In “Pursuit of Happyness”

I realize it`s been much too long since my last blog post, and that this entry´s title may cause Will Smith to come knocking at my door citing copyright infringement, but unfortunately I haven´t been feeling so peppy this last month, which has made it impossible to write.  To put it mildly, things have been pretty rough of late, and although I know, objectively, that things will get better, I still find myself spiraling back into the rabbit hole that I spoke of a few months ago… except this time the darkness seems to be bottomless and every time I think I can scramble out, the light eludes me and I free-fall back into the abyss.

Medically speaking, I am still soldiering on with my treatments.  While I was in Buenos Aires at the beginning of February with my sister and Jon I received an email from Dr. Majlis who said that after he consulted the doctors at MD Anderson, their protocol indicated that I needed to complete 2-3 more rounds of chemo before the surgery, no matter what the results of the Pet Scan indicated.  While I was disappointed since I thought I was finished with the chemo, I no longer feel so bad about the treatments because I know what to expect.  I would rather be safe than sorry, so here I am at the hospital again plugged into my chemo port, getting my eighth dosage.  I am hoping it will be my last, but you never can be sure what these tricky doctors have up their sleeves.  It could be nine chemo sessions, then another set of Pet Scans and MRIs just to ensure the chemo is still working, and then the surgery, and possibly radiation.  So the road keeps winding on….

In the meantime I have been trying to figure out what to do with my life, now that it seems like I will have one again when all of this is over.  Not an easy task I tell you, as when the dust settles, it turns out that despite my attempts at positivity and optimism, cancer has, indeed, permanently altered my life path.  I now understand why people refer to it as their “battle with cancer”.  Although I have not been to war, I have studied and read a lot about war and its mental and physical effects on those that have fought.  And now I think I can understand the similarities.  Cancer is about living in fear of death, and while you may temporarily come to grips with your mortality, it is hard to fully let go of this apprehension.  To be honest, this fear of death has gotten worse since I received the news that the chemo is working.  Now I keep wondering when will the cancer be back?  How many years do I have left?  Not to sound morbid, but every newspaper article, or magazine, or book, or movie I have watched recently is full of stories of people dying of cancer.  I had shielded myself from these facts during the early months of my diagnosis, but now it seems I cannot avoid it.  And gosh, it sure does make me sad.  Why do so many people have to suffer?  I even felt a little sympathy for Hugo Chavez the other day, which made me upset because I´m not sure megalomaniacal dictators deserve sympathy, but oh well…

The last month hasn´t been all bad, though.  I did get a chance to go home for a few weeks.  Unfortunately though, it felt more like I was desperately running away from my problems, rather than choosing to have a relaxing visit with family and friends.  After my seventh round of chemo mid-February, I booked a flight to Houston via LA so that I could be home for my grandmother´s 90th birthday celebration, which turned out to be quite the family reunion.  I´m not so sure that attempting a solo, 14-hour international flight five days after chemo was the best thing for my health, but I just had to get out of Santiago, so I chanced it.  The whole flight I kept hearing the man behind me violently coughing up a lung, so I was fairly sure that despite my high white blood cell count I was going to get sick.  It also didn´t help that I had booked all of my plane tickets as aisle seats since I was worried I would frequently be visiting the bathroom, as often is the case following chemo.  Luckily, I did not indulge in any airplane food and only drank water so I was able to keep the bathroom trips to a minimum.  However it was all I could do to stop myself from anxiously reaching over my window seat companion´s lap to yank open the window shades during particularly hairy bits of turbulence like the two hours spent flying over the rainforests of Ecuador and Colombia.  If I haven´t mentioned already, I have extreme flight phobia.  I am always surprised at how calm people are on airplanes when I am always a jumble of nerves.  A friend of mine from Dalian with similar flight fears (this one´s for you, Holly!) put it best when she said, “Can anyone really enjoy being trapped in a metal enclosure hurtling hundreds of miles per hour thousands of feet above earth????”  I certainly can´t, and I fly a lot.  Be prepared to white-knuckle it with me whenever we fly together in the future.  Anyway, I was glad to finally touch down in LA and was extremely grateful that Randi was there to greet me and allow me a few hours of sleep on her couch before my flight to Houston the next morning.  I had purchased my United flight on air-miles and was able to upgrade to first class for the same price as economy, so I flew to Houston in luxury.   Much easier to forget about turbulence when reclining in those comfy seats that convert to beds, catching up on my Oscar movies and sipping on a nice, free beverage.  Aaahhhhh… very relaxing.   I hope all of you who fly first class on a regular basis truly savor the joy of not being cramped up in economy.

