How I Survive, Part 2

Hello dear reader(s)!

If you read Part 1, you know that in the last few years I have been through some stuff.  That stuff has left me scarred, both physically and emotionally.  Some of those scars will always be there.  I lost the hearing in my left ear during treatment (which sucks, as a musician, I might add).  I have cataracts in both eyes due to high doses of prednisone.  I have kidney damage that is stable as of now.  I have too much iron in my blood from over 200 red blood transfusions, and over 300 platelet transfusions.  I have no B-cells which means I can’t get vaccinated with my new immune system and have to rely on an ever-shrinking herd-immunity.  My neutrophils fluctuate to this day.  I have some liver damage as well.  Due to all of this, I also have issues absorbing certain vitamins and hormones.  I have low bone density.  I have constant unmedicated pain to chemotherapy induced neuropathy in my feet.  Then of course there is the mental and emotional scars.  And yet…I honestly think I’m living life fuller than most people I know.  And now I’ll tell you how.

When we moved back to Northern Nevada from Seattle, both Hannah and I were not adjusting well.  The change in climate, the direct sunlight (I have an increased risk of skin cancer now.), the lack of humidity, and just what we had been through was taking its toll.  Not even to mention that Hannah was sick and getting sicker, but we both just thought she was depressed.

It sucked.  Years of treatment finally wrapping up, and yet it was like being imprisoned in a house instead of a hospital room.  I didn’t give a damn about life.  I poured myself into writing and playing music, painting, anything I could do to try to distract myself from all the awfulness.

And soon I came to realize that it wasn’t quite as awful as I thought.  I had Hannah, who I know loved me greatly all throughout.  I had my family backing me up.  I had friends that I didn’t even know still cared because of their own lives and issues.  And I realized I couldn’t be afraid anymore.  So I started trying to get out more…just with a lot of sunscreen and hats.  I started exercising and got back to drumming nearly daily.

Then Hannah started showing she was sick.  We went to the hospital and she was admitted.  Unknowingly, my friends were thinking that if she did not make it, I would give up.  They were close, because I wanted to for a while.  Hannah looked like she was going to pull through, and then things just took a turn beyond help.  I had to make the decision not to resuscitate her, because there would be no hope of her surviving the broken ribs if they tried.  Her organs were failing in a cascade, and they were giving her 72 hours.  I got to tell her what was going on in one of her last moments of lucidity, that I loved her, that they would be just trying to keep her comfortable now.  I told her it was okay to let go.  She lost consciousness soon after and they started the morphine drip.  That was on a Wednesday, she hung on until Sunday morning, our 3rd wedding anniversary.

I was done.  I just didn’t give a fuck about anything at all anymore.  I was so tired of the pain.  I wasn’t actively suicidal, but I was having visions and thoughts of how I might go about it.

My dad told me something in the hospital.  He told me, “Hannah didn’t fight so hard for you to live for her, she fought for you to live for you.”

I kept replaying that in my head, trying desperately to believe it.  Between her death and her memorial service, I was barely functioning.  I was like a zombie.  My friends were trying to help, but everyone who wanted to talk to me just wanted to know how it happened, and talk about how hard it must be.  I heard, “You’re so strong,” so many times, it actually makes me sick to hear it.  Almost everyone.

A few friends, they kept acting like friends.  They would tell me about their lives, ask about what else was going on with me, and let me talk about her if I needed to.  Ariel, Christy, Mark, Miss, Tobin, Nat, and a few others I just am forgetting to mention.  It reminded me that there has been life outside my pain all along.

Some of the times I’ve been happiest, have been in the darkest days.  I had to actively search for it.  I honestly don’t know if I’d trade it.  Some of the times, being absolutely close with someone and laughing at stupid jokes, or crying, or walking around 8 NE at UW and talking to all the awesome nurses.  It was horrible, and awful, and beautiful.  Relearning to walk at all, and realizing I did it.  Small victories in physical therapy.  I did it.  I did it with awesome help.  Fuck cancer, little bitch; I won.  We won.

Does it sting?  Sure as hell does.  Do I have my down days, of course I do.  But I am not about to focus on the down side of life when there is parallel beauty right there with it.  Now, I live.  And if I die from living…so be it.  It beats dying from dying.

  • I exercise.  I build my physical strength externally, hoping the internal will follow.  Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.  It gives me something to focus on.
  • I go out places.  Even stupid places I hate, I get out among people, and look for fun even in the stupid.  I usually find it.
  • I talk to people.  Human contact is a good thing.
  • I try to help others.  Nothing feels better.  Nothing.
  • Music.  Sucks with headphones being deaf in one ear, but it is better than nothing, and if I can go headphone free, I do.  Playing, writing, and singing it too.
  • Posting, trying to start and scrapping my book then trying again, poems, lyrics, using words to heal.
  • Painting, anything creative anyway.
  • Eating better over all, but remembering to be bad every once in a while when I get burnt out.  Life is meant to be lived after all.
  • Attempting to make connections, and not being afraid of where those might lead, without pushing them to go anywhere.
  • Basically, finding other things to obsess about besides the pain that will pop up from time to time.
  • Asking for help and understanding when I need it.

