Cancer and self-absorption.

Well, it looks like spring has finally sprung. The temperatures are rising and we now look forward to sending less of our pension funds to BC Hydro than we have all winter.

The wisteria is now showing signs of life. We wondered lately whether or not it was still alive. Apparently it is alive, just taking its time waking up after a very challenging winter sleep. It’s warming up with temperatures consistently in double digits, but the clouds seem reluctant to part. This past weekend was gorgeous with a lot of sun. This coming week promises to be cloudy and dreary. Wednesday, tomorrow, is Carolyn’s 70th birthday and I have an appointment with my GP/oncologist at the hospital. At least it’s at 9:30 in the morning so early enough to allow us to get on with things for the rest of the day. Carolyn does not want to miss her usual daily ten (or longer) kilometre hike in the hills just up the road.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the reality implied in the title of today’s post, particularly the self-absorption part. Truth be told, I might be rightfully accused of being self-absorbed for most of my life. In some ways, I think, it comes with the territory. Writing is an activity that requires a lot of concerted attention and effort. As a college instructor I had to do a lot of reading and writing and for one stage of my career I produced over two hundred and fifty tele courses on the Knowledge Network for North Island College. In order to be able to produce the expected results I had to spend a lot of time in my head and in my office either preparing lecture notes, getting props or websites together, or marking assignments.

It may be an excuse to suggest that self-absorption is a consequence of work requirements, but I think that there is definitely a need to be alone to do much of the work I was expected to do. That may be interpreted as being distant, or uncommunicative, or selfish, depending on one’s perspective.

It’s a truism to suggest that living with others in a family requires at least a modicum of communication and interaction between members. Family implies intimacy and intimacy implies connection. Connection requires time together for the parents and for children. Some families are more closely connected than others, but some families are quite content with very little time together.

I can’t speak for my family and I surely won’t put words in their mouths here. However, I know that at times there were expectations that I spend more time with the family. I’ve been (rightfully) accused of being in my head too much and not being available to the family for conversation or whatnot. Some people would interpret my behaviour as self-absorption. Fair enough.

That said, as I work through my life with cancer, I find myself increasingly absorbed with what’s happening inside me and just how long I have left to live. I know a number of people who have died recently of cancer. Some have died soon after diagnosis. I don’t know of anyone who has died of myeloma, my flavour of cancer, the one that is now considered, like diabetes, to be more of a chronic illness than an ambush killer of sorts. I know a few people who are sick with myeloma, but none who have died from it.

As far as the people who have died of cancer are concerned I wonder how many of them turned inward as death got closer and closer? I have no idea, but if you do, I’d like to hear about it. Our caregivers may be the best people to address the veracity of my observation that dying forces us inward.

Caregivers have a thankless job. They may love the people they care for, but as people get closer and closer to death, they may withdraw more and more become increasingly unable to provide any kind of recognition or thanks for the care they receive. It may be that dying is a process of increasing self-absorption. I don’t know. I haven’t done the research.

Some people have done some thinking about this. I’m not the only one. It may not be research in the technical sense of the term. Actually, it might best be termed thoughtful investigation. I tend to be strictly scientific in my views on the dying process but I have come across very little in the way of a psychology of dying. There are some sources out there, but not many. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross (1969) gets a lot of attention for her work on the stages of grief, et cetera, but I find that her work is less scientific than grief and hospice counselling. It would not be impossible to do scientific work on my hypothesis that we tend to withdraw from society the nearer we get to death, but it wouldn’t be easy. It sure isn’t in my future.

So far, it may be just a feeling I’m having, or a conclusion I’ve come to with limited experience, but it makes sense to me that we would tend to withdraw as we get closer to death. Death, or course, is the ultimate withdrawal, so leading up to it must produce some stages of withdrawal or increased self-absorption. At least that’s what I’m thinking, and I’m sticking to it.

8 thoughts on “Cancer and self-absorption.

