Sunnier Days Ahead

I’m too excited about my breakfast and newly recovered fondness for food to stay in bed any longer. What I would sketch right now, if I were an artist, to give you a thousand words at a glance, is this.

My husband is in his robe, wearing the bed-head that makes me smile, his feet up on an ottoman, breakfast smoothie and iPad in hand. I’m at the dining table right behind him, my stout little black laptop (“It’s a BlackBook!”, they excitedly once informed at the Genius Bar), my organic golden-yolk egg-and-parsley breakfast sandwich, my mango smoothie, and my tea next to me, trying (somewhat successfully), to respect the morning quiet he prefers. My senses of taste and smell have stirred to life, and the numbing neuropathy and vibrating, face-plant-inducing weakness have receded enough to permit small adventures in the kitchen. My brain is chatty, animated, in high gear.

I realize that nobody cares all that much about what I’m eating or what it looks like in here this morning. But that’s not at all what this is about. They tell me that those who write or in some other way communicate and document their traumatic experiences as they emerge from them recover more quickly, particularly when they sense somebody is paying attention, so stay with me if you have a moment. And because key elements of it are already logged here, it’s primarily the roller-coaster euphoria that sometimes now emerges that I want to share today, my first steps coming out of the many-week-long, frightening, miserably painful stupor.

Also on the table next to me, I have a large bag of fresh parsley, which I’m stripping from its stalks to zip up into a little bag and refrigerate for convenience. (If you’re not a fan of parsley, Google its medicinal properties; you may quickly become one.) And invisible nor easily represented in a sketch, but equally real in my mind, are vibrant images of this meal making its way into my calves and thighs, ones that curve and move and function again, to carry me beyond the end of my building hallway and up a flight of stairs.

This post is about having turned a bend on a very narrow, hair-pin-turn-riddled, steep road scratched into the dark edge of a craggy mountain, and seeing fresh green in the valley ahead. It’s about feeling like a human being again. It’s about the million tiny things we take for granted every day until we lose them—waking up without wondering if it’s sandpaper you’ve slept on instead of soft cotton sheets. Waking up knowing you can go get your own medication instead of waking your partner to do it. Waking up hungry. Being conscious that your skin and bone marrow are no longer on fire. It’s about a feeling of confidence that I will not forever be prisoner to a poisoned and near-paralyzed body. It’s about a shopping trip for spring clothes with a friend who, like me, freed from an office cubicle by day, happens to be an outstanding and patient wheelchair navigator. It’s about waking up with a million want-to-do things in mind, things like a series of dinners to cook for the lovely human beings who have faithfully brought fresh-squeezed juices and home-made soups and smoothies and bowls of rice, or, for my husband, homemade chocolate chip cookies, beef stew and other heartier fare. Those who now, with my return to hunger, are happy to provide made-to-request roast chicken and mashed potatoes (thanks Mom!). My kitchen needs re-baptizing, and I’m eager to follow through just as soon as my legs will hold me solidly enough.

These words are an attempt to roughly translate images forever imprinted in my mind into language I can return to in the future.

An aside: it is, as always, a happy little hour I’m having with my lovely outdated little BlackBook. I’m currently reading Nahlah Ayed’s A Thousand Farewells, and it was a lovely little moment of kinship I felt with her the other day watching a YouTube clip of a speech she delivered a few years ago. She was using not a paper-weight sleek new MacBook, but rather a BlackBook identical to mine.

I miss writing, and working. The idea of getting back to it in the months to come is a lovely thought. I miss being busy, efficient, independent, creative, free, moving quickly to accomplish what it is I’ve set out to accomplish. I have, however, also resolved to slow down—there is immense value in the quiet spaces.

One more recent image for the record: I’m reclining in my usual spot on the giant jet-like sofa-turned-daybed in our living room. We have just returned from the airport with my adult son, who is in town for a two-and-a-half day visit, a couple of nearly unbroken days with his mom, his siblings, and his stepdad. I am on the couch though, not running around prepping food, serving wine, all of us busy and free to come and go at will. This time, however temporarily, the roles are somewhat reversed from the usual parent-child roles. We are together to support and cheer each other on. To add to the intensity of the setting, I am wheelchair-bound beyond our suite, and we discover that the building elevators are down. We won’t be getting out to dinner as planned. Will the kids survive this kind of compressed family time within these four walls? (And please, no fire alarms!)

