Friday, September 7, 2007

The New Normal

Before delving into the main topic of this blog entry, I’ll provide a brief update on how I’ve been feeling since my last chemo round. Last Wednesday and Thursday (a week+ ago) was pretty tough. I had just finished round 2 of chemo cycle 7. I ended up with a huge headache and used my pain/anxiety drugs to help sleep it off. By Friday, I was able to function again and by Saturday, I was feeling pretty good. Since then, I took a quick, but wonderful trip to visit friends and relatives. The travel was a strain on me physically, but the reunion was worth the effort. Since returning on Wednesday, I’ve just been trying to take it easy and recuperate. I have some new pains in my neck and tongue areas, but they could be a result of my travels or they could be a cancer recurrence. That’s the thing with this disease, you just don’t know and it causes a great deal of anxiety.

Now onto today’s blog topic. I learned a concept in graduate school named cognitive dissonance. If you are not already familiar with the concept, here’s Wikipedia’s definition.

"Cognitive dissonance is the filtering of information that conflicts with what you already believe, in an effort to ignore that information and reinforce your beliefs. In detailed terms, it is the perception of incompatibility between two cognitions, where "cognition" is defined as any element of knowledge, including attitude, emotion, belief, or behavior. The theory of cognitive dissonance states that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to reduce the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions."

What does that have to do with me and this disease? BC (before cancer), I had a concept of myself. I’ll call that the “normal” me. During the first 15 months of treatment which included 3 or 4 surgeries, 35 radiation treatments, and some fairly intense chemo, I did everything I could to maintain the “normal” me. That included working, traveling, socializing, etc. I did some of these things even though they were tough to do because if I didn’t do them, then cognitive dissonance would kick in and make me feel not “normal.” The feeling of being not normal would cause cognitive dissonance. That would drive me back to behaviors which would make me feel normal again. For example, after a neck dissection surgery where they removed 17 lymph nodes from my neck on a Thursday afternoon, a fairly significant operation, I went back to work the following Monday. I had chemo treatments on Friday afternoons, Saturdays, and Sundays so that I could continue working a normal work week. I lost my hair, I lost weight, but still I continued to host client and work meetings and continued with business as normal. I think you get the picture. After my main surgery in July 2006, I knew I would have to come up with a new normal. By December 2006, I came up with that new normal. I was eating without a feeding tube, talking at about 85% of my BC capability, and exercising regularly. I had the new me and was considering going back to work in early January 2007. I’m now struggling again with what this chemo is doing to me and the new normal. My speech capability has probably dropped to 60% of BC due to tightness in my neck tissue or muscles. I’m usually too fatigued to exercise, and eating takes longer and is more difficult. So, once again I’m struggling with cognitive dissonance. Anything that reminds me of why I’m not the new normal makes me feel uncomfortable. The impact is less social interaction, in that way I don’t have to talk and be reminded that I’m not normal. It is eating alone, that way I don’t have to be reminded of what it was like at one time to feel well enough to enjoy a meal with others. This disease has taken a lot from me and those close to me. One of the reasons I like e-mail so much is it makes me feel normal. It allows me to communicate with others in a way that is comfortable. So, if I don’t return your calls right away, please understand why that is. Cognitive dissonance is a very strong emotional driver.

Well, enough about cognitive dissonance. I am getting a bit bored, but I’m still not feeling well enough to be able to make any commitments which involve work. I define work as having to be somewhere at a definitive time and deliver results in line with time and budget expectations. I continue to read, be a chauffeur when I can for our daughter, help her with homework, care for myself, research various cancer treatments, and watch the FedEx cup playoffs. I really enjoy watching Tiger Woods and K.J. Choi. They played in the same grouping today and due to a three hour rain delay, most of their play was on TV. But, it’s not enough. I’m still too weak to exercise, travel is out of the question, and I’ve lost interest in the pottery because I can only throw pieces and not finish them. I’m really hoping that when this chemo ends in 3 weeks (plus add another few weeks for recovery) and the scan come back negative (I’m not really all that optimistic about this, but I am hoping for the best), I’ll be able to get back to the new normal me and will be able to comfortable get back to those activities which I enjoyed last December.

That’s enough rambling on for today. Take care everyone.

No comments: