Sept 6, 2001 was the day of my last round (god willing forever) of chemotherapy. It was a good day, and a hard day. By this time I was completely bald, exhausted, unable to sleep or eat. They had told me that chemotherapy was cumulative. I didn’t really understand what they meant. I mean I understood it, but I didn’t get it, how it would feel, what it would really be like in my body. And I am such a body person, that is where it really comes home for me.
So anyway, they were right, and it was hard.
When I had gone in for my blood work the day before, to see where my counts were, to evaluate if I would be able to take a full dose – they offered me the choice… 80% dose on the anticipated day, or 100% dose a few days later. It took me so much effort to mentally wrap my brain around having the needle work to do the chemo, and I had everything in place for the pre-scheduled day, that I said go with 80% now. Of course my brain was so hopped up on the drugs, who knows how I was making any kinds of decisions. But I made it: get it over with, be done.
I had Christie Wilks as my nurse. She was a solid nurse, able to get the job done, distantly caring. Eleonore Hamm and Kathleen Symons took me (I never did much of anything alone during cancer):
- I was stoned on Xanax, because that was the only way I could face it.
- I got healing touch ahead of time.
- I brought snacks, set up my altar, and we all prayed together – like we did every time.
- I pictured the chemotherapy being as much god as anything and everything else – and so I was just mainlining god, taking her straight into my body, where she could do what needed to be done.
It was a long round of chemo, and a long day. And I got through it, just like every other day – one step and one moment at a time.
After, I wanted to be celebrating – shouting from the roof tops “I am done with Chemotherapy”, but I couldn’t move, weary to the bone, malnourished (from both not eating that much, unable to stomach it, and then what I did get in not staying there very long), and under-slept. It didn’t feel like a celebration, or a victory. Just felt like one more day I got through. In the slow uphill fight against cancer.
These days when I talk about cancer I am buoyant, defiant and a bit mouthy. It is an easier stand after it is all over. 11 years after it is over. But in the days when I didn’t know for sure who would be the victor there was fear and sadness and a constant nagging concern. Which I often masked to try to help others feel better, safer, less scared themselves. Now, with enough distance, I can look back and admit my own fear, and my own heartbreak, and my own deep vulnerability, and not shy away.
And I know that with most of my posts I like to end with the up, the happy part of the story, or at least the lesson. Not sure what it might be here… maybe… even with a victory, with every victory, there is a loss. Cancer had me lose my sense of safety in the world. It reminded me how fragile life is, and through that how precious. And I guess that is a part of what gives me such fire in my life (not that I was lacking fire before, but not fire with focus like this) to live it fully and squeeze every damn last ounce out of it. And that is a lesson worth getting. So for today… 11 years later, that is what I am grateful for. That and being alive.
What are you grateful for?