Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year of Living Cancerously

Some time last December, I went to bed wondering what calamity 2014 would hold for us.  The answer came back quickly:  cancer.  I put that out of my mind and went to sleep.  Little would I know how uncanny that speculation would be.

Early in 2014, a neighbor harassed me while I was rolling Kid O out to her bus. I  restrained myself from acting impulse to tell her not to yell at me because I had cancer. I was beginning to wonder about it, but I hadn't even been to a doctor.

A few weeks later she yelled at me again, and I sat there thinking what could she possibly say to me that could be worse than what I'm worried about.  I never responded to her.  I may never know why she is angry with me.  I was about to experience far worse.

The trials I had been through prior to cancer prepared me for it, or so I thought.  As I wrote in my poem, Cancer Is An Unpretty Picture, "I have rolled in larger dung heaps than you."  But I wrote that before my third round of chemo.  Little did I know then how chemo would throw me for a loop.   The moral I suppose is not to taunt an enemy until you've experienced its full strength. 

While I was undergoing chemo,  Mrs. T. finally confirmed the rumor that Kid O's beloved teacher, Ms. AK. had died of cancer. I had suspected as much. Weeks later another one of the Special Ed teachers told me that Ms. AK had refused treatment.  I suppose that, given her overall health, chemo and surgery would have been too much for her body to endure.  

Now that I know I know how difficult an ordeal cancer treatment can be, I am much more able to accept an individual's choices.  I am glad that Ms. AK died in peace, and not in pain and discomfort one gets from undergoing chemo and all the rest of cancer treatment.  Do I wish that she had had a different outcome?  Of course.  Just as I wish it had been different for Sweet Sue. As I underwent my cancer treatment I thought of everyone who died of cancer, but I especially missed these two woman.  Many a time I wished Sue were here to reassure me.

I hesitate to contemplate what else may be in store for me.  I vacillate between fear and triumph.  I have developed more patience with other people, but an increasing impatience with myself.  I need to remind myself daily that I have been through a tremendous ordeal.  From early June through September, my body was pounded with chemicals which was rapidly followed by two surgeries and twenty-eight days of radiation.  All of this has unspoken side effects that will take many months if not years to overcome.  

I've been called brave.  I've been called courageous.  I continue to be perplexed by that. I never felt brave. What is courageous about doing what needs to be done?  To me, real courage comes when faced with reality that nothing more can be done.  Surrendering with grace.  Or perhaps not going gently into that dark night, as Dylan Thomas so eloquently put it. Stage Four people will always be my heroes, whether or not they survive.  And so are people who face equally difficult and possibly life threatening illnesses.  

I have endured the unholy trinity of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. Now I cling fiercely to life, and I hope that I will meet whatever challenges 2015 sends my way with good grace and good humor.  

My birthday is coming up soon.  I have a slogan as I look back on what I've been through.  "Fifty-seven and not in heaven."  I want it to remain that way for many more years to come.  

And with that, I bid you all a Happy New Year.