I was released from the hospital on Saturday after finishing my second chemo treatment on Friday. This second week, my “counts” go down as the chemo does its work, searching and destroying leukemia, as well as indiscriminately destroying other parts of me in its wake. Then, we anticipate, my counts will go back up, cancer defeated again, and we wait until I’m ready to go for round three.
Today, I was sharing with some friends that I feel frustrated that I’m not taking advantage of this time. Why aren’t I working like Frida Kahlo did, using her illness and the time she spent in bed to make art – why am I not making art yet? Why can’t I be like Frida?
My friends laughed at me.
They were shocked that I could demand something like that from myself at a time like this. Last night, for the first time, I puked from the chemo – and I’m not making art?
It’s easier to see it from the outside. It’s harder to let myself off the hook about it. With all that I’ve said about this being the most useful time, and a step off of the carousel of life, and meanwhile, I haven’t written all my thank you cards? What’s wrong with me – aren’t I learning this lesson? Do I need more cancer to carpe diem?
Seriously, M*therf*cker, I need to relax. I need to let myself off the hook. To let myself be precisely where I am. I am home. On a Monday night, after a good day with friends, some nausea, and a nap. I did my dishes. I read a magazine. I got some blood drawn.
Can’t that be enough for today?
I have a friend who recently moved to Paris, and similarly, she is chiding herself for not having gotten the hang of an entire new country, language, and locale in one week. The amount of self-flagellation she does is enormous. And I get it.
I get that we want so much from ourselves. And, sometimes, finally, I get that sometimes we get to walk instead of run toward our goals.
This morning I was writing about all the things I’m not doing yet, and by the end of my Morning Pages, I literally interrupted myself and wrote in big capital letters, “STOP PUSHING ME. I can walk.”
"Damnit, bud – BE A ROSE!" is what this pushing is … and neither nature nor time work that way. I am a bud, if you’ll forgive the metaphor. I can’t be anywhere other than where I am now. Reading on the couch. Not writing thank you cards.
My friends this morning said something else interesting – that the best thanks I could possibly give to those who have given to me is to rest, get better, and to be kind to myself. They’re not expecting thank you cards. One friend even specifically wrote – “Now don’t do anything silly, like send me a thank you card – just reach out if you ever need to.”
That’s it – specific directions. … Her name is on my list of thank you cards to be written.
I don’t really know how to sit in the process here, honestly. I feel like if I “take the lessons” from this, then this isn’t all for naught. I feel like if I can make some active changes in myself and my life, then the cancer won’t come back.
I feel like if I can make obvious evidence to the universe that I’m different than when this started … it will stop. The cancer will stop. The nausea will stop. And I can go back to, or on with life.
I’m tearing up as I write that, because I guess it’s what I believe somewhere – that this disease is somehow punitive in its way. I wasn’t good enough, and if I am better, then I will get better.
I “know” the truth is otherwise, but it’s hard to not want to bargain with Fate, and say, Hey, see, change – throw me a bone here.
The truth is, I am engaged in a life and death situation. It sounds dramatic, and it is dramatic. It’s life. That’s what life is. At some point, I will likely have a bone marrow transplant, and whether I sent thank you cards or not to people who asked me not to send them to them – will that matter in the balance?
Will it matter more that I cared for myself well? That I let myself be human, maybe, possibly, for once? When it comes time for some life-threatening procedures, will it matter that today, I actually took out my paints, and painted for me? Not for fame or fortune or Frida?
I don’t want to be an asshole to myself. It hurts, and I can walk. I am walking.