Thursday, March 17, 2016

Burping and Sighing

Part of having cancer, a much bigger part than I ever imagined, is the emergence of a form of interior dialogue/monologue that has become the back beat of my day. Of course, this isn't unique to cancer. It also happens when we are facing pressing anxieties, tragedies, difficulties and distractions but this loud constant reworking of my past, present and future in such an obvious and far too insistent fashion has surprised me, and, I have noticed, surprised others, especially when the 'conversation' makes itself heard.

There's a near constant underlying, what next, what now, why this, why now mixed with things you miss, things you hope you enjoy again, things you wish could have gone with the things that cancer has already stolen from you. There is a ruminating, reflecting, revisiting, rethinking of all kinds of memories and incidents from 55 years ago, from yesterday and in anticipation of tomorrow. Meditation strives to bring you into the moment with silence, this 'cancer conversation' tends to drive silence, meditation out the window with its own far too powerful faux 'living in the moment'. 

It can be, trust me, very distracting, especially when you find yourself deep into the thing at 3:00 am or while in the car on your way to one more appointment this week. But it is not without its blessings. It helps me put things in perspective. Some political squabbles aren't worth their time, some relationships aren't worth their time, some time wasters aren't worth their energy. ( If you haven't figured it out yet, there is actually a reasonable hierarchy of time-wasters and I'll publish it soon ). I have learned that while I might never actually eat a Cheeto again, I can probably cope. I am still working on the idea that I might never have a beer again in my life but I imagine I will resolve this as well. 

My first concrete awareness of the 'conversation' came before the diagnosis. One of the symptoms was a significant increase in the need to burp. I have never been much of a burper but as my eating difficulties increased last summer and fall so too did burping. And everytime I burped I would apologize with 'excuse me,' 'sorry'. Strangely, often others didn't hear the burp and were totally perplexed by the apology and that required an explanation and it got really complicated. In the hospital a nurse asked my why I apologized so much and when I explained she told me in no uncertain terms to just stop it. When I apologized for apologizing for the burping she rolled her eyes and moved on to deal with a more cooperative patient. Debi has had to cope with a lot but surely to goodness being woken in the middle of the night by someone apologizing aloud for a burp she didn't actually hear must be close to the top of the 'irritating/ludicrous' list of things that partners of cancer patients must cope with. 

But apologizing for inaudible burps is only the tip of the iceberg. A serious feature of this on-going internal dialogue is the far too audible and exterior sigh. Debi and I had distinctly different childhoods but one thing we do share is the experience of having a mother who sighed. All of us tend to sigh at one time or another...even preteens can be heard to sigh depending on the situation. It has all the earmarks of an almost automatic learned human behaviour akin to walking. The word itself is a little over seven centuries old but there are all kinds of indications that it stretches back to before speech. A dictionary says to sigh is to "emit a long, deep, audible breath, expressing sadness, relief, tiredness or a similar feeling". Without doubt true but insufficient.

What the dictionary leaves out is that the sigh is like a trump card; whatever is going on in your world compares not a whit to the things I am experiencing. And trump cards might be great in bridge but are lousy in life. When my mother sighed as she grew more ill there was nothing to do but feel inadequate. There is nothing another can do to ease or relieve the 'sigher' of their sadness etc. And while often a conversation between two people can consist of one simply listening to the other the sigh turns the conversation into a soliloquy. The sick person is speaking, so 'listen up' is the essence of the sigh at its most unfortunate. 

I don't sigh all the time but enough that I am aware that the internal is becoming decidedly too external and that needs to stop or, if not stopped, be curtailed or reined in. I am human and will sigh, I need to be much more aware of the circumstances of my sighs and the messages my sighs carry. If I hadn't already resolved to stop apologizing for things like burping, I'd apologize for sighing. I think instead that in a life where I have to learn some things over and over, it is time to unlearn something I didn't even realize I was mastering.       

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