It's a creekmore world

Final Cancer Week 8: Cool Philosophers, Hot Tempers and the Paradox of Life

Trish and I crossed our 14th anniversary on May 9th.  One of the tragic facts about marriage is that as the years go on, you get better and better at being cruel to each other.

Newlyweds fighting?  Pfft, that’s just an adolescent tantrum – a high-school fist fight.  When two of you have been gradually revealing yourself to each other for almost two decades, you can deliver the pain precisely, surgically.

Trish and I have been slicing each other on and off since we came back from Costa Rica.  You thought that terminal cancer unstoppably compels us together in a loving bond?  Well, you’re wrong.  It’s a mind-fuck, and in our weaker moments (of which there are several), we panic and blame and fear and snarl.

We always reconcile eventually because neither of us is really, truly resentful of the other.  We are just raw and fragile and scared and vulnerable.   Maybe it’s a perverted sign of trust that we can take it out on each other.  We know we will be forgiven.

But we then again we exchange the most cutting excoriations we’ve ever delivered.  Like scissors slicing egos, feelings and love into ribbons on the floor.  Weeping.  Some of the hurt will be remembered for a long time.  It’s mutual.

I don’t know if this is a common issue among caregivers and sufferers of cancer.  It probably is.  Nonetheless, I wince when someone says ‘You two are an inspiring couple’ or ‘Your love for each other is amazing!’.  We are human. And we can be incredibly cruel.  And we’re not proud of it.

Oh god that’s depressing, isn’t it? We both know we will get through this eventually.

Radiation nearly complete

On the bright side, Trish is handling the radiation with ease.

She has completed the first stage where they nuke a wide circle around the lump.  Dr. Chung is now focusing the beam straight on the lump marked by the X on her clavicle (in the picture).

She can barely feel the cancer under the skin now.  The radiation is breaking the DNA of the cancer cells so they die when they try to multiply, which cancer does frequently.

But of course normal cells also die when radiated.  As a result her neck and shoulders are red, bumpy and itchy.  But it’s not broken or oozing which would stop treatment.   She will continue the radiation as long as her skin holds up.

Trish’s next big medical event is in July, when she returns from our Africa trip.  That’s when they will do a new full-body scan to see if it has shown up anywhere else.   That will be a difficult week.

Afterward, she will begin her long-term chemotherapy.  According to the oncologist, the side effects of the drug she’s taking won’t be too bad  – no hair loss and very little fatigue.

Terminal cancer matures you

This week, I was struck by a story about Ryan Kennedy, nine years old, who has decided to end his treatment and die sooner from his rapidly progressing rare brain cancer.  He has been through seven surgeries, four chemotherapy treatments and two radiations.  He will only survive for a few more days following the decision to forego further painful and risky surgeries.

Most of the news angles were about the mutual decision of the parents and child to stop treatment – an excruciating experience for parents, and an adult decision for the kid.  Ryan’s doctor said this about the decision:

  “For Ryan to have the courage to make such a decision and be able to talk to his family about it speaks volumes about the journey that they went on together,” she said. “We know for a fact that children who have life-threatening illnesses mature very quickly in some ways.

 Firstly, I can not imagine how one could make this decision as a parent of a young child.  It makes my emotional pain seem trivial.

But it’s not just kids that rapidly ‘mature’ with terminal illness.  Trish is also transforming, adapting, mutating with the cancer.  It’s not ‘maturing’ as they described the young child, Ryan.  But terminal cancer is obliging Trish to quickly answer the more difficult questions about her purpose and significance in life and it’s causing some accelerated change.

“I’ll have extra butter” Socrates says.

For all the time I have known Trish, her world view has been practical and pragmatic.  She accepts life on the terms presented to her.  To Trish, the abstraction of asking oneself the meaning of life is a chore; pointless and uninteresting.  Better to go see a good action flick and eat popcorn with extra movie ‘butter’.

In the early part of our marriage, I thought this was a shortcoming in the Socratic sense – “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  But it has become one of the things that I love about Trish.   I respect her happiness even though she doesn’t question ‘why?’ like I do.  She is just more accepting.

But the terminal disease is causing an onrush of thoughts about her purpose.   No she isn’t cracking my old copies of Kierkegaard or Camus, but it is still causing some distress.

So many gods, none are helpful

Let’s face it, asking ‘Why?’ is an inherently frightening activity because the answer is an unresolvable paradox.   We value our lives and existence greatly, but at the same time we know we will eventually die, and ultimately our endeavors are meaningless.