Hearing my son’s hearty laugh though, I’m suddenly moved out of the heartbreak I’ve been conscious of in recent months. Pure, unadulterated pleasure reigns. He suggests we order take-out Indian food, for its glorious richness, as a remedy for wobbly, emaciated legs. I suddenly have an intense appetite, and it is so, so much fun. It is one of many such hours on this most rare and precious of weekends. We talk about cancer. We talk about their pets, their busy lives, their futures—my daughter’s business, my son’s and his partner’s corporate grind, my other son’s work as a Resident at Stanford. I’m so proud of them. Grandparents drop in for a visit. We view childhood movies my husband has put together for us, both technologically updated (credit to my brother) Super 8 clips from my childhood many years ago, and newer ones of my own still-young family in the 80s and 90s. We get to know each other in ways we hadn’t known, or had forgotten. We sing the crazy songs of that era, and marvel at the adolescent ability to remember foolish Boy Band and Spice Girl lyrics, dance moves, and movie sound tracks. We mourn and soothe each other, but we also laugh ourselves silly. I immerse myself in love and laughter; endorphins reign.

Advertisements

Dispatch from the Face-Plant Queen

Time for an update. First though, an anecdote, another nurse-lined hallway one. Waiting to see my oncologist yesterday after nearly five weeks in bed, numb clubs where I once had feet, a vacuum where I once had quads, and morphine and general mud where I once had brain tissue and balance, I decide to visit the washroom. Knees hit the floor first, then forehead. Nurses appear in an instant. “I didn’t pass out,” I reassure them. It takes a while, but I convince them.

“Nice goose egg,” they tell me. I make my way to the washroom; they’re right; it’s a goose egg. But it’s nothing, not in the greater scheme of things.

In the five weeks leading up to yesterday, I’ve travelled nowhere, and everywhere. From a first-round chemo reaction that felt like I’d been poisoned and charred from my skin to my bone marrow, to medication-induced oblivion, I’ve graduated to wobbly first steps down the hallways of our condo, the parking lot, once even to the mall in a wheelchair.

The excellent news is that my oncologist takes all this in without missing a beat. “It’s the Taxol,” she says, “We’ll remove it from rounds two and three,” she offers. I can’t believe my good fortune. Another two rounds of chemo, yes, but they ought not to be anything like that first one was. And then, icing: “We can postpone tomorrow’s treatment for another week if you’d like, yes, allow you to gain a little strength back.” I’ve almost won a lottery. Still, I’m frightened.

Back home though, I’m elated, hopeful, eager, and for a moment think my life might resume tomorrow. I swing back to fear. And back to eagerness. I speak to my family doctor about reducing medication dosages. My life apparently won’t resume tomorrow, and medications will be necessary for some time yet, doses titrated down slowly. “This will take months,” she says, but it will get much, much better, and it will pass. But it’s so nice to hear your voice!” I’m deflated. But how nice is that, a doctor who returns a call and changes a prescription without insisting on an office visit?

Patience has never been my forte. I will have to practice.

I love all of you. The young adults forever tied to my DNA and my soul, whose voices and eyes and bodies, even through the oblivion and across the miles were such potent medicine. The mother-daughter familiarity lying on the bed next to me when I surfaced from my oblivion states, whose smiles and tears made me remember all I needed to know in that moment. The man whose love has so often carried me over the years, and who is now completing an intensive course in patience, and in finding new TV series and bites of food just the right flavour for me, and in patience, and in domestic and kitchen literacy, and in patience, and in worry and sleepless nights, and in patience. The man and woman who gave me life, whose tears I felt across town, the sister who kept offering to drop anything on a dime to come meet my needs.

I love those of you who sent their magic from across the oceans, those who sent their love from the pews of their places of worship and got their friends on board to do the same. Those who, a short time ago, I knew only in a service-provider capacity who stepped beyond those bounds to offer their amazing healing skills, their empathy, their acute intuitions and minds and just the right metaphors and insights to get the frontal lobe of my brain crackling in ways that—science journals now tell us— literally and in measurable ways alter the biology of our cells. Those who breathed the endless human capacity to be selfless for an hour or two and from distances large and small simply channeled the divine. Those who offered to dance despite hardly knowing me, those who transmitted their energy through their hands on mine, their eyes locked into mine, those who refused to take offence at my family-only visitation request. Those who supported via healing circle ceremonies, bone broth, foot massages, wheelchair outings, fuzzy socks and pretty things in general, via stew and kabobs and open-eyed conversation for my tired newly-graduated nurse-husband.

They’ve been endless days and nights, and may be for some time yet, though hopefully not to the same degree. But the memory will fade, the injuries and fear will heal, the cancer will give way. And I hope that what will remain is the awareness of wealth, of divine holy goodness.