Ever been stuck in a hallway? As a student late for class, kicked out of a class? Maybe waiting for an appointment, or on a gurney in a hospital hallway? Hallways are long echoing place filled with doors and behind each one you can hear the buzz of voices, of life. Doors represent choices.
I'm still trying to figure out which of those doors to open. But I want to recount another medical story and then present the challenge that I face.
I have mentioned my issues around blood pressure. They have come up off and on throughout this journey with cancer,
My blood pressure struggles began many years ago. I was working an event as first aid when a nurse took my blood pressure. Took it twice actually and then asked me if she should call an ambulance. She explained what blood pressure was , why it was important, and how much higher mine was than normal. So I asked if stress could be the reason. I pointed out to her what I was dealing with. There were a lot of teens from rural and remote communities - many in the city for the first time. She agreed that some of it might be that but strongly suggested that I get it checked by my family doctor.
I checked my blood pressure once in a while at home on our cuff. I saw that I did need to do something. So I tried natural ways. I cut down on salt in my diet, tried to eat more fruits and vegetables, exercised, and lost weight. I tried to reduce stress in my life but the nature of my work made it hard. Both first aid and freelance web design made that a challenge. I talked a lot about meditation but didn't get serious about it.
Making the decision to see a doctor about my high blood pressure took a couple of years. I needed a family doctor and I found one finally. After a thorough physical, high blood pressure was one of the first things that I had him address. Over the years I've been on a variety of medications. I had to shift a few times during my chemo treatments. We lowered doses and tried different combinations and dosages.
The ramapril/amlopidine combination wasn't getting my blood pressure to the recommended 130/80. And I wanted off ramapril to see if it resolved my cough issues. To bring my blood pressure lower in the absence of ramapril, he doubled the dosage of the amlopidine that I was already on. Almost as an aside in the conversation he mentioned that I might see some ankle swelling.
That was true. Almost immediately I noticed that my ankles were looking like small tree trunks. It didn't seem to be hurting anything so I let it ride. Then I noticed my wrists were swelling as well. And my weight started to rise. I tried to drink lots of water on the theory that I need to wash things out but that didn't seem to help either. Though it had me getting up five times a night to pee which left me with very disrupted sleep.
In my semiannual conversation with my endocrinologist, I mentioned the medication and the symptoms. She told me that I needed to be on an ARB. An ARB I learned was an angiotensin receptor blocker (whatever that is.) When I put my list together for my next call to my GP I added changing blood pressure medication to the list.
It was a wee list. I wanted him to see my lung cancer awareness White Ribbon, and I wanted him to see me - how healthy I was.
Oh and there was a mole on my arm that wouldn't stop bleeding and staining my white T-shirts. One look at the mole and he told me it needed to come off. He told me to book an appointment at the end of the day and he would freeze it then excise it. We did that two days later and he sent it off to make sure that he got it all and to find out if it was cancerous. The mole was basal cell carcinoma so cancer number three or four. It depends on how you count the two breast cancers.
Our conversation actually began with him asking me about the White Ribbon. I turned that into a question for him. "Did you think that I would be sitting here as healthy as I am three and a half years ago when we talked about my lung cancer diagnosis?"
Looking at me he smiled. "No I did not."
And then we went on to the blood pressure discussion. I had been using an app as part of my exercise program to track things. One of the things that I had been tracking was my blood pressure. With a little tinkering I had a nice graph to show him. The graph demonstrated that my blood pressure wasn't coming down. When I told him about what the endocrinologist had said and the side effects he suggested a change.
So I changed to Valsartan. Two days later I slept through the night for the first time in years. And I found my mood lifting in a way that surprised me. After reading the amolopidine drug monograph I discovered one side effect was low energy. Though listed as rare, depression was also mentioned.
Over Christmas I had experienced what I had put down to fears of omicron infection. I couldn't get myself out the door to the Christmas Eve service. I hadn't contacted family at all - not my boys, not my siblings, no one. And I cancelled a planned walk with a good friend in White Rock. Looking back I realize now that it was mild depression. What scared me most was my denial of the situation. I realized how easy it was to carry on with my routines - not stopping to examine how I was feeling.
I've been struggling to find a way to describe how that mild depression felt for the last few months. When I heard the phrase "stuck in the hallway" it captured that feeling. Often in the cancer world you will hear people talking about the "new normal" or "finding the new normal." What happens though when there is no new normal? And what is normal anyway?
After I got my latest clear scan, I got one of my regular notification emails from LinkedIn. It was flagging a Drupal Developer job with BC PHSA (Provincial Health Services Agency.) When I read the job description it wasn't so much development work as wrangling projects. The trying to motivate folks to get projects done isn't something that I'm interested in.
A few hours later a friend from the cancer world posted another job - policy analyst at a Health Institute. I thought that sounded interesting until I read the fine detail. I sat it was basic grant writing. As much as I love writing - that ain't it.
The next morning I gave my head a shake. I was not interested in going back to work. Keeping in mind that I could see progression at any time is unfair to inflict on any employer. With my volunteer activity and creative pursuits, I define my success by the joy of creating and the friends that I am making. I'm making a difference and leaving a legacy.
I can't say that I spend a lot of time in Ezekiel but this week my morning reading took me there. There was a part in Ezekiel 11: 16 - 20 about stone hearts becoming red-blooded and firm muscled. I recognized a colorful description of the change that Creator wants to see in our lives.
16-20 “Well, tell them this, ‘This is your Message from God, the Master. True, I sent you to the far country and scattered you through other lands. All the same, I’ve provided you a temporary sanctuary in the countries where you’ve gone. I will gather you back from those countries and lands where you’ve been scattered and give you back the land of Israel. You’ll come back and clean house, throw out all the rotten images and obscene idols. I’ll give you a new heart. I’ll put a new spirit in you. I’ll cut out your stone heart and replace it with a red-blooded, firm-muscled heart. Then you’ll obey my statutes and be careful to obey my commands. You’ll be my people! I’ll be your God!
Thank you for all your prayers and support.