Unstoppable?

I’ll put my armor on…

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The Return of the Jabberwocky – Part II

I didn’t recognize the Jabberwocky immediately when he returned. There were big changes happening at work, and in addition to accepting a new position with much more responsibility, I was enrolled in a doctoral program as a full-time student. To say that I was busy is an understatement. I knew that I was tired all the time. I also knew that I was having back pain on and off – but the pain was minor compared to what I experienced with my migraines.

I easily ignored it at first. But with time, I started getting up from my desk more often to stretch. When I bought a new car with seat warmers, I found myself using them all the time. And I was complaining incessantly about uncomfortable chairs. There were even days when I sat on the floor during class because the seats were causing me too much discomfort. But still, the level of pain was not even close to what I’d experienced with the migraines, so it barely registered in my mind.

With the new year, I made a commitment to exercise more. I got a membership at a local gym, and I started working out a couple of nights each week. The gym had a pool, so after about a month of walking the track, I decided to give swimming a try. Two weeks passed, and I started to notice a tightness in my back. I mentioned it to my massage therapist, and she told me that it might be from muscle fatigue. She tried to release the tension, but the attention she was giving to my lower back produced more pain. When I left that session, I thought she might have somehow forced something out of alignment. Unfortunately,  I waited for the pain to subside – but it didn’t.

The next week, after swimming two laps, the pain was more than I could handle. I was halfway across the pool, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to make it to the wall. I did make it, and I tried to stretch. I thought it was a muscle cramp. Stretching didn’t help. I attempted another lap, but I had the same result.

Convinced that I had injured myself, I went to the doctor. He, in turn, sent me to physical therapy. After working with me for a few weeks, the PT told me that we really needed images. He thought some of my symptoms pointed towards a schwannoma, but those were rare and to be honest, I wasn’t suffering from some of the tale tell symptoms.

The MRI was ordered, and I really thought we would find out that I had a pinched nerve – probably from something that had slipped out of alignment. But it wasn’t going to be that simple. It was going to be something called a schwannoma… there was that word again.

I went home and tried to google it. I wanted every bit of information I could find. So I suppose this blog is going to become a way for me to sort and process the information that I find in a way that can help me make the very important decisions that I am going to have to make in the coming weeks regarding treatment.

Careful…

Careful… it is a word that you could use to describe most of my life. I have always been careful. Careful to follow the rules. Careful to not break a bone. Careful to avoid sickness. Always careful.

Afraid… that is another word that has dominated my life. I have been afraid of the consequences that come from not being careful. Afraid of pain. Afraid of loss. Afraid of not being able to live my life as I want to live.

When the plane takes off, I worry about a crash… not because I am afraid of dying. Dying is easy. No, I have been afraid of suffering after surviving a crash. I have feared the broken bones, the surgeries, the inevitable changes to my daily life. And above all, I have feared a life lived with pain.

Same thing when it comes to cancer. I have thought about what I would do if I got a cancer diagnosis, and long ago I decided that I would much rather live my very best life (even if it is a short life) rather than live a long life of pain and sickness.

As you know, pain is not a stranger. I have been experiencing significant levels of pain on a regular basis since the age of 16. That is why pain is one of the few things I really fear. I know what it is like to be in the grips of pain. I know the desperation it can cause. I know that death couldn’t possibly be worse than trying to live with constant debilitating pain. And yet, despite my efforts to avoid pain… this is what keeps pushing its way into my life.

Now that I finally got my migraines under control and was beginning to enjoy a life that was not dictated by pain, it is suddenly back with a vengeance. And this time it promises to be my companion for the rest of my life. My condition probably will not ever kill me, instead it will slowly rob me of the life I currently have. The pain is already here, and it has already forced me to stop swimming. Soon, I suspect it will creep into other corners of my life… keeping me from participating in some of my favorite activities. In the space that was once filled with dancing and laughter… there will be pain.

Yes, I can have a surgery to remove the tumor… or rather, I must have the surgery to remove the tumor, but there are no guarantees that the problem can be fixed. I may undergo surgery and come out on the other side feeling fantastic… but realistically, I should view the surgery as an attempt to keep the problem from getting worse. Yes, I might have some weakness and pain for the rest of my life… but it could be worse. I could lose control of my bladder. Yes, I might even come out of the surgery with even more pain issues than I currently have, but if I don’t have the surgery I know that one day the pain level will increase to the point of being unbearable.

So there really is not “good” option… only different different shades of the same color… variations on the same pain. And I am left sitting here wondering what kind of quality my life is going to have from this point on… despite years of trying to be careful.

 

To tell or not to tell, that is the question

I’ve been grappling with this question for years. How much should I tell my boss about my medical condition? On the one hand, I want them to understand some of the odd things that I do. Why I am so neurotic about prepping my classes (I must over prep, so I can still get through a class when my headache is so bad I can scarcely recall my own name), why I sometimes seem so withdrawn and antisocial (having taken my meds, I am saving what little energy I have for my classroom interactions later in the day), why I might be on edge or overly sensitive at times (wouldn’t you be if you’d had a headache for weeks on end with no relief?!), why I keep the lights off in my office, why working through lunch is not an option, why I need structure, why last minute surprises are so unwelcome… I know that it would probably help if my boss and coworkers understood why I do all of these things, but then, they could never REALLY understand (even my husband can’t really understand)… and armed with this information, would they be prejudiced against me in a new way? Instead of just thinking I’m moody, would they begin to see me as a liability? Would telling them bring new understanding that would dramatically improve my work situation? Or would things just get worse? Will they see this as a weakness that justifies skipping over me for promotions and tough assignments (rather than working with me to make the conditions right for my success)? The problem is, I can’t know for sure. I won’t know how they will react until I actually sit down and tell them all of the details of my condition. And since it is a condition that doesn’t show up on x-rays or in blood tests, I’ll just have to hope that they are open to my doctor’s diagnosis and don’t think it is just all in my head.

Interested to hear how others have dealt with this problem.

Here are some articles on the subject:

http://voices.yahoo.com/chronic-health-conditions-tell-employer-5443439.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/20/health/20patient.html?_r=0

Evidently there are lots of people out there dealing with this issue.