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Welcome to the DebiLyn Smith blog site. If you like what you read here, check out her website at

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Drowning In Depression

I know I said the next posting would be about cancer prevention, but I am floundering this morning. I seem to have a poisonous thorn in my side and I need to try and pull it out before the venom consumes me.

The problem is I feel like I am drowning.

There are  balls of weight cinched around my ankles and I can't seem to cut them loose. They're pulling me down until my head is under water. I can barely get myself out of bed and if it wasn't for this avenue available to me for getting my feelings out, my virtual diary, I wouldn't have made my way past the kitchen and bedroom at all today.

Before April 2009, the worst thing that happened in my life was my friend Kathy Sullivan getting shot dead by her husband, who then turned the gun on himself and pulled the trigger. That event set off what I thought was a long bout of sadness. For a week I wondered about life and how tough it could be for those of us left behind. I believe we are here to learn lessons so that our spirits can move on to what religious people call "heaven." I imagine I will be returning over and over, re-incarnated until I get what I need to learn. I believe this is hell right here on earth and I have the scars to prove it.

Yes I know there are people out there with so much more pain. People that have lost their entire families, their homes from floods or fire, people starving to death slowly over years of malnutrition and disease. Usually I can remind myself of this and pull myself up by my bra straps, but it doesn't seem to be working anymore. Besides, it hurts still to do anything with my bra straps.

I am going to make a list here of what I am dealing with so that one day I can look back on it and either say, wow, that was tough, or else say, that was nothing! Or maybe I am listing it so that you can see for yourself how much it took to finally take this optimistic ass and drag it under. Maybe this is all part of another lesson- to dampen my enthusiasm? Or to test it to see how much I can take before breaking? Why has all of this happened to me? And when is it all going to end? I keep hanging on for that break, for that ray of sunshine to poke its head out, for any glimmer of hope that the next corner of my life is going to be warm and fuzzy and not dark and painful. If I could just stop crying.

Mom died April 2009 with my sister and I holding her hands. It was one of the most traumatizing days of my life. It was beautiful at the same time as it was terrifying, watching someone's soul exit their body. Your loved one is there with you and then, with a widening of their eyes, with a slight arch to their back, they are empty of life and all that they knew of you and the world is gone forever. Like a candle blown out. You can't help but mull that moment over and over for the rest of your own life. When you get that close to death, it stains you with an invisible ink. I have witnessed one of life's great mysteries inches from my face. I saw it felt it, smelled it and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. Certainly not as scared as I once was of it. Mom left at what I considered too young of an age. She turned 73 while in hospital. My plan was to hit at least 74. These days, I want to make it to 55. It's as high a goal as I can hope for these days. That alone weights me down with at least half of my own body weight. The fear that what I've been through is only the tip of what is yet to come. I have lost faith in the hope of ever seeing more than a fleeting glimpse of internal sunshine ever again. There will be moments, I'm sure, but I can't see from this low point-of-view how they will be enough to raise me up and keep me up? The wind in my sails has gone, the air in my lungs has deflated and there, with this incredible life I have built around me, I sit sinking.

The next trouble hit me in November of 2009 when a van pulled out in front of me and I slammed into it doing 90 km. I sustained a bad case of whiplash that will plague me until I die. My left shoulder muscles and the muscles that run right up into my neck are permanently damaged so that wearing a heavy pack, bending my neck to type and snowboarding have now become painful reminders of a very jarring event.

I turned 50 a month later. A wondrous celebration surrounded by our children in a tropical paradise. I laughed and danced and put on a brave face, but the fact remains that more than half of my life was definitely over. I was on the back side of living now and the only way to go was down. I was headed for the age of loss. Loss of hearing, eyesight, bladder control, memory, sensibility, strength, all capabilities. What was there to celebrate about in  that?

In May of 2010 I submitted myself to a breast MRI at the Lions Gate Hospital in Vancouver. I made the trip myself and spent another horrific 45 minutes of my life shoved backwards inside a long cylindrical cigar tube, my breasts hanging down, my diaphragm pressing flat so I couldn't take a full breath. It was a test that possibly saved my life, but it was agonizing to get to that point.

The results said there was a shadow of concern in the opposite breast to the one we were concerned about. That shadow got biopsied in July, the findings of which cited me positive for breast cancer. I received the news over the phone on the way to Invermere for my Mom's ash spreading. I made a joke out of it. It was hard to bring me down back then. I was such a positive person.

The next year was a flurry of pain and the bad kind of surprises- the rug continually being pulled out from under me. There was a surgery, then the long road of recovery before a second surgery forced me back onto the couch to repair for another month, this time with a drain in my side. I mention the drain because a year later it still hurts where it was placed. To this day my upper right torso is numb and you feel discomfort with the raise of the arm, a twist to the right. It never goes away. The right half of my right breast is hard  like  marble while the left half is soft and pliable. I look in the mirror and see my disfigurement- the way the breast is unnaturally pulled up  to one side. It looks like it was hit by a two-by-four but never relaxed after,  the way it is flattened, a strange resemblance to a cliff. It does not look like a nice, round breast anymore.  I am sorry Dr. E, you did do a fabulous job with the scars and just the fact that I still have a breast to complain about in the first place. But I can't help the way I feel when I look in the mirror at what I am left with. I am ugly to myself and that is what counts here.

After finding cancer had made it to one of my lymph nodes, the second surgery removed even more nodes, creating a second arm pit beneath the one I already had. It is all still super tender to the touch. I worry it will remain this way forever because it already feels like it has been forever. I feel like a prisoner who should have been scratching out the number of days on the wall.
After semi-repairing from that, I was subjected to the chemo- more worst days of my life. I lost my hair. I lost my identity. The second chemo knocked me down to the ground. I couldn't catch a breath walking up 15 stairs. This from a woman who jogs 40 minutes at a time.
Then I was radiated, lying beneath a machine that sent toxic rays into my body, being told first that they would unfortunately have to nuke a portion of my lung to get at all the breast tissue. How many days off my total life span did that take, I wonder still.

Then you're treatment free, except for the drugs they want you to pop every day. Tamoxifen- a known carcinogen and Zoladex- a pill that will shut down my ovaries chemically throwing me into menopause. Unnaturally. All of it. Forcing my body to do things its not ready to do. This causes constant hot flashes which wear me down one at a time. I'm freezing, I'm melting, I'm normal. I'm freezing, I'm melting, I'm normal. They tell me this will go on for the  five years I am on the drugs.

It is June. What turns out to be our worst summer in 40 years, has started. The phone rings and my brother is on the roof of his garage. Propelled by drugs, alcohol and the need to make a point, he throws himself onto a fence. His heart gives up two days later. And I can't help but feel abandoned by an older brother I spent an entire life-time looking up to. He's there and then he's not. And death brushes it's quiet fingers across my cheek once more. It's whispering to me but I can't quite hear what it's saying. Is it scary? Is it a sign? Do I want to know? I worry I know the answer to these questions.

I reel and stumble from this death in the family. All the months of treading water with my nose tilted upward so not to go completely under and now I'm taking in mouthfuls of water. I tread harder. I surround myself with my friends, clinging to memories of better days, of amazing times spent wasting my youth on simply living day-to-day.

The next sequence is merely a list of more links of chain helping to drag me under: a friend's recurrence with breast cancer sent me for a loop. After a year on Tamoxifen and she still had to go through more surgery before chemo and radiation. Then another friend succumbs to pancreatic cancer. Another friend gets cervical cancer as my own uterus continues cramping from what we don't know. It's not supposed to be continually spasmodic like that. It's annoying and persistent and it has become like Japanese torture- a constant drip on my forehead sending me slowly insane. Or was I already there and this is sending me to a new level?

That worry  makes my left arm itch.,..and itch...until I scratch it to bloodiness. There are pills to stop the nerves from buzzing beneath my skin, still I must lie with an ice pack pressed to my flesh to numb it until the drug can catch up.

I finally see a reply from one of the four agents/publishers I sent my cancer manuscript to. It's a semi-encouraging retort, but a no all the same. "while there are many compelling elements, I consider stories written with the inclusion of e-mails lazy writing" This woman was sent only the first ten pages. My response offering to send her the first four chapters never received a reply. Down...down...down...

I am sent for tests of my heart for the breathing issues and we find there was damage done to the left ventricle of my heart, thus the wheezing after exerting myself. More tests are needed. Back in line I go, my heart even heavier to worry even more of my future has been taken from me. I pressure myself to get my life going before it ends, hurry...hurry...there is no time to lose...which backfires and overwhelms me until I can no longer work.
My re-write stalls. The end is all a mess like a mountainous  heap of garbage I need to wade through to find the hidden treasures. If I think on it too much I will blow my mind.
What I do think about are all the hours spent for nothing. I begin to see the selfishness in what should have been a career with five books written and sitting. In reality it was merely an indulgence, a hobby at best. I could have been helping in a soup kitchen, saving the world one volunteered hour at-a-time.What do I know?
 I wanted to help the world with this cancer book- I wanted to open everyone's eyes to how they could help prevent going through what I've been through. I was ready to sacrifice my comfort zone, my stable life to head out and nervously stand before people crowded into a library or gym or theater. I wanted to tell them that they are in charge of their destiny, one blueberry or one white bun at a time. It was their choice. I wanted to show them what a cancer survivor looked like. Show them the terror in my eyes that will never go away. The worry that it will come back for me and never ever let me go. They don't want to be me, I can assure them. Quit pretending you are immune to it, everyone. Everyone I know and love is playing with fire. I worry for them. I worry even more for me for each time the phone rings.

Where the fuck is a soap box when you need one?

The stock market crashing down around our ears and my having invested the insurance claim money I got for my whip lash in it only days before the big downward slide was a punt in the side. I joke my husband is on suicide watch but its not him I worry about any more. It's only money. I know that. As a Sagittarean I have nevr worried about money., It has always just come to me. But I wanted this to be something that lifted me up. Instead, it has spiralled me downward.

Then at a gym class two days ago, I was doing lunges after a short warm up and pulled my thigh muscle. Between the left shoulder MVA soreness, the right torso surgical sorenesss, the uterine cramping, the itchy arm cuts and now the right thigh injury- oh, throw in a couple of canker sores in my mouth which the Internet says is caused by stress...

And there you have it. The reason why I am walking around hanging on for dear life to a stuffed bear named Homer. His head is wet from my tears as I sit here worried that I should be having people over. It's my turn to cook for these friends, and those friends and I should be cleaning the house, outside burning off the chocolate bars I can't seem to quit shoving into my face. I have been on a dietary path of destruction lately- all the things I know can worsen the cancer if I still have any. Sugar is my enemy but I embrace it every single day. I run to it for comfort knowing it will torment me seconds after it is consumed. But I am trrying everything to shake this darkness. This overwhelming sense of doom and gloom.

I do not write this for any sympathy. I am writing this to show you what it looks like inside of the darkness. I think of how easy my brother now has it and I can see the relief in the thought. I don't want to go. I'm not ready to go. I want some day to see my next generation but it's such a fine gossamer of line that keeps me tethered. I'm sorry Kimmy. I am sorry Lorne and Karly and Lindsay and Barry. I am sorry for what I am thinking about. I am sorry it ever got this close. I am going to get dressed and get out of this house with these guns. I am going to to Smithers and see Sandi and get some help. Right now.

(which I did!)

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