This is what I have been though.  Your pain is probably different.  Maybe you think it’s easier, maybe you think it isn’t.  I think it doesn’t matter.  It isn’t the type of pain you have.  Everyone is going to have pain.  The key, is to look for the beauty within the pain and focus on that.  Then obsess over the beautiful things, not the pain.

I hope this helps you, if you are struggling right now.  Someone, at least an online stranger, cares.

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Author: Josh Wrenn

Cancer survivor, wanna-be artist, musician, author, and all around good guy.

22 thoughts on “How I Survive, Part 2”

  1. Reblogged this on Jdawgswords and commented:
    i think losing a loved one is the worst thing, when my best friend lost her son i thought she’d lose her mind…we all took it so hard…his illness/death blindsided us…be she survives and is really doing awesomely well. i seldom ever get depressed but do get angry with myself…and, out of rage, i’ve considered suicide which is easier to overcome perhaps…idk; i’m still here…so if you’re struggling i hope somebody’s invites you to a soda or something…i hope somebody reaches out and you reach back…live long and prosper

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  2. No, I really don’t believe it is. I think how we are dealing with the pain is extremely different. I know we both miss her everyday, and we always will. But we were blessed to have her in our lives that did not end when her’s did. And you know Hannah, she would be pissed at us if we acted like it. So I follow her wishes, and let the pain come and go, instead of focusing on it. That’s it. Take care of yourself. A wounded heart is one thing, a broken heart is something quite different.

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  3. These posts have been really important to me, because I’m an advocate for life. My pain (mental, physical, emotional) has nothing on yours. People have said to me, and I’m sure will continue to say to me, things along the lines of “Of course you love your life, it’s full and happy.” Then they tell me how miserable they are and what they’ve been through. Most of the time, it’s got nothin on me, but I don’t blog about it. (not what my blog is about) They ask me if I really think they should have a positive outlook after all their suffering.
    I seethe.
    Why on earth are they comparing their lives to mine or anyone else’s?!? It’s not a bloody competition. No one gets a medal for the most scars, or the most breakthroughs, or the most endurance — what we get is another day. Another day to connect to the ones we love, another day for memories, for the subtle appreciation of the grand gestures in life. My list is much like your list — get out, love people, enjoy the arts in every form, find gratitude, help, laugh — every day I can do those things, I’m living well DESPITE.
    I’m grateful you have a blog that talks about these things, because I support that no matter what, while we’re living, we have purpose to one another. You are giving purpose and hope with these posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. One friend I had basically stopped telling me any of her issues once I got sick. I was hurt. She said they seemed unimportant by comparison and no matter how much I tried to tell her it wasn’t something to compare, she didn’t listen. We barely talk at all anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s sad.
        I used to have women tell me they felt stupid complaining about their husbands being gone on business trips while mine was deployed. I was like, Psh, I miss mine when he runs to the store, I ain’t judgin anyone! lol Everyone has a right to complain and everyone has a right to find gratitude! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Josh. Very moving posts, parts 1 and 2.

    I’d like to ask you what exactly is “herd-immunity”? I have an idea but I would like to hear it from you. And if you don’t want to answer this question, it’s okay but are you able to work now?

    Continued improving health to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Herd immunity is when enough of the people are able to be vaccinated, or are able to fight of things so that wherever someone like me is, the danger to that person is less because everyone around them isn’t bringing the sicknesses in with them. I am not allowed to work at this point, some due to the frequent minor illness that would keep me from performing any duties, but mostly still due to immunity although I do have a test upcoming where I see if I have rebuilt a key line in immune cells that could show I’m on the road to being able to get back sooner rather than later.

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      1. I’m sorry to hear that, about you not being able to work. It would be great if you had a position whereby you could work from home.

        I’m glad that you explained what herd-immunity was because it wasn’t what I thought it was. 🙂

        Think what you will about vaccinations but that’s why I always try to stay current with mine. I had ankle surgery in both 2013 and 2014 and spent a lot of time going back and forth to the hospital to remove the sutures, have casts put on, x-rays taken and physical therapy. Last year I ended up with a MRSA infection in my scalp, even though I never spent a day in the hospital (I contracted the hospital-born type). I also ended up with enlarged lymph nodes the size of snack-sized Snickers candy bars in my neck, which is where the numerous blood tests came in. So I do feel that those that are healthy should do what we can to protect those that have compromised immunity systems.

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