Dealing with Screaming Cancer Stress

"The preliminary biopsy results are consistent with a metastatic recurrence of breast cancer".

So for those of you who don't know, the reason I came to the US was to court Christine. I first came over in November 2004, fell totally in love, and we were engaged "real quick" as they say in California. In February, 2005 we were handfasted, but later that month, she was diagnosed with cancer following her return to the US. I flew out there to help with her long battle with mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but the short of it is that she's been cancer-free for just three years.

Or so we thought. She recently had a PET scan, which showed enlarged and over-active lymph nodes. This in turn triggered the stress that's associated with being in the anxious darkness of not knowing. Since then we've learned that the cancer is back, and that we're looking at a longer-term treatment of what is effectively a chronic disease. I'm unafraid to admit that I've been running the emotional spectrum from anger through anxiety to tears of pain. None of the family is immune to this, and it's a tough one to cope with. So now it builds again, and we are faced with the question of what to do while we wait for the medical machine to give this fear a name. Well, we continue to work, though my boss, bless her heart, has kindly given me Saturdays off for a while. Tess continues her schooling (Grade 5, she's doing so well, too!) We're trying to live normally, but the worry is apparent. Sleepless nights, poor appetite and all the trappings of the tension. A friend of mine said I needed to blow off steam, and he was right. ANother asked me if it would help to blow some shit up, which made a ort of odd sense too.

I have many hobbies. I read, I write. Christine knits, makes jewelry and both she and Tess do ballet. I lacked something physical, something that would burn off some adrenalin. If I were up at our summer cabin in Ontario, I could dig out the old foundations of the deck and porch and make them sturdier, I could build the workbench I promised myself, fix up the dock. Chop down trees. That's how I get rid of stress, with some form of physical exertion.

But the problem is that I am basically lazy. I have a fairly physical job, which helps a little, I do a little Tai Chi now and then, but not regularly, and I am loth to run because I feel ridiculous. I don't dance and the pools are closed, pretty much. So a couple of weeks ago, I went down to Vacaville to do what many red-blooded American males seem to do. I joined a shooting range and went and shot a rifle.

Guns and Ammo

Now at this point, I will remind you that I am an Englishman. In England, we don't shoot things. You can own a shotgun and shoot clay pigeons or (if you're rich enough) go hunting. But rifles and handguns? No way. Not for many a year has it been legal to own or use a firearm. So for me this was a big deal. I have never fired a gun before, never wanted to. But here in the US, I have the opportunity to do just that, and I decided to give it a shot. So to speak.

The news that I had done this attracted a few raised eyebrows among my mostly-liberal Davis friends, none of whom I can imagine owning or using a weapon. Many have never used one, nor would they consider it necessary. But I went and rented a .22 rifle (a Ruger 10/22, in case that means something to you) and bought 100 cartridges, got a brief demo as to how to load and use the thing, and off I went into the indoor range. I shook. I shook like a café table in an earthquake, nervous shakes caused by "this thing could kill someone" thoughts. But I did it, and even learned how to hit the target close to the bull. Pulled to the left a little, but hey, I'm new at this. I plugged away, slowly improving my aim, at the same time trying to imagine why people did this as a hobby.

You see, it was interesting, but not really that much fun. The trouble was, the rifle made a crack rather than the BANG that my neighbour got when he was firing his much bigger handgun. So this week, I plucked up even more courage and went back, and this time, rented a handgun. A Smith and Wesson 686P loaded with .357 Magnum ammunition. Now that is not a nickel-plated sissy pistol, it is a serious handgun that goes BANG.

It kicked a little, too. I knew I was firing something, because I could feel it in my body. This was what the .22 had lacked, the immediacy, impact, the...oomph. This gun felt like it was doing something, and as another plus, I could see the holes in the target, clear and round and large and black. There was a flash of the propellant and a terrific noise that let me know that here was something that had some serious power, pushing 10.2 grams (158 grains) of bullet at 1,300 feet per second. I don't think I'm about to buy a handgun, become a gun nut or join the NRA, but it was satisfying and, dare I say it, fun.

I went back again today, and as I'd promised myself, I wrote CANCER in large letters, to help focus. It helped. I learned that cocking the pistol before firing made me more accurate, I learned to look at the front sight and not at the target, I learned not to grip the gun too tightly. That helped, too. Maybe not in a Zen way, and maybe it won't change Christine's health one way or the other, but boy, was it satisfying to work out some of that stress by blowing holes in shit. Just tell me it won't make me vote Republican.

Picture of the target at
and for a limited time, on my homenode.

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