Please excuse me. This year has been so difficult. Rebecca, the Society’s new business manager looked at the date on the last blog entry and had one word for me: “Insane!!” The exclamation marks are part of the word.
Hmmmmmm. I guess I can say that insanity has been one element of my year. Just the darkest, craziest corners one can find themselves trapped in, I suppose. Oh, it’s probably not been THAT bad…I mean, some good things happened, too….LOTS of good things happened actually…It’s just been hard. I don’t know how else to put it. I sort of lost something this past year. Hope, maybe?
Seven months ago I awoke one morning to find a lump under my left arm. A lump the size of a small tangerine. It was not there the night before. After my initial panic and the swooning feeling of doom that accompanied my fear, I calmed down and tried to think clearly. I figured a lump that explodes to that size overnight must have something to do with infection, and that this was probably nothing to worry too much about. Wishful thinking. I saw my oncologist as soon as he could take me, and he took one look and pronounced it the enemy. I was immediately put on chemo and have been ever since.
I am sick every day. Nauseous-sick. Apparently, this is not a common reaction. Most people get over the nausea, but somehow I still have it, and I never know when it’s going to hit. The other day I gagged right in the middle of a meal. I didn’t even FEEL sick. I was swallowing and it just happened: a wave of nausea and the next thing I knew my head was in the toilet.
Walking on the edge of nausea is not pleasant. It basically shapes your day into one of caution and fear. That and the crippling fatigue that comes with steady vomiting and chemo in general. I am good for one thing a day. Perhaps it’s the laundry. Or maybe I’ll need to go to town for a doctor’s appointment. A treatment. A long phone call from an old friend. An hour with my new baby grandson. It hardly matters what I’ve done. Whatever it is leaves me absolutely drained and exhausted.
I was hardly ready for more chemo. I was still using the cane to help me walk from too much of the last chemo. My muscles and nerves were still weak and I felt fragile This chemo is not nearly as “harsh” as the last kind. So, true, I’ve lost some weight, and the bloom is off my cheeks, but if you didn’t know me, you’d probably have a hard time believing I am as sick as I am. .
I do, however, have my hair, and since treatments are once monthly I seem to have the blessing of time on my side. Oh yeah….and since I didn’t lose my hair, I’m actually letting it grow, so I look like I’ve got a hair hat on. Might as well take advantage of ugly.
Look, I’m not complaining. I’m REPORTING. OK?
I’m just tired of this. Not in a spoiled baby way. It’s not something I’m whining about. I’m just tired of it. My head aches. I’ve got blisters on my feet and in my groin area. My feet and hands are hot and sensitive. They pulse with redness. And on the inside, it’s as if I have a neon shield around me. Neon-like energy, but neon-like chemicals, too. Let’s say it’s a greenish neon light or aura. A glow that’s hot and burns. My skin is screaming.
These are all symptoms consistent with this particular chemo drug or something like them. And I can take it. I thought I’d come to the end…to a place where I couldn’t do any more, but then my oncologist told me that he’d “prefer you to continue.”
That was enough for me. Coming from him, anyway, because he’s brilliant and I trust him. So, I bucked up and I’m going to “continue”. That could mean months from now. Months more of this. I am, however, going to do whatever he thinks I must do. Unless I just can’t. But then, when it’s all over, I have a plan. I’ve planned a trip, you see…
I’ve decided to go to India. Kerala, to be precise. I met an amazing woman who approached me at the chemo clinic. After hours of staring, and wanting to know one another she had finished her treatment and before she left she came and stood by the chemo chair, where I was still hooked up. My daughter was with me. She told me later how excited we looked to finally be speaking to one another. I knew there was something important that was going to happen. “ Christina” started talking to me about a place from which she’d just returned. Like, the night before! In India! A clinic, I guess is the best way to describe it. The clinic specializes in Aryuvedic treatments and has been run and maintained by a particular family for four generations. There is a six week course of treatment called, “Pancha Karma”. It is non invasive and a very gentle treatment, but, by no means casual.
Three years ago Christina was riddled with cancer. It was in her bones and her liver and her brain, and she had just gone thru a year of chemo and radiation. There were more tumours in her brain than anyone wanted to count. In that small window of opportunity that presents itself to the person with chronic cancer…to a person living with cancer…before the next incident or metastasize, she impulsively decided to go with a friend to this small clinic in Kerala, India, that they’d heard about.
Over a period of three years, Christina returned to the clinic three times. Today she is cancer free. She hasn’t ONE tumour.
So, this woman looking at me, and telling me this stuff is…well…immaculate. Her eyes are blue and they sparkle. The whites are white white. But more than how she looks, it’s the air about her. It’s the air of health. Health on all levels…and most importantly, a spiritual level, it seems. There is a calm and peaceful clarity in people like she. It is what Faith looks like, I think, because there is an absolute absence of fear of Death in some people, and they fairly glow with a kind of unshakeable confidence. Like, it’s all right to be in the world. There’s no shame in being human and nothing to worry about. They believe they’re going to be taken care of. By something great and magnificent. They just trust this. It is like being in the cradle.
O, how I ache for this thing called FAITH. I am recently considering that I must practice to gain faith. I always thought faith was something you had or you didn’t, and that if you didn’t, you couldn’t find it. It’s about trust and lack of, and it comes from something waaaay before you, I think. Before you were even you.
Maybe you’re taught faith. You’re taught to believe in something. Or maybe you’re just born that way. I don’t know. I can’t tell from the way people are how it works. It seems that people with faith just come that way. Real faith. Genuine and authentic faith. That’s what I’m talking about. What if you just can’t find it in yourself?
Should you practice? Is there somewhere or someone who can help you? Not preach to you, but actually teach you how to believe in something? Or is it about self love? Honouring one’s self? And do you have to do all that talking about it and figuring out why? Maybe it has more to do with cynicism, and then, how do you get rid of THAT??!!
The major thing that resonates for me about these treatments in India, is the fact that one’s entire being is addressed. Your physical body, certainly, but you’re also going to examine the mental and emotional selves, and the Spiritual self, as well. I cannot expect to ever heal if I do not transform completely. Without compromise. It would be impossible for the body to heal if there were something out of wack in another part of you. Right? It’s a question of balance. Isn’t it? I heard someone say that being sick with cancer means your body became too toxic for the soul to live there anymore. That says something to me.
I must really give it all up for this to work. Hand it over. I must find a way to exercise faith, in fact. And that is why it is so significant that Christine chose to speak to me that day.
So I am going to throw everything up in the air and confront my fears and go to a strange, exotic place that I’ve never been to before and turn over my body to them, and take the risk that nothing at all will change…and take the risk that everything will.