  1. Hi Roger,
    I wrote to you once before when I first came across your blog a couple of months ago. You were talking about quitting and I thought too bad I just found you. I also want to admit I was afraid to follow you because then you would die -you were writing about death soon, but not this year. And then everybody I know with this damn disease would be dead.
    I am thrilled you say MM is like a chronic disease. I don’t do a lot of research into MM. I am writing because you write you don’t know anyone who had died of MM. Not my experience. I was diagnosed w MM Nov 2018. I went to one MM mtg in NB. A member of the small group of six MMs and 6 caretakers had just died. They seemed like zombies to me. The woman who started it (who was in an experimental drug trial) died right after I left NB. Another member died before that. A friend’s sister’s husband died after 2 yrs and the friend of another friend a retired nurse, he also died after second stem cell therapy. I figured if lucky I would get my 5 yrs. I think I thought I would just die then. Now I think maybe if (if, lol) I get sick again I could have a second SCT. I am 64. You and I seem to have similar thoughts on the world. I think the Divided States are already in their civil war-the Buffalo massacre being querilla action. I am not interested in that-we think alike there, both listen to Ideas on CBC. I am more interested in someone else’s MM experience. I am writing a book about my experience partly due to fact that I got Guillain Barre syndrome after SCT and was 3 weeks on life support. I had PTSD and need to write it out. I am not a writer really though I am an artist and was the publisher for a visual art magazine. I also went to Capilano College in the seventies I guess, but I am a Maritimer by heart and now live back in Nova Scotia. So hello from the East. best Storme


    1. Hello Storme,
      Well, we can sure seem like zombies sometimes. I don’t know how zombies feel, but I may very well look like the walking dead at times.
      I personally don’t know of anyone who has died of MM but I am a member of a support group in the North Island and one of the members died just as I was joining. Nobody else has as far as I know. People die of old age all the time, and I’ve had a few friends die of cancers, just not MM. And hello from Vancouver Island, the Comox Valley to be precise.


      1. Hi Roger, thank you for your reply. I think it’s probably better that you don’t know anyone who has died of MM. I felt people were dropping like flies and so I assumed I would be too. I am buoyed by the fact that you are lasting so long. I am sorry but I can’t communicate Via the blog. It is awkward on my phone and too difficult for me right now. I am writing a book about my experiences from celiac disease to Guillan Barre, a result of my stem cell transplant. I wish you well.


      2. Hi Storme,
        Were you told by the docs that your stem cell transplant caused celiac and Guillain Barre? I hadn’t heard that before. I didn’t get a transplant and won’t because I don’t qualify. I’m too old, apparently.
        I wish you well too.


      3. God no, you think they would admit that? The celiac disease came first, diagnosed at 58 maybe. the endocronologist I saw for the breaking bones said you have likely had this all your life-checked w mother and yes I had “failure to thrive” however no one ever tested me for celiac. This means irreparable damage to small intestine and other probs. I started breaking bones about 60, led to diagnosis of MM. As you know after stem cell, your immune system is wiped out, you need to get childhood vaccines over again, so I was very vulnerable to anything. Guillan Barre is supposed to be rare. I know 3 other people who had it and we all lived in a small village of 1400 people. I have been confused as to whether my daily struggles come from MM or the GBS. I am writing a book about all this and my reseach has convinced me it is the GBS for the most part. It is similar to Long Covid which it looks like they may actually start paying attention to as men are getting it too. We moved from NB to NS meaning I lost my family doc. I do have cancer care and I like their attitude here better. Do you take thalidomide? I forget now what they called it but it is similar. I tried and refused. IN NB they basically said I was risking my life. Here I have a monthly blood test. I do have a doc here but he is a glorified pharmacist and says I have too many issues for him like the fact that I take a heart pill (from GBS) that no one has monitored me on for over 2 years-do I still need it? who knows. The pandemic put an end to Zometa infusions, safer for me to not go to hospital and then we moved. I am in remission and now think I could have a second stem cell if I have to. I am sorry you are considered too old. Do you think you could have done it? I am also sorry we don’t have immunotherapy for MM, not allowed yet but luekemia patients can have it and it is used to treat MM in the Divided States as I am now calling them. Okay enough! Gotta write my book! take care Storme


      4. Thanks again for your comment, Storme. Of course, they wouldn’t admit it. They won’t even venture a
        guess as to what the main reason is for my overarching fatigue and maybe adjust my meds based on that information but it won’t happen. I take lenalidomide, not thalidomide, and a very small dose at that. My main chemo med is Daratumumab. I used to get zometa infusions but that’s stopped for me too. It’s good to read that you’re in remission. I’m basically on a maintenance program. They’re keeping me alive, that’s about it.


    1. Lenalomide, thalidomide, it’s one slight change so they can use it. Don’t you love all the DO NOT Get Pregnant labels -even for men? I was doing zometa as well and am not now though if I was in NB I still would be. They did tell me you can only do that for 3 years as it wrecks your kidneys. They want me on maintenance as well. I also took Daratumumab, such names! Fatigue goes with the territory I believe, side effects. I realize I sound negative, not in a great mood today. oh well Keep on trucking as we used to say. Different connotations to that now!


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