I woke up this morning feeling sluggish and heavy after what has been weeks of drugs, poor diet, and lack of exercise. I feel like I want to wring myself out, squeezing the junk and gunk out of me like a dirty dish rag. I ache to clean myself up from the inside out and leave behind this groggy chemical haze that is coursing uneasily within me.
It happened when I started going downhill with this infection. I didn’t realize I was getting sick, or at least it’s always hard to tell what causes you to feel lousy when you’re on chemo and the residual effects continue to build up week after week. The kind of bacteria I had turns toxic in the body and builds up over time, eventually tearing holes in the intestines and causing severe cramping, malnutrition, dehydration, fatigue, intense deep body aches and just a general malaise overall. If you are old or unwell when you get this, you are hospitalized and receive blood transfusions. Thankfully, I started off with a healthier base and was able to treat things at home with an aggressive round of antibiotics. Still, I spent weeks with this infection before I was able to address it, and things definitely got worse before they got better..and I’m not sure that’s where I even am yet.
As I’ve gotten sicker, my appearance has changed noticeably. My face is round and puffy and I have dark circles under my eyes. My cheeks are red with broken capillaries just under the surface creating uneven and patchy blots of color. Worse, my eyebrows and eyelashes are falling out. I look like Uncle Fester or Mr. Potato head. Decidedly not cute. On top of it all, my body is swollen and heavier from the antibiotics and steriods. The transformation happened so fast I feel as though someone popped me into an easy bake oven and it spit out this kind of blobby monstrosity. Admittedly, it’s a little shocking.
And I know, no one likes to hear this kind of negative talk about a person. It’s the kind of thing women have been doing for centuries and it’s part of the whole machine that keeps us pressed down and feeling unworthy. It then causes us to be unkind to ourselves (and others) in the pursuit of some unrealistic, truly unloving goal. But for me, I believe I can on the one hand marvel at the sheer mechanics of this rapid change in my body, and on the other, still deeply respect and honor that body by trying to nurture it back to health. Which is where I am today. I am not self-deprecating or unkind to myself in my approach toward healing, but I will say that it is hard and somewhat jarring to grapple with the changes in the mirror. It really is hard to watch your eyebrows fall from your face and turn into sparse threads of hair. It is hard to realize you can’t really wear mascara anymore because the effect would only draw more attention to the awkward few remaining strands left. It is hard to see skin that is tight, red, and bloated where there used to be attractive contoured lines. It’s a feeling that your losing yourself to something you have no control over, even if it is temporary, and that is hard, folks.
And so has been this journey with cancer. Making plans is almost comical. Cancer has its own initiative, and you are just along for the ride. It’s a good lesson in expectation-setting and learning how to take life’s curve balls. It’s this really tricky game of trying to dig deep within yourself to build your inner resolve against the unpredictability of life, while still pushing outward to engage in and improve the world around you. It could leave a person jaded and bitter, I think. But fortunately I don’t have a lot of capacity for that.
What I do instead of hardening against the world, is I come here. I dump out all the pieces of the mess like a puzzle and I get to task organizing them, sorting them, turning them right side up. I go to my corners pieces: love, patience, optimism, courage. I define my borders and start piecing together the picture for what I want my life to look like right now. Sometimes friends come help me sort my pieces out and even link stubborn, elusive pieces together. Sometimes they pick the box off the floor and remind me of my vision, showing me that magnificant image on the box cover and we get to work.
And so today is another opportunity to dream up that beautiful life and to take the tiny steps toward the vision. I’ve had my fruits and veggies and I am ready for the beautiful challenge of today. Carpe Diem!
Give em’ hell.