A Note From The Middle
"You don't have cancer," he reminds me whenever I slip and claim I do, "you're healing from cancer."
I do believe this is true. At least 96% of the time I do. I believe my surgeon when she says she thinks she got it all during surgery. I believe that the chemo is a precautionary measure. My CA125 (tumor marker) numbers are quickly dropping, which lends credibility to this. 96% of the time I believe that all of it - the chemo, the energy work, the supplements, the acupuncture, the therapy, the massage, the cupping - all of it is healing work. I don't have cancer anymore.
But then there's the other 4%. That percent is scary and dark and full of anxiety. It sneaks up when I am finally left alone, when I try to let things get quiet. It sneaks up when my belly fills again after four days, when I cant breathe at the top of a flight of stairs, when just running a few errands necessitates a nap. I wonder in those little windows whether I am wrong. If without my knowing, its growing back.
* * *
Two months ago today I came out of surgery and indirectly heard the news from a nurse in the recovery room. Before I opened my eyes, I heard him tell someone else they had put a port in during my surgery.
This was enough for me to know it was cancer. And at least stage two.
A few hours later Dr. Boardman would sit on my bed and tell me the whole truth. The cancer was stage 3C. If I wasn't lying down already, I would have fallen. I had really believed it would be stage 1.
This all came on so suddenly. I remember the day in January when I felt a strange pang during a yoga class. A pang I thought might be a UTI, and I was frustrated - I really didn't have time to pick up antibiotics. I wonder if this was the last normal day of my life. Or was it last day in San Diego with my Living Room family - on the shore of the water in Bob Goff's backyard, as we lit candles and let them float away, carrying our dreams and prayers? Was that the last normal day of my life? Or was it the morning in Tucson, watching the sunrise over the mountains hours before the nurse called with the worrisome MRI results? Or the afternoon in the coffee shop just before I heard the news about my CT Scan? Or maybe the day before the surgery?
I find myself wondering - when was the last normal day? The day before everything changed?
I don't know anymore.
The thing about the day before your life changed forever is that it felt just like any other day.
* * *
I catch myself wondering from time to time what I would be doing if cancer didn't throw things off course. I have to stop and figure out what day of the week it is, and then remember what I used to do with my time. I miss the days of a consistent schedule. I miss the days when being in a yoga class wasn't dangerous for my body. I miss the days when I could plan ahead what to eat or wear.
Sitting with my spiritual director yesterday, I was telling him how I feel like I am so far in I can barely remember life before, but I'm not close enough to the end to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As he was talking, I did some quick mental math and realized that I am very close to the halfway point of the rugged terrain part of this road - surgery and the bad chemo. In some ways that's hard to believe, because in some ways this has actually gone by fast. But in some ways, I feel like I don't have the energy to repeat what I've already done. The road feels too long.
* * *
I've broken this journey into two parts. The one we are in now, I refer to at the "bad chemo". That's the six rounds we're hoping to finish by early August. After that, we start a year of maintenance chemo, which I've come to refer to as the "easy chemo" - because I'm told its side effects are very minimal and I'll basically get to go back to life as usual.
When I think about entering the easy chemo period, I wonder if any part of my old world will still fit. I wonder if all the places that once felt like home will feel suddenly foreign. I wonder if I will love what I once loved and laugh like I once laughed or if everything will be just as changed as I am. I wonder if this heaviness will persist or if lightness will return. I wonder if I will ever be brave enough to reveal my scars, if my hair will ever grow back, and if the bruises on my abdomen will ever fade. I wonder if anyone will be able to understand me and if I will be able to relate to them.
I wonder who I will be when we get to the easy chemo, and what my life will look like.
And I know that one day this life that has been changed forever will start to look like any other day.