The path taken

The night before last I fell asleep crying. Not racking sobs; rather just a wee bit of weeping. I found it strangely comforting.

A little over a week ago, in the midst of all the chaos,  I was unable to obtain a refill for fluoxetine (prozac) due to a clerical error. I missed one dose. And then a second. I felt a little odd, as one always does when coming off a strong drug (in this case, an antidepressant). By day three, a funny thing happened. I started to feel more like me. A little less dull; a lot more sensitive.

The first time I started taking prozac was some six months after my diagnosis of lung cancer. The day following my first post chemo scan (where my own hopes of a cure were permanently dashed), my father called to say he had stage IV pancreatic cancer. Dad hung on for another ten progressively hellish weeks. In a constant state of despair, I simply could not stop crying. The prozac dulled my grief and quickly stopped the flow of tears. In fact, I found it almost physically impossible to cry after I started taking it.

Two years later, as a stronger and more upbeat version of my former self, I was curious if my new resiliency was a result of personal growth, or simply the prozac talking. I went off my dose and remained emotionally intact. Six months later, when I was restaged to IV, I fell down the rabbit hole once more. Without hesitation, I turned back to prozac. Until now.

It may seem like curious timing. Life hasn’t become easier or less tragic. What has changed is my perspective; the lens through which I view it all.

I believe that the primary reason for fear is simply comfronting the unknown. Cancer scared the shit out of me until I started living with it. Now it has become my new normal. Quite frankly, death is my familiar too. I’ve certainly thought a lot about my own mortality. And cancer has taken those I care about on a far too regular basis.

Some close friends have expressed concern that I might go to a dark place again. In truth I do have a sense of going down a tunnel from which there is no turning back.

But, I now trudge willingly and without fear (a realistic dose of sadness is another story). It is my path and not without beauty. I’ve made the decision that I wish to be completely emotionally present; without any filters.

Having a terminal illness has given me access to an enhanced existence as well as introduction to an amazing array of fellow travelers. We may have lost a bit of our innocence, but in turn we tend to travel light, be very clear eyed and sure footed, and share a tendency to seize every day. Our relationships quickly achieve an emotional intensity and intimacy that wastes little time, and in general we taste of life deeply. Truth, which does not avoid a very real connection to mortality, has set us free (I refer here not just to those with cancer, but to friends, family and caregivers as well).

Death is an inevitable part of life and also a blessed release from suffering. If we can learn to embrace the journey, perhaps fear can be banished. And it is my goal to see it all with a clear head; to make the experience as full and rich as possible.

24 responses to “The path taken

  1. Beautiful.

  2. Linnea…I just read your recent posting and was (am) incredibly moved by what you said about having a terminal illness and facing death – and about living an enhanced existence filled with deepened relationships. I agree. I am on that journey with you and it helps knowing we are traveling together.
    Thank you for all your openness and honesty. Sincerely, Laurie

    • Laurie, I am constantly amazed by the wonderful people this (stupid) disease has put me in touch with–yourself included. All a part of that enhanced existence…

      Linnea

  3. Hi Linnea,
    FIrst of all I want to say I’m so sorry for the fellow travelers you have recently lost. Your emotional body so wants to grieve them and I imagine there is a part of you that not only wants to whimper but have an all out release. I am so proud that you have chosen to be off the drugs that have kept you from fully feeling. My guess is that you’ll start feeling a lot, the great and the not so great which will allow you to awaken and expand to even more amazing feelings and experiences.

    Sending you love and support always,
    Roy

    • Hey Roy, good to hear from you, and I appreciate the love and the support 🙂 And yes; I’m still hard at work, trying to grow as a person. Every once in a while I will stop and think, ‘if only I’d understood this particular concept when younger…’ ah, the cosmic joke.’ But salve for tired bones and aching joints.