When I arrived in Houston I had a few days to relax at my parents house before the rest of the family got there for the weekend´s festivities.  Arrival in Houston was a bit eventful, and I´m sure my mom would prefer that I not share all the details, but it was pretty comical in a Planes, Trains, and Automobiles kind of way, so hopefully she won´t mind.  A few days before leaving for the states my mom had said she try to come get me after work at the airport.  Unfortunately I do not currently have a working US phone and was unable to get wifi access on my Ipad once I reached baggage claim (stupid Houston Intercontinental Airport set-up).  I waited outside the terminal about an hour after my flight had landed, exhausted and weak from the travel and chemo side effects.  Eventually, I started to panic since I had no way of communicating with my parents and was worried they weren´t actually coming to get me.  I headed back inside the airport to try and get ahold of someone, and realized I no longer knew the pass code to my US debit card and therefore was unable to take out money for the pay phone.  Apparently, though, US pay phones magically take credit cards so I was able to dial the two family members phone numbers I remembered off the top of my head.  Unfortunately the two numbers weren´t very helpful since Alison wasn´t going to be able to help me too much from her office and Portland, and of course my parents weren´t home.  After this fruitless attempt at contact with a ride I decided to take a cab and find my way home.  I had forgotten that cabs in the US aren´t quite like cabs in the rest of the world in that they cost a freaking arm and a leg, but oh well- I at least had made a plan.  Of course nobody was home when I got to my parents´ pad in the Heights, and I didn´t have a key, so I dropped my heavy suitcase on the porch and walked to the neighborhood Starbucks where I knew I would be able to get internet access for the Ipad and maybe find an email letting me know what was going on.  Mom had indeed sent me an email the hour before that indicated that by the time my plane had landed she still had another class to teach, not to mention a half hour drive to the airport, so she was going to be pretty late.  Luckily Ali had also emailed me with mom´s cell phone number and amazingly she had finally decided to turn it on, so I was able to get ahold of her and tell her I had made it home.  So I sat in my parents front lawn like a vagrant for another hour until she made it back.  She felt horrible and I felt bad that I hadn´t just had faith and waited for her, so we had a good laugh and I took a much-needed nap.

When the rest of the family arrived it was all a whirlwind of celebration and reminiscing.  It was a great tribute to Grandma Doft who has been the family matriarch, holding the glue of our crazy Deidrick posse together for many, many years.  In fact I had wanted to make this whole entry a tribute to her and our illustrious and unique family, but I seem to be going with a slightly different theme, so perhaps I need to save that for a future entry.  As my part of the weekend tribute to my grandmother, Ali, mom, and I spent several days pouring through family photo albums and trip slides, putting together a montage of Doft´s life adventures over the past nine decades.  It was such fun putting together the video and collecting quotes from family members to make it a funny and meaningful life celebration.  I so enjoyed seeing all the pictures of us growing up together and it helped, temporarily, to put everything that I´ve gone through recently in perspective.  Sometimes family really is everything…  When we debuted the video after an hour of bickering between technologically challenged family members, Doft really enjoyed it.  As all of us enjoyed the many dinners, breakfasts, lunches, and brunches held in her honor from Friday-Monday.  She looks great for ninety and, as always, infuses any conversation with wit, understanding, sass, and laughter.  My life truly would not have been complete without her presence and I was glad I was able to let her know how important she is to us.

