How Do You Do?

I had a mother who spent her entire life in search of the Incurable Disease. A true hypochondriac, she filled her time on this planet with symptoms and signs, aches and discomforts that were never there. When I was in my twenties I remember thinking, “Good God! Do you ever quit focusing on how you feel, and just live?” The truth is, no, she didn’t. Every other phrase that came out of her mouth was “I feel”, and her sentences were punctuated with little moans and groans and gasps of supposed pain. But my mother never got anything worth complaining about until 1997 when she developed an isolated tumor outside her colon wall. She was 72 then, and had it removed. She didn’t even need chemotherapy. Did she ever enjoy that experience!...

I remember back in 1993, right after my father died of cancer, she came to me with tears in her eyes and told me that she wasn’t going to live out the year. She in fact lived another 11 years. My poor father couldn’t even get any attention by dying; my mother felt the need to upstage him even then. She was one of those people who, if you had a cold, she had pneumonia. If you had a cough, she had tuberculosis. If you were in the hospital, she was misdiagnosed and neglected by her doctor, and should be in bed with you—but in traction. People learned not to ask her how she was, which counteracted her entire neurosis and didn’t give her what she truly needed: to be loved and cared for. You know the type. I did my best to give her what she needed, but she was a bottomless, gnawing pit and eventually consumed everyone around her. She was a creator of co-dependents and escaping her gravity was like fighting quick sand.

It occurs to me that over the 13 years that I spent changing colostomy bags and diapers, shaving, bathing, dosing, massaging, lotioning, washing shitty sheets, cooking, carting and cabbing, and eventually burying my elderly parents, I too was ill. Go figure. I don’t regret those years, however. I would’ve gone to hell and back for my father, who got colon cancer and whose last year was ghastly beyond understanding. And even my mother needed help after she had a minor stroke in 2000. Hey, it’s family, and when it’s time for us to do so, we step up to the plate and swing as best we can.

But my point is, I don’t like constantly thinking about how I feel, yet every day I’m forced to consider exactly that. I don’t like that kind of consciousness and I refuse to wrap my daily life around it, never mind the remainder of my life, which I anticipate being good and long. But it’s a new discipline with which I grapple. When Nettl walks in, should I tell her that I feel pretty good today, or that it’s not a great day? When I wake up in the morning, should I analyze my physical condition, or do I push it as far from my mind as I can? I don’t know. It’s a learning thing.

I do know, though, that I will not become one of those people who define themselves by their disease. “Hi. my immune system is consuming my body!” No. That won’t happen. There’s nothing more boring than asking someone how they are, only for them to go into a long description of their physical ailments. There are better things to focus on in this life. I hope you'll not hear much about this thing here on my blog, now that the initial shock of the diagnosis has passed. And that’s something for which we can all be grateful. If I do write about it, it will be only so that people Googling the disease may find comfort that they're not alone if they have it.