This is one of several essays from my private cancer journal. It is not intended as anything than a record of my states of mind as I struggled with the disease and the effects of the treatment.
Screaming at The Night
Friday, March 31, 2000
I quit last night.
I broke and I am still broken. It is an effort to type.
I had to leave the house. I went to the park down the street and sat on a bleacher bench at the baseball diamond and cried and screamed at the darkness around me until I couldn't cry any more and then I came back and went to bed.
It is now 5:30 in the morning and I am barely alive. I don't know what to do with myself.
I basically have three choices.
I can spend my time fighting the cancer. That would mean learning more and maybe seeking out a clinical trial because that is all that is left to me.
I can keep working on this Web site.
Or I can give up and let the cancer take me and die.
Last night I gave up. I screamed at the night at the top of my lungs that I didn't want to get up again. I didn't want to drag myself up from the ashes again. I couldn't meet the measure that I wrote at the site, the measure of a man, that he can get up one more time. I was too broken and tired and scared and so all I could do was scream and cry alone in the darkness.
Some might fault me for giving up, if that is finally my choice. Others who understand what it is like would not. We each have our limits. It is not measured by the cancer alone but by all that we bring to it, our lives, our past, our earlier fears and weaknesses, our failed relationships and failed futures. Others fight for different reasons. There is no set, proven standard of bravery any more than there is a set, proven standard of strength. We lift and carry what we can. Some can carry more. Some less. We are weak and strong only when measured against others. They can inspire or shame us but the only true measure of ourselves is to ourselves. Maybe not. I don't know on this morning as I write this.
I don't know if I have the strength or the courage to go on. I feel that I should but I am so broken now or still broken from last night. I am trying to use this keyboard to decide.
I could continue and receive plaudits for my courage. But for what? To feed my ego and to justify why I did it? But then in those moments when I am alone - as I was last night in the dark night on that bench - such applause does nothing. Praise and applause only requires more. It becomes an addiction.
I could continue to help others. But then I have to set an example. I have to drag myself from the ashes to encourage others to do the same, so they won't give up.
But is there anything truly wrong with giving up? What if a person decides that they have taken an endeavor or a fight or an enterprise as far as they can and they don't want to go further and they just want to die? Why tell them otherwise?
I suppose if I was feeling better, I would have an answer. Right now, I look through translucent glass, trying to see, trying to focus. All I can see and feel is the dark that comes with being broken. That is no example to set for another, if I am to help others, unless I drag myself from this black hole.
I could continue because I don't want this (where I am now and dying now in this state) to be my legacy. But isn't that itself vanity? A legacy is merely what one passes on, how one is remembered. It is one of our attempts as mortals to escape the boundaries set by death because crossing boundaries is our nature. It is what Life does constantly. Giving up is saying, no more boundaries. I accept this one.
No, not for a legacy. I could care less what or how I am thought of. I am who I am and if I am someone who gave in to the cancer, that is who I am.
I could continue for personal reasons, such as pride or defiance. There are people in my life who would enjoy knowing I am dead and I am not sure I want to give them that pleasure. There is more in that motivation right now than in the others. If there is any degree of afterlife where I must be aware of what transpires when I have left, I don't know if I could bear that one. I don't know if I could bear watching or knowing that certain people were enjoying my death and that I gave in to it. It would "prove" to them that I was all that they had thought and I don't know if I want to give them that pleasure. To the contrary, the longer I live and the better I do, the more they suffer from their own unfulfilled fantasies.
That - in me - wouldn't be a very magnanimous reason for getting up one more time, for deciding to continue but maybe that is the lesson. Maybe it takes whatever it takes. Maybe if one goes through the credit/debit list, all the reasons, for giving up or continuing on, there is a reason to continue because there is one fact I cannot dispute: dying is fairly irreversible. What if I was to die and be looking down and realize that there was something I should have done before I left? There is no chance to change one's mind. This isn't a Hollywood movie.
I was even thinking (in bed, before I got up) about my son and granddaughter, if they would be reason to continue. As much as it would hurt them to say this, it would not be reason enough if I had no other reason. Who wants to be a father or a grandfather if one is broken? It is like an alcoholic trying to decide if he should stay alive "for the kids." Of what value is that? But to stay alive as someone that they can take pride in, that is another matter. Otherwise it is like marriages that stay together "for the kids" and all the kids get are arguments and upsets between the parents. That is hardly "for the kids." I need something better to give them.
Maybe we (collectively) need to remind people who want to give up to let them know that it is an irreversible decision. Of course, last night, on that bench in the dark, I didn't care. I just wanted it to end. It is like the person in pain. They don't care. They just want the pain to end. That is their priority.
Last night all I had was my pain and my grief. Whatever had been building or had pushed me over the edge had taken control and that was all that mattered. It is still all that matters but I am not now screaming into the night as I did last night.
I broke at maybe 8:20 p.m. I was watching the HBO TV special on cancer that had started at 8 and it seems I made it through about 20 minutes. I was already on edge when it started. I wasn't sure if I could watch it and then it began to get surreal. Caren was on the phone talking loudly next to me and I wanted to tell her to stop and then Jack jumped off my arm and I yelled as he did and it frightened him and he dug his claws deeper into me as he jumped and I screamed in pain and that was it. I went over the edge and I had to get out of the house before I did more.
It had been building in me as April approaches. I dread the month, especially now. I try to disregard its arrival but the work on this site is difficult. I am working on the glossary and having to read words and definitions that are upsetting and then I go onto the Web and look for information and read more about pain, treatments, side effects and it builds.
It is as if cancer has a consciousness and it uses the information against me, snickering as I read about it.
About nine hours later -
I'm doing better. I took a 30-minute nap and then did some email. Most of it is PCa related, such as the PHML and PCAI lists and mail with people from those lists. It helped me. Then I decided to work on the glossary for the P5 site, so I guess I'm not giving up yet.
But this breakdown last night was as bad as the one in the kitchen nearly two months ago and it was my first since then. The difference is that this time I snapped. It wasn't a meltdown. I snapped. At least I'm not curled up in bed depressed. Like last time, it just seems to erupt and then once I vent it, I'm bruised and battered but it is over. That is how I am today, very bruised. But I'm not going to quit.
I hate this beast in me. I was wondering what the Buddhist view would be towards cancer. It may be a ridiculous question but should one take a "non-violent" attitude towards it or "attack" it? I share the Buddhist view in so much of life but not now. I would be perfectly happy for the cancer to die. I would derive great enjoyment to kill each and every cancer cell, after what it has done to me and so many others, and I hope it does have a consciousness to know it.
I'd make a lousy Buddhist but it is the only way I know to survive.