Contrast in Recovery

by The Discovering Alcoholic on July 22, 2010

My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer a little over three weeks ago. What followed was a dizzying battery of tests and doctor appointments that for a while always seem to end in worst case scenario. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation were all discussed not just as options, but as a probable progression of treatment. Last week she underwent a bilateral mastectomy and removal of lymph nodes on one side. Since the surgery we have been seeing a little of the shiny side of luck, the pathology results of the cancer and lymph nodes have elevated her long term prognosis to excellent, even cancer free and radiation treatment is no longer on the table.

The good news is my wife is now cancer free, but she has given up much, suffered worse, and has a long slog of hardship ahead. Throughout this process she has remained strong and never once suggested just giving up. She has suffered pokes, prods, and traumatic surgery without complaint and has endured the resulting pain and follow-up dread as if it was nothing more than pulling a double shift. I am in awe of her strength, stoicism, and dignity.

In contrast to her ordeal I spent many years intentionally and willfully destroying myself. Upon realizing disease had set in, I possessed not the courage to fight the early diagnosis and instead chose submission. The insanity that followed erased any hope of a cure and left with me with only remission as an option. Eventually I did seek treatment, but in retrospect I know it was accomplished despite an egocentric haze of petulant self pity. My wife has been just the opposite. Taking good care of herself, she had annual checkups that included a mammogram (10 months ago no sign of cancer). Always a good diet, no smoking, and never a drop of alcohol- she is a pious woman that always places others above herself. Upon finding her disease- she attacked it with fearless aggressiveness. Compared to my wife, I suffered so much less in treatment, had to make no real personal sacrifice, and yet I managed to still weather the process somehow worse. I made it into recovery kicking and screaming, despite myself and the disease.

It’s not exactly fair to compare our experiences because of the apple/orange origin and nature of these afflictions. Neither does it seem right that she should be punished for living the straight and narrow. Regardless, it has been a humbling exercise. Recovering from alcoholism, in time I developed a degree of personal strength, selflessness, and a quiet determination that I did not realize could exist. Experiencing my wife’s ongoing recovery from cancer though, I’ve realized she already possessed these characteristics in spades. Thank goodness for this, for unlike me she did not have the luxury to spend years developing them. She is a fighter, a survivor, and has an innate mental toughness that is just plain remarkable. My wife’s plan is to beat cancer, yet faced with such a daunting mission and under extreme duress she remains compassionate and thoughtful of others. She is an amazing woman and I love her very much- wish us luck.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mary (MPJ) August 24, 2010 at 11:18 pm

TDA! I have essentially taken the summer off and am just now catching up with some of my favorite bloggers. Wow! Big hugs to you and your wife. You are in my thoughts and prayers. So glad to hear that the prognosis is good, and I hope that all goes well with her treatment.

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2 Tim July 26, 2010 at 11:09 am

Glad the prognosis is good. You guys will be in my thoughts.

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3 Drew July 23, 2010 at 10:52 pm

I hope all continues to go well with your wifes healing. Your posts have long been a source of help for me in coming to terms with my addiction and in the beginning stages of my recovery- thank you.

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4 The Discovering Alcoholic July 24, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Her recovery from surgery has been swift and complication free so far, we appreciate you thinking of us.

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5 Matt Friedman July 23, 2010 at 10:33 am

Thank you for sharing this very personal post. I, too, have been facing some health challenges and finding unexpected strength. My thoughts are with you both for continued recovery.

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6 The Discovering Alcoholic July 23, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Good to hear from you again Matt- you have our best wishes also.

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7 Zentient July 23, 2010 at 8:43 am

The bigger picture seems to me that it is simply an indisputable law that all humans without exception are subject to old age, illness, injury and death. Like one of my favorite spiritual teachers Cheri Huber say, “Life is as it is. We get to choose our response.” That may sound harsh, but it is a liberating truth. It’s our grace, to have choose love and compassion over fear and anger. TDA and his wife have made this choice in the face of this illness. How fortunate they have each other. May she have gifted healers and soon heal from this disease.

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8 The Discovering Alcoholic July 23, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Life issues are inevitable, but we get to choose our response- wise words.

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9 Paul July 23, 2010 at 6:08 am

As well as being a drunk I also trained as a nurse. I spent a bit of time working in palliative care, and would sometimes meet people my age and younger who had been told they were dying from cancer or other diseases. These people put my own problems into prospective – not that it kept me away from self-pity for long.

I find it hard to think about addiction as the same as these other diseases. I feel responsible for every drink and for all the damage that was done during those drunken years. I’m prepared to pay whatever karmic debt needs paying for this; I don’t want a free pass. I don’t feel any guilt about this however, because as bad as it all was it got me to where I am today. My guilt wouldn’t help anyone anyway.

I’ve seen hardened sixty year old drinkers in liver failure go on to recover and go straight to the bar. I’ve also seen clean living twenty year olds die of horrible diseases that steal their dignity. It just doesn’t seem fair sometimes, but I suppose there must be a bigger picture.

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10 The Discovering Alcoholic July 23, 2010 at 9:20 pm

It puts things into perspective doesn’t it.

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