Death is sneaky

I haven’t written an update for some time.  The outpouring of compassion, concern, and comfort was overwhelming.  I can’t express how uplifted and loved it made me feel.  And it was difficult for me to come to terms with the effect my words and my “glimpses from life” can have on others.  Since I live most of my life “in my head” I rarely think about the unidentified “companion” of my narrative thoughts.  I’m usually the writer/producer/actor and audience.  It’s a safe but cowardly way to live.  I had to run off and hide a bit.   Well, okay.  I had to process it all which meant writing for and by myself, talking with close friends, taking long walks to think things through, refusing to log on to do an update to this.

The other reason for the lapse was my overwhelming sense of guilt.  I AM LUCKY.  I AM BLESSED.  GOD WATCHED OVER ME AND CONTINUES TO DO SO EVERYDAY.  These are my beliefs.  I expect God to act.  I demand it…(See!  No lightning struck me!)  I say I demand it ’cause I believe God wants, hopes, longs for our broken selves to cry out to him to save us, comfort us, shelter us.  He created us to love and need Him.  There’s no shame in shouting out at the top of our lungs to “Take this cup from me!”

If you’re a parent you know how you would respond to your own child screaming out from a nightmare while alone in the darkness.  You run to your child.  Nothing could separate you from him.  Well God is even better than we are as parents.  So it’s okay to scream out in the middle of the nightmare and EXPECT God to run to our aid.  And if we don’t see Him or hear Him?  We’re allowed to scream out and demand He come to us.

But here’s where I get confused.  Here’s where my guilt comes in.  Why did He watch over me and help me in this process but allow others to be missed?

I started radiation October 30th.  I showed up, walked back to the changing area, took off my top and bra, put on the little gown, and then…realized I had to walk into a small waiting room all too exposed physically and emotionally and wait with others I didn’t know who were as intimately exposed.  I felt sick in my stomach.  I didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone.  “The others” looked ill in my opinion.  Some had no hair.  Some had yellowish skin.  Some had disfigured features.  And there I was.  Tall, healthy, cancer-free.  I imagined in my mind that many would switch places with me if it was possible.  “I’ll take your inconvenient ache over my loss of smell and taste,” I imagined someone would say to me.  So for the next 6 treatments I’d arrive just in time, swap out my clothes, and stand in the doorway between “health and sickness”, arms hugging my body as much to keep me protected from what any of “the others” had as to keep myself from shaking out of fear that I may not be as well as I thought I was.

I was ashamed of my thoughts.  I was confused by my feelings.  I was angry as hell yesterday when I woke up.  I took it out on my husband.  I emptied all the chambers in my verbal gun and watched in bewilderment as he held me while I reloaded.  I left the house and never told him “Good-Bye”.

I had to wait yesterday for my treatment.  The machine I’m treated with was down.  I’d have to be worked in with all the others.  So for an hour and a half I sat with “the others”.  I listened to a woman explain that she was dying.  She knew it.  Her breast cancer had metastasized throughout her body.  She’d had a tumor removed from her brain.  She was my age at least.  I listened to her story.  Fascinated that despite her acknowledgement of her pending death she was hopeful in each day.  Small miracles.  She could walk up one step on her own.  “Praise God,” she said.

I helped a man get out of his chair onto his feet and secured on his walker.  A man larger than I was.  His head was shaved and the tell-tale scar from brain surgery laced across his stubbled head.  At first I watched as he struggled to lift himself.  Then one of the therapists came to his aid.  Knowing that the bulk of the man would need more than the therapist’s aid, I stepped in and offered to help on his left side.  I was scared that I’d hurt this large, trembling man.  I was aware of the ache pinch my left side as I bent my knees in order to help lift.  We tried twice and failed.  I wasn’t sure what the correct protocol for something like this was.  But I’d seen this man walking in with his walker and a young woman as I was walking out over the last week.  I saw him as one of the others.  The day before I’d smiled at him and her and wished them a good day.  “Do you want me to get a chair for you?” asked the therapist.