The reunion was a true celebration in many respects.  It was particularly nice to spend time with my cousin Katherine and her baby, Ellie, as Ellie is the first fourth- generation member of the Deidrick clan.  It was also nice to reunite with Uncle John who lives in Cambodia and hosted Randi, me and my sister, as well as our respective men, on a wonderful vacation there two years ago.  I loved spending time with Jan and Joe-Patt, Aunt Nancy, Uncle Steve, and Uncle Elgin, all people who helped ground and entertain me during my formative years.  And finally, I truly enjoyed my chats with Cousin Sandra who lives in Washington DC, has lived all over the world, and heads a non-profit there called Search for Common Ground.  It was nice to talk about and explore the idea of NGOs as a possible future career.  It also was just nice to be in the company of laughter, family, and good food.  (Although my increasing inability to fit into my old jeans indicates that I probably didn´t need any more good food….)  I also got a chance to meet up with some of my Houston friends, and although I didn´t have a whole lot of happy news to share with them, it was nice to say hi, albeit briefly, and share in their respective challenges and joys.

After my time in Houston I headed back to LA to stay with Randi and her boyfriend, Matt, in their wonderfully located condo on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.  It was so fun to be able to spend time with them and witness Randi in her role as “awesome, powerful, and busy work lady” at UCLA hospital.  It was so inspiring to see her in such a good place in her life and fun to celebrate her 30 something birthday (I think we agreed to stop counting….) with some wine tasting and a delicious dinner at Tom Colicchio´s most excellent restaurant, Craft.  Yep, more unneeded food and calories was a part of this weekend as well!  I also got a chance to reunite with my CMC gals at a dinner at Brandi´s house.  I got to meet Brandi and Laura´s adorable children as well as spend time with Robyn, Steph, Sarah Carlson, and Mei-Mei.  Although it was too short of a time and we all had too many glasses of champagne and an unfortunate foray into vodka shots, I enjoyed reliving my California years, gasping with horror at the thought of our ten year college reunion, and spending time in the Los Angeles sunshine.  It made me long to be closer to home, but happy to know that I will always have that support system in Lala land.  Thanks for everything, girls!!!

To tell the truth, even after sixteen days away from all my problems, I still wasn´t ready to go back to Santiago.  Originally, I was hoping to do some chemo treatment back in the states so I could stay longer and try and figure my shit out, but it was extremely difficult to figure out how to transfer my insurance to MD Anderson and would have been much more stressful than simply returning home to finish out the treatment.    And so, here I am back in Santiago, hoping for good things and desperately needing some clarity.  I still haven´t really figured out what I want to do about next year or how to fix/forget some of the bad things that have occurred recently. I have scheduled my first therapy session for next Tuesday so I hope that is a step in the right direction.

I recently read an article in Oprah magazine by Martha Beck that attempted to offer a solution for how to successfully climb out of my rabbit hole.  Self-help books and Oprah advice are not my usual cup of tea, but the article was ripped out of the magazine just for me by my friend Stan-B, so I gave it a shot.   The author said,  “When the road of life gets bumpy (and then bumpier, and bumpier still): Stop, throw it in reverse, and draw up a whole new road map”.  And truly, a new road map is what I am in need of now.  Without going into the details of all of the not-so-nice things that have occurred recently as they are still too fresh in my mind, I, like the troubled woman in the Oprah article, have often found myself tearfully proclaiming to friends and family,  “I´m not sure I can go on.  Why is all this happening at once?” * The author of the article suggests that I should not actively try to solve my life crisis, as so much of it is out of my hands, but instead, to surrender to it.  “When you feel so beaten down that you can´t sustain normal activities, it´s time to stop trying.”  This may seem counter-intuitive, but it does offer a respite to the painful feelings of attempting to solve a thousand problems at once, when none of them offer an immediate and gratifying conclusion.

