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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Existing "More Than I Did Four Months Ago"




I have just finished the first section, “Italy,” in Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. I feel a connection between the main character, Liz, and my own life. She’s a published writer; I’m a want-to-be-published writer. She experienced depression before, during, and after her divorce; so did I. She is a seeker, searching for healing, faith devotion, and authentic love; me too! One of my favorite lines so far – and the lines that struck a chord of connection for me – comes at the end of the Italy section: “The easiest, most fundamentally human way to say it is that I have put on weight. I exist more than I did four months ago.”

In her travels, Liz Gilbert has just finished the first leg of her year long journey: four months in Italy, four months in India, four months in Indonesia. In Italy, she gained back weight lost in the years of divorce and depression, and then added a few more as she allowed herself the pleasures of eating, making friends, and learning to speak Italian.

I am like Liz. At the end of my four rounds of chemo, “…I have put on weight.” I too “… exist more than I did four months ago.”

And like Liz, I just finished the first leg of my own, year long journey. My healing has been different – and almost opposite of the emotional healing she found in Italy. My healing from breast cancer has been more like a tearing apart – more like a divorce as a surgeon tore out cancer cells and an oncologist has sought to destroy any that might have remained, hidden somewhere in my body.

During the past four months I have been more in problem-solving mode and less in deep search of my self. I learned that “chemo-brain” is real as I have been unable to focus on quiet things like writing and making deep connections. Even my prayers have been more like bursts of fireworks than basking in the quiet presence of my Higher Power. My brain has been like a squirrel on steroids, hopping from tree to tree in search of sustenance, more like the squirrels in my parents’ backyard, taking time to tease and torment dogs – other creatures of God to be sure, but creatures who appear to think so differently from the squirrel.

I have spent my squirrel-ier days hopping from task to task: lesson planning, grading, and learning about my students within bursts of hanging up their pictures and artwork. (Teaching really is the perfect job for the A.D.D. brain, as we are constantly required to flit from task to task.) Reading one book at a time, however, has been a greater struggle. So has the mountain of paperwork I’ve collected to turn into insurance. Yet, I’ve been able to play those crazy word games with friends, text message, keep up with politics, and post messages that reveal my liberalism and irritate my conservative friends. In that way, I’m like the squirrel, flitting and flying with possibility while incessantly claiming to my more grounded friends that they must be wrong and cannot see as clearly from their fenced in perspective.

It is in the quiet and white space of a Sunday afternoon that I know more deeply that my political posts and yipping will not bring us closer to a genuine understanding of each other’s perspectives. It’s like we are playing football politics right now. And it makes me sad. I sense that we have lost credibility with one another – that our minds might be permanently closed to the ideas represented by the “other side.”

Nonetheless, I’m grateful to be able to put this feeling into words. My mind and ability to focus are returning to me. Being able to sit quietly with this thought and challenge – gives me hope that a solution will arrive one day, walking up to open the door that, at present, stands closed between us.

Liz, from Eat, Pray, Love, will continue her healing, but now, I predict, in a spiritual way – as she learns more about a voice that speaks with her in her most despairing moments.

As my mind and focus return to me, I hope and pray in the coming weeks of radiation and physical healing from the chemo, that I too will be better able to hear that voice. The voice that speaks to me of love, healing, guidance, and goodness.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Day 81 out of 84




Today is October 7, 2012 – Day 81 out of 84 days of poisoning my body so I might live. J The last time I posted, I believe was just after Day 1. I had hair then, was a little afraid, but highly optimistic. And I weighed about 12 pounds less than what I way right now. What happened? Chemo brain, school began, and I kept waiting to catch-up... 

Quick Summary: I’m through with chemo treatments. Beginning Thursday, my body is through with Taxotere and Cytoxin, the poisons that cause the acid reflux, nausea, hair loss, fatigue, and chemo brain.  It was dreadful, awful, and by the grace of God and loving family and friends… I have made it through. I almost feel guilty for complaining – I only had 4 chemo treatments; most of the people I know who have had to endure chemo, had a minimum of 8 treatments – some, much, much more.

If I knew I had 4 or more chemo treatments to go…. I’d be tempted to give in and give up. But for now, being so close to the end, I feel relief – the kind of relief that allows me to finally shed tears, a few at a time… and mostly they are tears of gratitude. I’m not afraid anymore. I no longer feel the need to be strong for those around me. We are through the roughest waters of this journey.

Beginning in a week or so… I will have 34 radiation treatments focusing on my right breast – the same one where Dr. Talbert performed the lumpectomy. Dr. Toma, my oncologist, cautions me about expecting too much of myself too fast – I might have mentioned that I hoped my hair would grow back and I’d lose the 12 pounds I’ve gained by next week or next month… and that I’d be able to finish writing that darn thesis. She looked at me with all seriousness and said, “No.” It could take anywhere from 6 months to a year, to be back to myself. Ha! I replied inside my own head so she couldn’t hear me. She doesn’t know what an overachiever I am. Which is ironic for those of you who know me – because I’m also a procrastinator. How does that happen?

Anyways, by Christmas I’ll be done with radiation. This Thursday, I see Dr. Toma and begin taking bigger doses of Herceptin (that miracle drug that will ensure the cancer doesn’t return). I have to have a heart scan on October 18 to make sure Herceptin isn’t causing heart damage. Pretty sure that’s not happening, but prayers and positive thinking and light would still be appreciated.

Signing off for now. Keeping it short (I had intended to write what I wrote in my Writer’s Notebook this morning… but maybe next time). Thanks for asking about me, caring about me, wondering if I was ever going to post an update… And thanks Mindie and Kathy for encouraging me to write again!

Love to all my fans!  (LOL!)  And to all those who put up with me.

Shelly