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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.

An unscheduled trip to Self-Image Land

sign for hospital 11/05/02

I am constantly amazed at what I can learn from this disease about myself.

The latest occurred yesterday as a result of a trip to the VA emergency room.

For about five or six days, pain had been growing in my legs. At first it was neural pain, like a sciatic nerve problem down my left leg and then it moved into both legs and then the large muscle at the top front of the thigh. Walking grew increasingly more difficult and I started again on the pain pills.

It wasn't bone pain. I know bone pain. But I still wasn't sure if it wasn't a reaction to the Zometa infusion back on October 24. The primary danger with advanced cancer and having been on hormone therapy for so long was a fracture or skeletal collapse, which the Aredia and then the Zometa was to help combat by rebuilding the bones.

There was also the problem that my last PSA came in at 830, indicating the cancer had grown considerably. When I thought about it, the pain was more like what I had when I was diagnosed, except there was no lower back or real pelvic pain. But walking was painful and very difficult.

Monday morning it hadn't lessened so I decided it was best to get over to the VA. Being an unscheduled visit, that meant going to emergency.

Caren took me. She was in amazingly good spirits, considering the situation, and that helped me as I wasn't really keen on a trip to the ER. However, I was in petty good spirits, considering.

I was given a shot of Toradol (a NSAID, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, like Ibuprofen) for fastest pain relief (along with a prescription for Diclofenac, another NSAID) and told he wanted to get some pelvic/leg x-rays so they could see what was happening.

Then he asked me a question that really stopped me.

"Would you like a walker?"

A walker. That's what old, sick, crippled people use to hobble along.

I turned to my Caren, who was seated next to me. She had already expressed concern that I might fall, given the way I was walking.

Invacare walker "I wish you would," she said.

"Okay," I said. "Give me one."

I don't know why it was so easy to accept but my Caren was certainly a factor. In some magical way, she dispelled the prejudices that I carried.

"Okay," he said, handing me a piece of paper. "Take this up to this room."

"Do you want one with wheels?" asked the young physical therapist a few minutes later. No, I said, that was a bit much.

She went into another room and came out with one and opened it. The label said it was an Invacare, Model 6291-A. I stood and leaned into it and it was like taking a pain reliever. The shot was taking effect but my legs were still weak and I could stand without wobbling. I tested it by moving about the hall, with visions of the musical number from Mel Brooks' The Producers, when a bevy of old women use their walkers for a most original tap dance routine.

"I like this!" I said enthusiastically.

"Then you're set," the young girl said.

With that, we were off to xray, with me swinging along on a detested symbol that I had associated with being old and crippled. To my amazement, I wasn't even embarrassed. There was probably someone looking at me as I had looked at others, but I didn't care. I could walk and wished I could tap dance with it.

Whir. Hold your breath. Click.
Whir. Hold your breath. Click.
Whir. Hold your breath. Click.


With x-rays done, it was off to the pharmacy, always the longest wait at VA. I folded my new metallic companion and sat down to watch for my order number to appear on a screen, telling me it was ready for pickup. Between there and home, I began to realize how fixed my own ideas had become. It was not unlike that despicable prospect of losing my hair, so I went and got it chopped off in some act of defiance. It turned out to be needless but it -- and now -- was a lesson. I was overreacting to effects that I associated not with my health but my stubborn image of myself.

Yes, pain in the legs is not something to toss aside but I had been allowing some fixed self-image to control my approach to my treatments. It had started nearly three years ago, a few months after diagnosis, when the loss of potency drove me into one black hole after another because I felt I was being dishonored as a man. For ten long months, I had wallowed in various forms of self-despair, fear, anger and grief before coming out of that painful journey. I had thought I had divested myself of them but, here I was, another two years later, still fighting off more but similar ideas that could effect my treatment.

Once again -- as I had more than two years ago -- I realized why it was that some men cannot come out of their depression and want to kill themselves. They cannot rid themselves of a hidden criteria or definition of what it means for them to be a man or even alive. They give up rather than learn to endure -- not pain but -- what they falsely believe will define them. I had gone through it with potency and then a head of hair and finally a something not even part of me: a tool (the walker) that I felt would mark me as useless. More than how I saw myself, it told much how I judged others.

Meanwhile, the legs have improved considerably. I don't need the walker today but it stands folded near the front door, should I need it -- and I might again soon -- no longer a measure of my self-worth and how I judge others.

It feels good.

Robert

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This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not replace or amend professional medical advice. Unless otherwise stated and credited, the content of Phoenix5 (P5) is by and the opinion of and copyright © 2000 Robert Vaughn Young. All Rights Reserved. P5 is at <http://www.phoenix5.org>. P5's policy regarding privacy and right to reprint are at <www.phoenix5.org/infopolicy>.