How I Keep Laughing in the Midst of Chronic Illness


I have chronic pain from an auto accident and other serious injuries. I also have chronic pain from various overlapping autoimmune diseases.

I’m not pleased about the chronic pain, but most days, I’m so accustomed to it that I’m able to live an ordinary life with the help of my family and friends.

Several months ago, I began to experience a different pain, this one in my mid-section near and below my belly button. I made various guesses as to what was causing the pain. Perhaps I was developing sensitivities or intolerances to certain foods. Perhaps I was experiencing a side effect of one of my medications. Perhaps I needed a colonoscopy.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps….

“Perhaps you need to get your scrawny little butt to the doctor instead of trying to diagnose yourself, Mama,” said my daughter.

My granddaughter shook her head and muttered, “That’s what I keep telling her, too.”

“Maybe she needs to start farting,” said my loving husband.

So, with the “encouragement” of my smart Alec family, I finally made an appointment and explained the situation to my primary care provider.

She examined me in that fun way that involves stirrups but no horse, then referred me to a gynecologist.

Two more stirrup exams, one abdominal ultrasound, and two stirrup ultrasounds later, I had my diagnosis: At least one large tumor, sharing a blood supply with my uterus and left ovary. The gynecologist gave me my treatment options and asked me to think about them, and then tell her my decision in one week.

I discussed those options with my husband and my daughter. They both wanted to do some research of their own before giving their opinions.

A day or two later, my daughter phoned me and said, “Hey, Mama. I found out something cool! Sometimes, these tumors have hair and teeth. Sometimes, they even have eyeballs and teeth! If the doctor takes out the tumor and lets you keep it, you put that thing on a leash and take it for walks around town. We’ll have to make it some tiny shoes, but…”

I hung up on her and laughed so hard that I peed my pants.

My family and I finally decided to choose a partial or total hysterectomy, so I returned to my gynecologist to discuss the surgery with her. She said that she agreed with our decision, but informed me that we were facing a wrinkle, “I have some concerns about your heart, and I need you to see a cardiologist and get clearance before I’ll perform the surgery.” Huh?

So, off to the cardiologist I trotted, toothy, hairy tumor getting a free ride, and went through yet another series of tests.

“I have some concerns about your heart,” I heard for the second time. “I’d like you to wear a heart monitor for a month. After I determine what’s going on in there, I’ll know how to treat the problem so that you can have the surgery you need.” Again – huh??

By this time, I felt a bit defeated and overwhelmed. I can’t afford to let myself feel that way for more than a day or two at a time, though, so I adjusted my attitude and returned to his office to be hooked up to the monitor and learn how to use it.

I sat in my office chair afterward, crabby and pouty and annoyed at having to wear the thing. Getting up to walk around my house while wearing it took some getting used to, that’s for sure.

Late in the afternoon, one of my best friends phoned. She said, “So. You have the heart monitor now, yes?”

“Yeah, I’m wearing the damn thing.”

“And just how many times have you gotten the cord tangled on a doorknob today and been yanked back into the room?”

“Um…five.”

“That’s just what I expected! I should’ve made a bet with somebody!”

Once again, it was time for me to adjust my attitude. I asked friends how I should explain the monitor to nosy strangers. My favorite answers:

“Say it’s the Lost Ark, and if they kept staring, it’ll open and kill all who look.”

“Get fidgety and secretive and tell people, in a whisper, ‘I’ve been tagged to do covert surveillance for The Agency. Stay close to me. You’ll be OK.’ Then look around like you’re expecting trouble.”

“Tell them you just escaped detention in the middle of a lie detector test.”

“Tell them it’s your portable alternative fact generator.”

“Tell them it’s to keep the government from reading your thoughts.”

And, from my granddaughter, “I dunno. I just want you to take off your shirt so I can figure out how you’re all hooked up.”

I’ll have days when I’m bummed out again, even days when I feel sorry for myself. Today is not one of those days. Today, I’m chuckling in gratitude at all the goofy, irreverent people who care about me.

Sometimes, a girl’s gotta laugh!

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