Monday, August 31, 2015

The Landscape of Cancer: Depression, Grief and the Undertoad

Today, we leave for Europe, for a trip of a lifetime. One would think I would have been extremely excited about it, especially during the past few weeks.

But I wasn’t. 

Until last night. Mark has been excited for the past two weeks. He kept saying so, when all I could do was smile and wonder why I wasn’t experiencing the same thing.

Last night, thanks to some thoughts shared in an email from a friend and a couple of other thought-provoking circumstances, I realized why I haven’t been excited: I’ve been experiencing depression. I didn’t recognize it, however, until within the last 24 hours. As I wrote a year ago, I have experienced (mainly undiagnosed) depression most of my life, but it has been a long time since I’ve had a bout of it. So long, in fact, that I didn’t realize that what I had been experiencing the past few weeks was depression. 

Signs? I didn’t feel motivated to do much of anything. I simply couldn’t get excited about Europe. I lost interest in reading. I was feeling physically ill, having headaches that I haven’t experienced in a long time, feeling exhausted, nervous stomach, etc. At times, I was irritable. At other times, many tears came.

Why? To some extent, I’m not sure. But I think it was probably connected to another realization that came to me this morning. I didn’t recognize it because I’m not that familiar with it. 


I have grieved over things in my life, but I don’t think I’ve ever (consciously) experienced true grief, a grief that comes from the permanent loss of someone you are deeply in love with. This kind of grief is a stranger I don’t know very well, but whose strange power I have felt in the past couple of weeks. 

Of course, I’m referring to Mark, who has advanced, inoperable prostate cancer. There are times when his mortality comes sharply into focus and overwhelms me. As I looked toward taking this trip, the thought that this will likely be our last big trip was always there, tempering my excitement. And as we drew closer to leaving, those thoughts – I came to realize – engendered grief.

In my friend’s email, she referred to the presence of the “undertoad” – a word, she explained to me, that was used by children in the book, The World According to Garp (which I never read) to refer to the ocean’s undertow. The undertoad is always there. Sometimes I can hardly feel it. At other times, it is extremely powerful and can sweep me out, I have realized, into a sea of depression and grief if I am not prepared. This has been an important lesson for me to learn at this point of my journey with Mark through the landscape of cancer. 

As of last night, I am officially excited about our trip. Thoughts of Mark’s mortality have again been faced, but I’ve turned a corner. I intend to enjoy every day of our trip together and let whatever lies in the future stay there.


  1. "You’ll seldom experience regret for anything that you’ve done. It is what you haven’t done that will torment you. The message, therefore, is clear. Do it! Develop an appreciation for the present moment. Seize every second of your life and savor it.” ~Wayne Dyer.....Joseph seize the day and the experiences which awaits you - rise above the grief for it is in the JOY of your life which you should experience every second of the day....grief is not your relationship anymore - experience the Joy of your day together

  2. Thank you, Marina. I intend to do just that. :-)

  3. Are you visiting Scotland at all?