On Being Ill: Taking Responsibility for One’s Own Decisions

When you have cancer you wind up taking a lot of medicines & how to take them & being given advice about food, almost all of them offered on good medical authority & with the best of will. When you start out on these processes you try to follow them to the letter--which pills go with food, which without & how long before, how many times a day & all the rest. If you follow all the instructions to the letter one would do almost nothing all day but organize one's pharmacopeia. Having now had some experience as a consumer--in both the biological & economic senses--of cancer medications, I've arrived at a couple of basic conclusions, to wit: 1) Follow basic dosage instructions especially for number of times a day & spacing between doses; 2) cluster doses by time of day into groups of medications & organize them into a pill holder; 3) try to take the ones supposed to go on an empty stomach at the same time even if it means fudging the times a bit--one really should not have to be worrying about what to take & when more than four times a day. Even cancer patients have things to do other than being sick. 4) Start pain medications at the lower range of the recommended dose, but once you get used to their effects don't be afraid to adjust them upward, though without exceeding maximums, at least by very much. You can also "stack" pain meds a bit toward higher concentrations during parts of the day you need them most. But the take-away here is that you don't have to be neurotic about scheduling your medications. Some goes for eating, both what & how much. I find I eat mostly snacks & eat more sweets than I "should," but it's my body & how I feel today is at least as important as how I might feel in a week or a month or a year. Ultimately, this all applies to whether to take some medication at all, up to & including the miracle drugs designed to dissolve tumors or whatever; it applies, too, to how aggressively you decide to oppose your own illness & how much to understand the illness as a part of the life process. (This latter goes beyond the original intention of this post & perhaps I'll return to it another time.) Finally, all this is about deciding that--following the advice of your doctors & family members & friends--you must decide makes you feel best right now. It is easy, of course, to use the above as an excuse for being perverse, neurotic & self-destructive. That obviously is also a choice, but not one I would encourage anyone to follow, no matter how shitty & hopeless some mornings feel when the rest of the world is getting up & going about its usual business. Take care of yourself; don't be intimidated by authority; don't be passive. ____________ Note: It's a mark of how spaced out some of the new meds I've been taking this month that spelling errors & typos persist on the blog longer than they should. Sometimes no doubt forever.  

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.