Saturday, August 23, 2008

Exorcising a Personal Demon

Lee Van Cleef is one of my all time favorite western actors. I'm sure lot of people will remember him for other roles, but in my book none is greater than his work as Angel Eyes in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

I still remember vividly the first time I saw the movie when I was 12. It was a Saturday and I had just come in from mowing the lawn and was fixing lunch. We had a small TV in the kitchen, and I turned it on out of reflex. After surfing around for a bit, the only thing that I found on was one of those movie marathons sponsored by a siding company. The company "presented" the movie and made product demonstrations and took sales calls in lieu of commercial breaks.

I had never heard of the movie they were about to start showing, but I was familiar enough with Clint Eastwood to give it a try. So I started making my baloney sandwich and as the movie started those first few whistles and the chanting of Il Buono, Il Cattivo, Il Brutto that the movie opens on hit me like an electric wire. I was hooked.

There is such a beautiful symmetry to Sergio Leone's movie. The trio of Blondie, Tucco and Angel Eyes are iconic on their journey to Sand Hill Cemetery to find the unknown grave and the gold buried in it. Even its flawed perception of American history, which can be forgiven as poetic license, just draws you further into the epic story. But what really hooked me was that the movie had an honest to goodness first-class villain.

Angel Eyes was ruthless, uncaring and totally devoid of emotion. He was a truly sociopathic killer for whom the ends would always justify the means. He has no back story or explanation for his character, he simply was. You are never allowed to empathize with him. Good stories need good villains to keep them believable and Angel Eyes allowed me to willingly suspend my disbelief immediately. Frankly he is the kind of person I would be scared to death of if I met in real life, because I know he would end up hurting me.

So why am I telling you all this? After all, this is a blog about my Wife's struggle with a life threatening disease, and not a movie review. I figured out that Ann is not the only one here that is sick. I am too.

I have developed a tremor in my right hand, and have had increasingly "uncomfortable" dreams. Most nights I defer all but a couple of hours of sleep in an effort to avoid being a victim of my subconscious. I can't control it, so avoidance has seemed like the best alternative.

So what does a character from a Sergio Leone spaghetti western have to do with that? I have started having a extremely vivid recurring dream that goes like this...

I'm in the first apartment Ann and I ever lived in together.
The walls in our bedroom are a royal deep blue color and the baseboards are stark white.
I can smell the fumes in the air. I know the paint is new.
All the furniture (bed, chairs, etc) have all been removed from the room.
A bright shaft of sun light comes in through the bathroom door to my right.
In front of me is a pocket door that leads to the living room and it's closed.
I can hear our small air-conditioner unit humming behind me.

I start to walk towards the closed door, and as I approach it slides open.
Angel Eyes is standing there with his broad black hat and smoking a cigarillo.
He casts his tobacco on the ground.
As he rubs out the ember with a twist of his boot his jacket opens and I can see his pocket watch and pistol.
He looks like a rooster scratching a dance in the dirt.
He smirks wickedly at me and says, "This will break you".
Then he turns and walks out of the room.

I want to follow him, but I cant.
I become hungry and begin to feel weak.
I notice my hair beginning to fall out in clumps.
I lean on the wall to help me stand but, slide to the ground instead.
The hunger is almost unbearable now and it really hurts.
I open my mouth to cry out for help, but as I do my teeth fall out onto my lap and the floor.

I know I am dying.
I want to get up and save myself but I'm too weak.
The pain becomes almost indescribable and I begin to lose focus.
I look up and Ann walks in through the door.
She looks like the day I first met her, she is beautiful and perfect.
She crosses to me, bends down and takes my hand.
Her skin feels cool.
"Are you ready?" she asks me.
I can't answer, but she smiles and helps me to stand.

There you go. That’s the dream I have been having since Ann relapsed. I don't know what it means, but it troubles and frightens me. Much more so than some of the others I have had since Ann was diagnosed.

So I have decided that next week I am going to try to find a psychologist near MD Anderson who can talk to me. While Ann is in the hospital for her transplant she will be in safe hands, and I will be free to make an appointment or two during the week. For the record I normally wouldn’t post this, and I'm still having second thoughts about it, but this blog is about our struggle. As much as I am loath to admit it, the situation has taken its toll on me too. If I'm going to keep fighting for Ann then I need to find a way to, if not get better, to at least keep myself from getting worse.


Jim said...


What an honest post. Ann is lucky to have you.

I think about you a lot because I've been in your shoes. What strikes me about you is how analytical and scientific you are. You want to know everything and explain everything, which you do well.

My approach was different, and certainly not perfect. I wanted to know enough to understand the basics, but that was it. To this day, the science doesn't interest me much. I just want to strangle blood cancer.

My dream was also stark. I dreamt and sometimes imagined delivering Dori's eulogy while my children watched my every move in shock and disbelief. I cannot tell you how uncomfortable that feeling is, but somehow I know you know.

For what it's worth, it seems like Angel Eyes is Ann's leukemia. He's a bad ass, but he's gonna lose eventually.

We're praying for you and Ann in this battle and continue to work for the cure in our own small way.

Nancy said...

Chris, I'm sorry you are having these dreams and other symptoms. I think it's a great idea to seek counseling. I hope they can help because Ann needs you to be strong. She needs you to continue being her "Rock", as you have been all along.

If there's anything I can do, please let me know. I'm pulling for both of you to make it through this with flying colors!!! Take it one day at a time....

love you both, Nancy

Anonymous said...

Chris, therapy will do you wonders. I have been going for years since John's diagnosis. I cannot make it through all of this without help.The dream seems to represent the disease and your fear of losing Ann to it. Angel Eyes is the leukemia and the comment that this will "undo you" or something to that extent is related to your fear that if Ann were to die, that would be the death of you too. Therefore the feeling you yourself are dying (interestingly mixed in with Ann's symptoms, hair loss etc). Ann coming to take your hand would symbolize Ann coming to be with you after you died; coming to bring you to be with her.Now, none of this is prophetic.So don't think it's a view of reality in the future. It is your terror , pure and simple. Terror that she will die, terror that that will kill you, then the thought of her being perfectly whole again and coming for you to join her in another world. Talking to a therapist will help you to say outloud how much terror you have of losing her.You need to cry your heart out to someone. I have lived with the same thoughts for 14 years of John's illness.I am giving you my email address so you can write if you want to. You can cry and holler all you I send you hugs and know you will both be alright.The fear is normal and does not mean it will come true at all. Please turn to us to help you. As the wife of the patient I think I have suffered emotionally and psychologically as much as he has physically. I am living on medication and not ashamed of it at all. Love from Jud

Anonymous said...

I do not have any experience with your situation, but wanted to post a little encouragement. Hang in there - I hope you find a counselor that can help. I didn't get counseling when my daughter was very sick, and I think in retrospect it would have helped.

From the Mom of a former preemie - hang in there.

Marie said...

Chris---Your honesty moves me. I too am a caregiver for a cancer patient; its my daughter, not a spouse. I have dreams too or I just don't sleep. Sometimes not sleeping is just easier. I think having someone to talk to will help. Of course, we both know that a cure will help the most. :) I'm hoping for that for you all! Hang in there. Angel Eyes just can't win.

PS We've also been at MDA off and on for a couple of weeks. In Louisiana now, visiting family, but heading back early next week--just in time for Hurricane Gustav. Unlike Ann, my daugher's treatment will be oral, so she can take it from our home in Utah then travel back every month for labs.