Living with Weakness

One of the lessons that I have been very slow to accept is that life is short, and that invulnerability is an illusion. People who know me well know that I have been living with chronic pain for the past year and a half. What most may not be aware of is just how scary and debilitating that was. My pain, which presented over my entire lower abdomen started to occur with regular frequency just before the great Fargo flood of 2009. During that hectic period, I not only felt pain in my abdomen, but I got minor whiplash when I slipped on the ice and cracked the back of my head on a curb. Typically, I rely on what seems like a genetic imperviousness to wait pain out. About a year into the pain (and one flood later), the pain had not only not abated, it had intensified, despite the fact that I had cut back on some of the "usual suspects" of rich food, alcohol consumption (for gallbladder pain). I had checked in with my physician to discuss gall stones, and he was willing to start me down the path to treating and maybe removing my gallbladder (there is little to do but actually remove it); however, something about this diagnosis didn't sit right. Nobody in my family had a history of gallstones, and I certainly did not fit the typical profile of someone with stones--postmenopausal women and larger, older men. What I DID have a history of was cancer, and this creeping suspicion was one that loomed larger and larger in my mind. My grandparents on my father's side both died of cancer (very painfully), and my father had sections of his gastrointestinal tract removed during the latter stages of his life. Considering that I had not really mourned my father's death, the possibility of having cancer at 38 and constant pain was enough to keep me up every night. When news came in that my partner's friend died of very fast-spreading liver and colon cancer at 46, and that he had had almost identical symptoms, I finally decided to confront my stubborn avoidance and seek help.

During the middle of May, I finally decided to go in and start testing for what was causing this pain. By this point, the leg where I had already excised a small skin cancer growth was also hurting, so I had a huge range of symptoms to sort through with my doctor. While talking with my doctor and sorting everything out was not that difficult (although finding out one has not one, but three issues, does complicate things a bit); what was so difficult about the process was admitting that I was almost absurdly afraid of facing my own inevitable decline and doing something about it. Rather that continuing to pile up obligations and distractions to avoid dealing with my potential convalescence, I had to start clearing time to deal with this physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Fortunately, I have an incredible partner who went with me to every doctor's visit and sorted through the history to uncover what was really going on. I was also lucky enough to talk to friends who had gone through cancer in their families, so that I could see how they made it through the fear. While I was relieved to find out that I don't have cancer, I did have to go through physical rehab for a shoulder injury, treat a range of strains and small tears in my ribcage, and continue dealing with noncancerous GI-tract issues. While shifting my sense of invulnerability was one of the most challenging things I had ever done (it certainly makes running a marathon look like a walk in the park), it is ultimately helping me deal with the changes that come with losing a parent, reaching a life goal, and transitioning to a different period of my life.