Camus, who spent a lot of time considering what it means to live with that paradox, is also Exhibit A in the defense against those that think philosophers are uncool. As an undergraduate philosophy major, I felt the need to point that out.

Many of us seeking answers find psychological comfort in religion, something Camus described as  ‘philosophical suicide’ because he felt one was artificially solving the paradox by believing a myth.

But that’s not Trish’s style either – not because she disbelieves myths.  Actually  she believes in all the gods.  It’s just that none of them really comfort her.

This is a personal journey.  Trish is coming to terms with the paradox on her own. We all do sometime.

Bucket list item # 953

One place you don’t think about the meaning of life is on a roller coaster.  The Creekmores spent a gorgeous spring day at Six Flags America to celebrate Emma’s 12th birthday.  Along with us came three of Emma’s closest friends, and Lily’s buddy Ben from down the street (Lily and Ben right, on their first major coaster.

It’s still early in the Amusement Park season, and we could tell as soon as we got in.  The people were all smiley and exuberant.  But a lot of the stuff didn’t work!  Our first few hours we had to wait for a locker to be repaired, a roller coaster seat to be fixed and were trapped on one ride that wouldn’t move.  (but they wouldn’t let us off either.)

Trish, because of the shoulder rash, had to wear a head scarf all day to cover the irradiated skin.  Together with these old designer sunglasses, she looked  vaguely Muslim.   Being in Washington D.C., this look attracted no attention whatsoever., but it made for great photographs.

She had never been on a Tower Drop.  So I’m surprised when she waltzes up and gets on the ride with me.  You can’t die without doing a tower drop once.

Emma and her friends were allowed to go off on their own for the day, which was very exciting.  She brought Cate, Sofija and Julia all of whom we like a lot.  It’s nice when your kid has friends you like.

Lily and Ben wanted to go off on their own, but we weren’t comfortable with that.  The day is coming soon where we can do our own roller coasters all day while the kids go do the rides themselves.  But that’s not today.

Lily and Ben still managed to get lost and had to go to Child lost and found.  Lily thought it was hilarious.  Ben was mortified.

The sleep-over afterward was the simplest ever.  They all fell asleep by 10pm.  Exhausted!





7 thoughts on “Final Cancer Week 8: Cool Philosophers, Hot Tempers and the Paradox of Life

  1. David Lee Ingersoll

    I want to say something wise and inspirational here but all that come to mind is “Movie popcorn butter? Ick!”

    Oh and, one can be an inspiration to others and still be human. Those of us who have been through rough times (and know that there are more to come) understand that being human is all that one is able to be. Sometimes the best thing we can do in a rough moment is be less angry and cruel than impulse tells us to be. We demonstrate our better angels when we can apologize and forgive.

    But you know that. I have a compulsion to say the obvious.

  2. David Lee Ingersoll

    All that comeS to mind. Sigh.

    Should be STATE the obvious.

    Um. Yeah. Neurotic about proper grammar, spelling and punctuation but not enough to catch it before I post.

  3. David Post author

    Thanks, David.

    And that’s why I put ‘Butter’ in quotes. I can’t stand the stuff. And this is not a blog where we pass judgement on grammar mistakes. I make dozens in every post.

  4. Tony Koltz

    I like the “Hot Costa Rica Ladies” ad. If a website is not R rated, I don’t want to go there.

    I was also a philosophy major (also classics and English). The questions like “why?”, “so what?”, and “who cares?” matter. But I believe there are also answers. Not final. Only provisional. Others will emerge as the human story moves on. But even Camus would say (I think) that even though the question about why we’re here is hard to answer, once we are here, we are what we make of ourselves. We are what we make. The dying 12 year old is sad. But the dying 80 year old who wasn’t made anything of him/herself is sadder.

  5. Vicki M

    Love you guys. Reach out if you need me, or even if you just need a punching bag. I’m a big girl. I can take a couple fly weights like you guys.



  6. Gwen Sesler

    “Nonetheless, I wince when someone says ‘You two are an inspiring couple’ or ‘Your love for each other is amazing!’. We are human. And we can be incredibly cruel. And we’re not proud of it.”

    Welcome to being human beings complete with the flaws and foibles of human nature. And two human beings in an amazing, inspiring, loving relationship complete with the flaws and foibles of human nature. No wincing needed, nor to be tolerated. kthxbye. :)