Monday, March 05, 2007

This Is Not A Love Song

Dance first. Think later. It's the natural order.
- Samuel Beckett.

For me, the answers have always been in the body. My solution to emotional distress has always been lifting weights or dancing or calisthenics or cycling or athletic sex. When I am acting like myself, if I am miserable and in motion, I'm working through it. One of the lessons of depression was that my body, which had turned on me before, could betray me completely in the form of bad brain chemistry. Subsequently, I discovered I could also fatten up alarmingly. When I look at myself now and think I should lose 25 pounds, I feel betrayed, but wonder by whom?

The human body is a leaky vessel.
- Ta

This morning, Mom emailed the family an NPR journal by Larry Sievers called My Cancer, pointing in particular to paragraphs 2-4. I was unfamiliar with Mr. Sievers or the journal. Let's see:

I've been a journalist virtually my entire adult life. I've also been a baker, a short-order cook, a chicken delivery boy. I've taught. I dabbled in the human rights world briefly. I tried and failed to write a book. All that seems dwarfed by the cancer.

You'll hear cancer patients say it over and over again: "I am not my disease." But this beast has a way of forcing everything else into the background, if not out of your life completely.

Now I find myself about to embark on another part of this strange journey. I have been undergoing a relatively new procedure called Radio Frequency Ablation. They stick a needle into your lung, your liver, wherever the tumor is. The needle actually pierces the tumor. Then they burn it out from the inside. Kill it. Something that people undergoing chemo can only dream of. I've seen the scans, seen the black holes where my tumors were.

At first, I thought we were talking about Mom's identity as a cancer survivor. This interested me because it would never occur to me now to identify myself by my disease or malady since my seeking treatment for depression was an abject failure. So I wondered if Mom, who wears a Live Strong bracelet, was referring to Mr. Sievers' thoughts two paragraphs later:

And when that's done, when the last tumor has been turned into ash, what am I then? Will I be somebody who used to have cancer? I think most cancer patients don't ever think it's really gone. It's just hiding, waiting to jump out and scare us when we least expect it. Will I be able to resume my old life? To rebuild my battered body into what it was before? I don't know. But I know this disease has changed me dramatically in so many ways. I am a different person. Hopefully a better person. You cannot go through an ordeal like this and not be profoundly affected.

If I'm cancer free, does that mean I'm not part of cancer world, the community in which I have found so much comfort and strength? I don't know the answers to any of these questions. I just know that once again I will be a stranger in a strange land. But I will still be someone whose life was changed in every way by the monster we call cancer.

But Mom wasn't thinking of herself. Maybe the experimental treatment might help Dad, she thought, which is remarkable. At times, Mom and Dad have had the most acrimonious divorce I've ever seen. Then again, Dad's heart attack caused Mom a lot of sorrow. Who knows what the failure of another's body may mean to us?

I spent hours yesterday afternoon dancing, which is to say stepping inside music to get out of my brain. After the hysterectomy years ago, I woke up to find my doctor sleeping in a chair at the foot of my bed. My surgery had not gone as planned, and he was worried. I wanted to go home, so I sat up in bed without using my hands. He said should have been impossible - except I just didn't believe my body was weak, so it wasn't. And though I am in pain nearly all the time to some degree, as arthritic people may be, I cannot see myself as anything but temporarily inconvenienced. Pain is not important. Dancing is everything, is life.

What am I to do, then, with the frailties of other bodies in the quiet of time?


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