I guess what I need now is time: time to heal, time to go with the flow, time to remember all of the wonderful things about life that I so treasured at the beginning of my diagnosis.  Like the French say, “What will be, will be.”  I realize now that I, and those close to me, have gone through a difficult and life-changing experience and it should not be expected that I fully recover, mentally or physically, in any kind of limited time frame.  It is a fact that I am never going to be the same person I was before cancer, so it´s really pretty silly to try.  Some cancer survivors have referred to this time period as B.C.- before cancer and A.C.- after cancer.  Happiness is not exactly right around the corner.  I still have to wake up to my bald, eyebrow-less, and puffy face in the mirror for probably a few more months.  The twenty extra pounds I now carry around my midsection, my flabby arms, and my double chin are not going to magically melt away in a matter of weeks.  I still have lots of challenging decisions to make about my future and about my life.   I will probably cry some more… lots more.  But I am resolved to do whatever it takes to be happy again.

Martha Beck, who calls herself a life coach, assured me in this article that, sometimes, random streaks of bad luck happen to people, and actually this bad luck is really steering them towards their true destiny of happiness, love, and joy.  I find this to be exceedingly cheesy and pretty difficult to believe, but I am in need of believing in something again.  Happiness, I know, is illusive, and maybe not even that realistic, but I know some of you out there have achieved it.  If you have any suggestions, life-survival techniques, helpful mottos, inspiring websites, etc feel free to send them my way.  I am all ears.  As the venerable Fresh Prince of Bellaire taught me last night, sometimes you have to get divorced, lose all your your money, get evicted from your apartment, chase after weird bone density machines, skip out on taxi fares, and sleep with your son in a homeless shelter in order to find your “happiness”.  For now, I´ll just sit back and wait for the day that Dean Whitter chooses me for their prestigious internship program although I am covered in paint and wearing a wife beater….  I love movies!  So realistic!    In all seriousness though, I AM going to take a break from all this painful future-planning and try to live more in the moment, get healthy, write, and enjoy the naps with my doggies.  I look forward to the day when some of my pain and anger dissipates and I can tell you all about my new life path.

 

*For more details on the missing parts of this story feel free to email me personally at eli.timms@gmail.com.  It´s a doozy!

5 comments

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  1. Sidney

    Hi dear Eli,

    I hope that part of you new path includes authorship as you are a talented writer. As you surrender to life in order to forge anew life know that I send love and energy and hold a belief in your strength and courage.

    With admiration,
    Sidney

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  2. Britt Thorpe

    Eli, I think Martha Beck is full of sh**. You do not have to re-write your life path or figure out who you are or any of that right now. Who you are is an amazing, intelligent, talented woman with a ton of people who love you! You are living in the era of modern medicine and although it nearly kills you to save you, you’re going to get through this and have years and years to do what you love. What you love is Jon and your friends and food and wine and beauty and books and history, and that is who you are and that is your life path!!!! How you make money to pay for your rent is not important right now. That will fall into your lap in time. This struggle is not to make you some new and improved person. This struggle sucks and it isn’t fair and we all know that. But, we also know that you’re going to come through this. When you need to cry girl, you go for it hard. It is healing. And, then take the time to lose yourself in books and cooking and a silly movie. We love you Eli…

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  3. Ashley

    You could probably be a better writer for O Magazine than that Martha Beck! (Yes, I’m the one who gave you the article, although in reading it myself I wasn’t quite sure what it was actually suggesting…in a real-life, helpful kind of way). But reading, whatever it is, tends to help me when I’m lost and confused and scared. And reading your blog helps me, especially in that it’s real and well-written! Thanks, Timmsy!
    Love,
    StanB

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  4. Erin Flanagan

    Eli you are amazing. I just read something that said “tomorrow is busy worrying about itself; don’t get tangled up in its worry-webs,” I know this is easier said then done. But, it is important to enjoy each day we have. The future is unknown (unfortunately) and unpredictable as you have realized these past few months. Time for us to look for the little joys that exist each day in our “pursuit for happiness.”

    Love You!

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