The Neverending Story (of RA)
As many of you know, I have had RA for more than thirty years now. In addition, I’m just beginning to see the other side of lymphoma. I’m on the downslope of treatment for that particular illness, but that doesn’t mean my troubles are over. As anyone with autoimmune disease knows, the story never really ends.
My lymphoma has been a difficult battle, no doubt. It is one of the most trying things I’ve ever had to beat, and I’ve faced more trials in my life than OJ Simpson. I had always thought that in my long career of autoimmune illness I’d faced all the fears and feels that a person could possibly have, but it seems that I was wrong. There was a whole new package of feelings I hadn’t opened yet, and like Amazon, it delivered them overnight and in a box way too big for what was really inside. It was scary on a whole new level, like the sequel to a horror movie I never wanted to watch in the first place and I’m the one who said: “let’s split up!” Yeah. Great idea.
Dealing with multiple conditions: RA and lymphoma
So here I am and I finally have the emotional fortitude and resources to think about what comes next. So I did. Think about it, that is, and I realized something. As much as we all think it will be, cancer isn’t the Ghost of Christmas past. It doesn’t make the life you had before completely different from the life you have after. Cancer doesn’t magically make all the issues you had previous to being diagnosed suddenly go away. It’s a sobering realization that you can invest so much effort in doing a thing, and yet, in the end, nothing has really changed once you’re done doing it. I still have a right shoulder that is disintegrating. I still have a right foot that needs at least two more surgeries to even resemble normal. I still have a spine that looks like the Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island, and it isn’t half as fun, trust me. None of my RA stuff went away while I was fighting the battle of my lifetime. It was still there in the background the whole time like that ghost in the background of Three Men and a Baby (it’s real, Google it).
Cancer made me forget my RA
Cancer isn’t the Ghost of Christmas past, we covered that. It doesn’t change the stuff from before cancer, we covered that as well. What cancer did do, though, is make me actually forget about my RA issues for a while. That’s something I didn’t think was possible. Like meeting an old girlfriend after a few years and forgetting why you broke up in the first place, cancer has a way of putting all other concerns out of your mind. Unfortunately, though, just as the same old issues will break you up the second time around, the RA will rear its ugly head once things start to get back to normal, or whatever your baseline is. That’s what’s happening to me now and it’s a huge reality check. Not only am I reminded that the co-morbidities of autoimmune illness can be extremely serious, but I also get the pie in the face filled with “my RA isn’t done with me yet” cream, like a clown’s pie right to the nuts.
Dealing with the neverending RA complicationsHere I am now trying to decide on when to start the pre-op planning on my right ankle for the third time, and the old anger about them botching the job the first time around still bubbles up to the surface. It’s a familiar feeling, and even though I haven’t felt it in over a year I still recognize it instantly and it tempers my elation about possibly beating my lymphoma. Like finishing a puzzle and realizing it’s only one part of a bigger jigsaw, the reality of my situation starts to sink back in and my balloon of joy starts to float back down to the ground. I still have so much yet to face it can be overwhelming, but I feel like if I stop moving forward for even a second the quicksand of despair will swallow me up whole in the blink of an eye. So I keep my eyes forever forward, looking towards the next thing, the next surgery, the next task at hand, the next milestone. I’m an engine of perpetual motion that dare not stop and look at myself for fear that the impossibility of my situation becomes real.That’s RA and autoimmune disease in a nutshell, though, isn’t it? You keep on moving forward, ever pursuing that next medicine, that next treatment, that next solution, and even though you know it most likely won’t be forever you just hope it will hold out long enough to let you plan for the next event after that, and so on. It’s what we do, it’s how we live, and I realize now that’s OK. It isn’t much different than the life of a “healthy” person. Granted it isn’t medical fires they are putting out, but what is life if not a series of crises interspersed with lulls of joy and rest? We say we want it to stop but if that really happened then we’d probably expire soon after, and even if not what a boring existence that would be. Sure, “boring would be great,” those of us with RA say, but how long before we craved the excitement of life’s roller coaster again? This is the neverending story of RA, and it goes on until it doesn’t. Talk soon.
On a scale of 1(low) to 5(high), how difficult is it for you to talk about having RA?