No matter how strong we are, the intense treatments, side effects, and emotional toll of cancer can push a person to her breaking point. If you are lucky, you have someone to help guide you through it.
Tori Tomalia is a two-time cancer survivor currently living with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer since May of 2013. Her first cancer experience was childhood osteogenic sarcoma, for which she received chemotherapy and curative surgery, and had been cancer-free for over 20 years prior to the lung cancer diagnosis. Along with cancer, Tori juggles life as a mom of 3 small children, a wife, a theatre artist, writer and lung cancer awareness advocate.
My port had stopped working, so they needed to start an I.V. The first nurse had blown two veins and had called in a replacement who was on her way to blowing a third.
In the grand scheme of things, a few needle pokes were nothing. I had been through worse before, and there would be much harder days ahead. But in that moment, it was too much. In that moment, the months of treatment, the endless hospitalization, the constant nausea, and the helplessness were completely overwhelming. I burst out crying. I can't do this anymore.
My sister, who had been sitting in the chair next to my hospital bed, stood up and walked over to me. She cracked a smile. "Remember that day when we were little kids and we were swimming at the lake, playing Jaws?" I stopped crying and looked at her, confused. She went on to recount in exquisite detail a day years earlier when we had been swimming and had gotten our legs stuck in the weeds and muck at the bottom of the lake and I had thought that a shark was attacking us. She ran around my hospital room, with her fin/elbow on her back, singing the theme from Jaws. Da-dum … da-dum… da-dum…
She had always had a knack for timing, and could change the energy of a room in an instant with her incredible ability to spin a tale. Somewhere between her imitating my 5-year-old squeals of fear and acting out our parents' response, I started laughing so hard the nurse gently said, "Could you please stop shaking the bed?" I toned it down to a hearty chuckle, and before I knew what had happened, the I.V. was in and the fluids were flowing.
Twenty-some years later, my sister is a midwife and every time I think of this story, I know how lucky those women are to have her by their side. In those moments when they feel like they just can't keep going, I am certain that she finds exactly the right words that they need to hear.
People ask me, "How do you cope?" I don't really know the answer, other than I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. But of course, it is not all my doing. I have had times when everything felt like too much and I can't imagine how I could go on. I have been incredibly fortunate to have people in my life, like my sister, who have helped pick up my foot when the next step seemed impossible.
If you read my last post, "10 Tips for Coping with Scanxiety
," then you may recall that I just had my every-three-month scans.
And the results were great!
My amazing targeted med is still going strong after 16 months. There was one little hiccup, in that they found two small blood clots. To treat those, I will be giving myself twice daily shots of a blood thinner for a month, then once daily ad inifinitum. All these needle pokes made me think about the above "Jaws" story from my childhood cancer treatment, and how the cumulative stress of illness can make something as simple as a an I.V. push a person over the edge. Right now I'm feeling healthy (relatively speaking), so I'm fine with some extra needle pokes. But it is easy to see how quickly a lot of little nothings can add up to too much.
Everyone has a breaking point. If we are lucky, we have someone who can guide us through it and help put the pieces back together again.
Tori Tomalia is many things: a mom, a wife, a theatre artist, a mediocre cook, a Buffy fan, a stinky cheese aficionado. She is also, unfortunately, a repeat visitor to Cancerland. Stay tuned for her continued adventures.
Blog: "A Lil Lytnin' Strikes Lung Cancer" lil-lytnin.blogspot.com/