      Love, Linnea

  4. What a beautiful & powerful post. Choice is so crucial when cancer comes into the picture; that is one thing I know to be true. Cancer brings focus to what many people do not have to look in the face on a day to day basis; their own mortality and what is really important. My son Silas and I used to talk about not having choice as to what we are handed in life in instances like these, but of having choice as to how we deal with it. Often Sy chose being present over taking heavy medication. He chose not to take anti-depressants. However, medical marijuana was something he relied on to ease his anxiety and help with nausea. I so trust your knowing what is right for you in this moment, at this time, and continuing to explore that in your life. Sending lots of love, Lorraine

    • Oh Lorraine, the conversations you and Sy mush have had. Not the sort of a choices a mom would ever think she’d be called upon to make; yet at the same time, the two of you experienced a sort of intimacy not open to most. He was a brave young man and if medical marijuana helped with anxiety, that’s fantastic. You remain an incredibly brave and strong person who has chosen to stay on this path as well; almost unthinkable courage. I love and admire you,

      Linnea

  5. I follow yourcancer journey as I am in one of my own. I too tried to take myself off mood meds recently and was not successful. I relate to your desire to feel your feelings your way. I am moved again by your sharing – I tend not to respond because I don’t want to step into such intimate and thoughtful expression but rather watch as your freedom unfolds. I am reminded too of something Steve Jobs said in the face of a cancer battle.

    “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

    Thank you again for your courage and your courage to share

    • David, I’m pleased that you did respond. Comments (always thoughtful as well) are my deep pleasures; you know, those happenstance chats with those you meet on the path. Thank you for the amazing quote; good luck with your own journey, and I’m sure we’ll see each other around 🙂

      Linnea

  6. Linnea , I have been following your post for quite sometime. This one really prompted me to reply.. I am not an articulate writer which is why I refrain from responding but I just want to say I am so proud of you for going through this without the aid of antidepressants.The docs wanted to put me on them but they depessed me even more. I have come to the realization that we will all die someday and as for me I want to see each day as it is with my grandbabys laughter or my children just needing me for some reason just whatever Im so grateful to be alive RIGHT NOW ! I wonder If you would mind if I share this post with some others that are on this journey with us as I feel like it might help them realize the truth of what I feel alot of us feel

    • Annie, you seem quite articulate to me. I too am grateful to be alive, every new day. And with a little edge added (already there; just previously dulled) I am feeling (didn’t remember that this was possible) even a little more alive. Of course you can share…I believe there are even buttons at the bottom of the post for that reason (although I’ve never pushed them!).

      Best, Linnea

  7. In french we will say “quelle leçon de vie!” it means ” What a good way to teach us life”…You are an amazing woman…
    Elisabeth

  8. Linnea- I have no doubt that your clear mind will be of great comfort to you. We are all walking this road. Now that I walk it without my husband, who succumbed October 30th, in my arms, I feel your same sentiments acutely. But over time death becomes less frightening, and it sure does eliminate baggage. Travel well and travel long, my friend.

    • Joan, you are more than generous in your own time of grief. I am so sorry and please know how much I value your status as a fellow traveler as well as our friendship.

      Linnea

  9. Just checking in on your last few posts – great stuff my dear one. I have resisted altering my experience once I got through the anxiety of the dx process. Thankfully, I have M who is always available for a talk and has wide arms to hug the tears away. BTW – those tears stayed on the plane, so far! We are eating well and are thriving in this temporary life in Sicily!

    • Stephanie, no reason to alter if you don’t have a reason (clear as could be?). I glad you’ve got both a fine ear and wide arms at your disposal. Sounds like a fine traveling companion. Love Italy, please. Every moment.

      Linnea

  10. once again you inspire and challenge me – missing you and thinking of you all

  11. May you be well.
    May you be happy.
    May you find peace.

    • Aw Beryl, right back at you. You know, I miss Gill so very much, but am so very pleased that you stepped in. You are a wonder (I would have expected nothing less from him–you just had to be wonderful).
      Much love, Linnea

  12. Hello Linnea,
    I think of you far more often than I let you know. My sister and I were talking about you just the other day.
    I am well. Tolerating the Alimta and it is doing its job. My next scan is a week from today.
    I told someone a couple of weeks ago that I felt like I’d been given the ability to hit the reset button on my life and to know allow only what really fulfilled me back in. I’m not always successful, but I am trying.
    I continue to pray for you and yours.
    Love,
    Sara

    • Sara, I caught up on your blog today and got a dose of your good old southern charm /sweetness/humor. I’m glad you are doing well and that you are still here (guess you might have to get some clothes to replace those you gave away though!) You know, I haven’t managed yet to put up links to other blogs (but I want to) and yours needs to be there. In the meantime, maybe one of these days you’d be interested in writing a guest blog? I believe in cross pollinating; I love to have dinner parties with people who run in different crowds…mix it up a little.

      Anyway, keep up the good work–it’s been quite a year for you.

      Love, Linnea

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