!

    • It’s nice to hear from you, Bill. Thanks very much for the encouragement and the kind words.
      I took a more reasonable dose last night and it wasn’t as bad as I had feared, so things are looking up!

  10. It is so hard to lose parts of ourselves. I appreciate your honesty and applaud your new “state” of taking better care of yourself. I certainly will not think the less of you for it. You are courageous.

  11. I am so sorry narcotics are so hard for you to tolerate. As others have suggested, for me the loopiness wore off as I grew accustomed to the drugs. Now I take a cocktail of narcotic and non-narcotic analgesics that work really well. My body still says no from time to time, but I’ve been amazed what I can manage despite the state of my bones. I wish you could find the magic dose. It is much easier to “live” with cancer when you’re not constantly in pain.

    • Thanks very much for sharing your experience, Kate. I think I had let fear take over my brain and I just have to jump in and move forward (as I mangle more metaphors). You’re very encouraging; thank you.

  12. I have been taking oxycodone since 1997 with a current dose of 120 mg daily. I hate it but have little choice. I understand how you feel but taking tiny doses will only build a tolerance, will not help with the pain and is just self deceit. You can best help yourself by following the doctors instructions. If we do not master our disease it will surely master us. I pray for you diligently in the confidence our father hears and will let his mercy cover you.


  13. a book we both know dear (((((((Knots)))))) says “acceptance is the key”. does NOT mean we like it, want it, desire it….

    But it is the way it is………..i know you know a thing or 2 more then i do about inner strength, serenity, and for dang sure spiritual matters…….

    with all the affection i can convey over these www threads…………be kinder to the one a bunch of us luv who is YOU….. smoochies from Texas.

  14. Oh TK – I hear you – narcotics and I do not agree AT ALL! But one must do what one needs to do, Take care of yourself, and be kind to yourself and ease the pain.
    Prayers and blessings

  15. dear KT,

    I so admire you for your honest and realistic new outlook. and I am feeling so happy for you to be able to see that you are the PERSON you are, and not the DISEASE that you have. legions of people who have followed your musings aloud, from this post and the others you have referred to will recognize and relate strongly to the sometimes reluctant and sometimes painful conclusions you have come to, and be able to take strength and inspiration from them. that’s huge, KT – that’s major impact on the collective suffering so many of us who deal with what you so vividly describe. as Maria R so astutely put it – you have empowered yourself, and no doubt, empowered many more of us than you will ever know.

    much love and light to you, XOXO

    Karen, TC

  16. For me the feeling of the loss of control is the hardest thing. Sounds like that it might be for you as well, or at least a significant issue. I think you’re doing great realizing that you still have significant control and grabbing ahold of the control you do have.

  17. I am constantly admiring your honesty and your power to describe, for others’ understanding, what metastatic breast cancer is and how it affects you. I am only sorry that you must suffer in order to give this insight to others. Your self-care must come first, and I think other posters are right that the cutting the drug dosage can be harmful. You are a wonderful and beloved person. Blessings!

    • You are so kind, Frieda. Thank you very much. I’ve been thinking about why I write, and I think the short answer is “because I have to”. If it is helpful to other people, that’s the cherry on top.

      Thanks, my friend.

  18. Dear KT,

    It’s an interesting journey for your readers as you describe so clearly what you are going through. It seems to me a Catch-22 – you feel woozy on meds, and yet you need them to continue peacefully with your life.

    I recently met a woman who works for the Breast Cancer Haven in Fulham, London, UK. She is a nutritionist. In her opinion, pain is minimised by drinking green leafy smoothies. I have started drinking green smoothies three times a day and my yen for alcohol has disappeared completely, as an example of how it is affecting me.
    Would you consider applying this aspect to gauge whether it helps you?

    Reading readers’ comments to your postings is so enlightening. You’ve created a valuable forum, a platform from where one can glean so many perspectives on your given topic.

    I am grateful to have found you on surfing the web!

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Liv. I hope you’ll read some of the other posts, past and future.

      The green leafy smoothie is an interesting suggestion, but I don’t think it’s right for me at this time with this level of pain. Thank you for taking the time to suggest it, though.

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