Its Been One Year
“Ugh,” I grumble as I lean closer to the mirror. “I have got to do something about these eyebrows.”
I inherited all the Lebanese traits from my father’s side of the family. The good ones – like a thick, dark head of hair – and the not so good ones – like thick, dark eyebrows.
It’s as if an invisible hand slaps me straight across the cheekbones. I have eyebrows. Eyebrows so thick, dark, and unruly that they need to be maintained yet again.
A year ago I had no eyebrows.
I can’t help but smile.
* * *
This week marked one year from the last time any chemotherapy drug entered my body. Saturday was the anniversary of my last infusion, which was significant in itself. But I remember ringing the bell as I left the infusion room that day with a feeling of bittersweetness hanging over me like the cloud that often accompanies Eeyore. Because while the big guns were out of the way, I still had 4 days of intense side effects and neon-colored pills to contend with.
I took those last three ugly little guys in the early evening of August 2, 2016 with my baby brother on Facetime with me. Then I sat on the couch with Hope. I didn’t do much other than stroke her fur and stare at the wall and try to get my head around the fact that it was over.
Only, as we all know now, it wasn’t really over yet.
* * *
I was asked recently what the biggest change has been for me since finishing chemotherapy. It’s hard to find words for this answer. Or to even come up with much of an answer at all. Because – as I’ve said before – it many ways it feels like everything has changed.
But in many ways, as I am coming to learn, its less that everything has changed and more that I have become less willing to force myself to change out of some sense of obligation, or fear, or misplaced necessity. I have learned to love myself exactly as I am and to understand that I am not everyone’s cup of tea. And that is perfectly okay.
In fact, I quite like that part of myself.
* * *
There is the obvious. My body has changed. I have three new scars, one taking up quite a bit of prime real estate on this current physical form of mine. I still sweat like it’s my second job. It makes getting dressed difficult, it makes this southern summer difficult, and it makes feeling comfortable in public difficult. My body – particularly my abdomen – looks different. I scrutinize it every day, wondering if I will ever feel beautiful – or even on the border of pretty – again. As my hair continues to grow I feel myself reclaiming a touch of my femininity, but I am a long way from where I was, and am working toward acceptance of my new physical presence in the world. This has proven more difficult than expected.
Last weekend was such a mix of emotions in this regard. On Friday evening I found my way into an asana that I have not been able to even approach since my surgery. My mind sighed and told my body “you can’t catch that bind anymore” at the very instant that my body decided to give it a try. As my hands easily grasped each other, and I eventually found my way into Bird of Paradise, I very nearly screamed to Cole with excitement to make sure someone else bore witness to this accomplishment.
The next day I clobbered a spin class. Even the arms piece, which I have been unable to do for so, so long. As I sprinted my way to the finish line, I hoped Katie noticed what had happened. That someone would be able to tell me this wasn’t all a dream.
(Yes. It seems I only take classes with people who I love.)
But these accomplishments were subdued by a sharp pain in my left side for 36 hours and moderate bloating that had me asking my pendulum over and over again if the cancer was, in fact, back. I know it’s not. The pain is from too much time in the car lately (it came on after I tried to drive to Connecticut in the spring and Dr. Jones has confirmed that I am still not ready for prime time when it comes to road trips) and the bloating was because I decided to try to incorporate three new foods into my diet – foods that historically my stomach has not loved. But my mind always goes first to cancer. And I know there is a good likelihood that it always will.
My relationship to my body has surely changed. My body itself has changed. This is still difficult, but I remind my body daily that it is strong, it is healthy, and it is beautiful.
I hope eventually both of us will believe it.
* * *
The other significant changes are less obvious.
I have learned to speak my truth. My real truth. Not the whitewashed version designed to make others more comfortable. This hasn’t been easy. I have seen several friendships collapse, watched tensions develop where there were none previously, and have found myself feeling more and more left out in places where I once belonged.
I’ve finally come to accept that my introverted nature demands quiet, stillness, and time alone. In the past, I ignored these needs as I pandered to my longings for belonging and acceptance. “No” was not a part of my vocabulary, and this often wreaked havoc on my mental and physical health.
I had my Vedic birth chart read a few weeks ago, and was surprised (but not really) to discover that I house four planets in in the house that indicates introversion. Others tend to be a bit surprised by the revelation that I am, in fact, quite introverted and shy, because after much work I have learned to operate much as an extrovert. But I know it – and I’ve always known it – and its time to start honoring that very significant part of who I am.
That means I have had to work hard on saying no. I have come to realize that I am not filled up by socializing in large groups or in loud spaces. My soul longs for one-on-one connection, quiet deep discussions, and a good dose of time alone with my thoughts and Hope. I have come to accept that I need to be selective about the company I keep. That even the media I expose myself too can bruise my sensitive soul. I am a creature who must be handled gently, and rather than try to callous myself up to better receive the world as it wants to present itself to me, I have learned to place myself in soft spaces that are less likely to bruise it.
And while each of these areas have seen significant growth, they may be nothing compared to the changes that have taken place in the patience and trust department. In the second installment of this trilogy of a lifetime – the one that fell after lymphoma and before ovarian cancer – I developed a need to rush around at an insane pace – an attempt to ensure that I would not miss my life’s calling. If things weren’t happening fast enough, I would just nudge it right along. I wasn’t waiting around, dang it. Life is precious!
This time, I’ve come to learn to savor the pace of the Divine. To wait. To listen. I know where I seem to be headed, but I also know that there will be detours and surprises and some disappointments in there too. And – finally – that is alright with me.
* * *
Chemotherapy is a lot of things. It is poison. It will bring you intensely close to death in an effort to save your life. Chemotherapy is toxic and hazardous and scary. It may be one of the handful of words that can bring a shiver to the spine of most people, even if they have not personally endured it.
But chemotherapy is also something of a magic elixir. It contains the power to unleash gifts we never knew possible. For many of us, it holds the key to the deepest longings of our heart, unleashing promises we never knew existed until the cocktail made its way into our veins. Showing us who we really are under all we have told ourselves we are supposed to be. It strips us down to such a degree that there can be no more hiding from who we really are.
Its been one year since I took that last dose of those nasty little magical pills.
Here's to dozens upon dozens more allowing myself to finally walk this earth as me.