Once upon a time I had to get chemo. And then, all of a sudden, I didn’t. Chemo ended Wednesday not with a final infusion, but with my oncologist giving me the “no-go” after hearing the my lung issues have not improved. At lunch, Tom and I had mused over the effectiveness of 15 infusions vs 16. Does it really matter?, we had asked ourselves. Most likely, the answer is “no.” But it does matter if your O2 stats start to drop because your lungs are too inflamed to function properly. After failing the test of walking the cancer lab and keeping O2 saturation above 90%, the chemo train left the building without me. And just like that, it was over.
And as silly as it sounds, I’m kind of bummed about it. It’s not that I wanted another infusion. I didn’t. I was seriously worried about how my body was going to handle one more round of toxicity. This has been so hard and each round has only intensified the side effects. The cumulative nature of chemotherapy caught up with me about 5 weeks ago and at this point I was unsure how I was going to get through another assault. But still, there is now a piece that is missing. A finality. A resolution.
That’s what I feel like I needed today, and that’s what I think is still missing.
When I hike for elevation, I have this rule that I won’t take in the scenery until I’m at the very top. I affectionately call it “Summit’s Disease.” It’s denying yourself enjoyment until the reward is 100% earned. I realize there are personality assessments you could accurately make about this delayed gratification mindset, but for me it scrubs away any excuse not to fully indulge in the reward moment. I do this with lots of things, and I just love that blissful moment when you fall back on a job well done and completely enjoy the fruits of your labor.
So my chemo moment so far has fallen a little flat. But I’m going to take it back. I’m running a 5k this weekend (run is a loose term) and I’m going to celebrate the end of this chapter. I’m going to think about all the hard times over these last 4 months of chemo and I’m going to pace them out on the pavement. I’m going to literally cross a finish line, arms raised in full celebration. And this will mark the end of the chemo battle for once and for all.
If closure is what I need, closure is what I’m going to give myself. I can still do that even though it doesn’t look the way I had originally planned. And about that- Cancer has once again nudged itself firmly into my life to remind me that I am not in control, this will not look the way I had anticipated. It is hard to adjust when expectations are not fulfilled. There is so much comfort in the known, the predictable, the planned. Even when the known and predictable are garbage. We still cling to that security. It is no surprise that in trying to make sense of this mess I really want that security. Maybe now more than ever. I want to make plans, have them come together, and sail through on to the other side.
But frankly, that is not my life right now. That appears in zero places. It kind of leaves you feeling on overdrive all the time, always trying to predict and make a plan for all the contingencies. It’s exhausting. But then I am reminded of the word inshallah, which I love. It means roughly, “God willing” and even though I am not deeply religious, sometimes the Bible just knocks it out of the park. James 4:13-15 says:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
I find comfort in the recognition that our lives are tiny and somewhat insignificant alongside the notion that we may as well surrender our foolish inclinations for control. It reminds me that nothing is as important as I have convinced myself that it was. And that makes it that much easier to let it go. Getting grounded in some humility and perspective is a good trick that helps me get out of my own way and and make room for healing, health and happiness.
And so, on Saturday, God willing, I’m going to let go of chemo. I’m going to celebrate at a bbq with whatever friends are available and interested, and it will be a lovely day. I’m excited for the next chapter, and even more excited to feel like a human being again. Slowly but surely I’ll get there. One chapter down, a few more to go. All the while I will try to focus on what matters, release what doesn’t, and be present within the lessons of this journey. To miss them would be the greatest loss, and a mistake I’m not willing to make.
Give Em’ Hell.