“I walked in here everyday so far.  Today’s my last day.” the man’s voice was low, the words sounded like weak breaths, but there was a determination still audible in his statements.

“So you walked in here and you want to walk out, is that right?” I asked him.  I heard a soft, breathy chuckle come from him as he sat on the edge of the seat, head hung down low between his hands that gripped the handles of the walker. “Then we could try again.” I said softly.  I prayed that God would help me do what the therapist needed me to do to help this large, brave man up to his feet.  I lifted on the count of three.  I struggled to know whether I could lift but I hoped I could push just a bit harder and help get him up to his feet.  Slowly he rose.  But he was heavier now.  I prayed God would help us and not let him fall.  I worried that I’d interferred with this man.  But as I asked  God to help us I felt the man’s body continue to labor through the lift.  His hands shook.  I continued to lift with the therapist.  His body continued to rise.  The struggle lessened.

“Through your toes,” encouraged the terminal patient.  Her smile bright against her jaundiced face.

“You’re going to do it!” said the other perkier woman, another breast cancer patient.  Lucky.  Early stage.  Curable.

“Thank you…” his voice was weak, but full of emotion. He was standing with his walker.  I didn’t want to cry.  He turned his head toward me and looked me in the eye as he steadied himself.  I smiled back at him touched by his bravery and power.  I had never meant to make him feel anything less than a man.  I had hoped I hadn’t shamed him.  His smile and gaze let me know that I hadn’t.

He walked with the therapist to his last treatment.  I sat down.  Exhausted.  Not physically, but emotionally.  Had God spared each of us in this little room?  Why would some suffer more than others?  How does God pick and choose?  I felt sad that I’d shared all my anger with my husband earlier that morning.  “Dawn comes early on a  boat.  Same time everyday.  Just about sun up,” I heard his silly delivery of the line from one of our favorite movies in my head now.  I laughed to myself.

A therapist called my name.  I was up next.  I went back for my treatment.  I laid down on the table and into my molded form, arms raised above my head, face turned toward the right.  I talked with the therapists as they moved the table, moved me, moved the beam above me, laid measures on my chest, marked me with pens, asked me to move myself.  The usual routine.  They were good about making small talk to check in on me.  They were almost protective of keeping my exposed breasts on display for folks to see covered.  It’s okay.  They’re doing their job.  I imagine the therapist’s working to get me ready to receive God’s energy bundled and exploded into my chest, my arm, through my back.  I visualize God reaching in and touching me intimately, cleansing the tissue he created at my inception, touching me like He touched the lepers or the sick in the Bible stories.  Being touched by The Hand of God is how I like to think of my treatments.  Me and the Big Bang!  I pray during the long and short bursts. I watch the shadow of my treated breast displayed on the ceiling above me as the arm of the beam rotates around me.  I see the shadow as beautiful.  It’s me.  And I’m healing.

The therapists come back once the treatment is completed and ask about my day.  They know I’ve gone back to working out at the Y.  They know I’ve started to run again.  I’m up to 15 minutes in  2 sessions on the treadmill.  My total mileage is just under 3 miles for the day.  “I’m going to run the Indy Mini this year!” I blurt out in response to “Were you a runner before?”  “Yes…but not very fast,” never made it out of my mouth.

I thought about the aches and pains I have in my body since cancer.  I won’t kid you. Most were there long before the surgery.  But there’s a dull, stabbing, burning, full ache that lives inside my left breast most days now.  I know it will go away.  I feel it at first when I run.  Then it  goes fades until I’m finished, like the pain in my knee.  Once my body warms up and accepts that I’m not going to give in to the weakness it expresses, my mind, body and spirit become a force to be reakoned with.  But today my decision to commit to running the Indy Mini is inspired by the man I watched push through his pain to stand and walk, one…last…time to his treatment.  I can’t imagine what he felt working through to his goal.  It has to be so much more debilitating than anything I’m feeling.

People die every day from cancers.   But people also live with cancer,  live despite cancer, outlive cancer.  Death will have to wait the for “the others”.  We have so much to accomplish before we give in!