And often, it isn’t the grand gestures which become the most important. Sometimes, it is the diligence, the paying attention to the smallest things, the smiles offered to a stranger, the kind gesture to someone in need, or the sympathetic ear given to a friend. This is what people notice most. Perhaps that is the secret: it is the tiny moments, which become that by which you hope to be remembered. In the moral bucket list of life, these are attainable, and perhaps, most important.
I often visualize as I sit in the chemo chair. I pop in my earbuds and imagine the medicine flowing through my body eating the malignant cells with a voracious appetite. I remember Pac Man. That image has served me well. So has prayer.
People in cancer treatment don’t talk much about what price it exacts on the body. While chemotherapy kills the malignant cells in an effort to evict the disease, it is unable to differentiate between the bad and good ones, so like a brush fire gone rampant, it destroys everything in its path. A normal person fights off numerous infections on a daily basis, counting on its invisible army of white blood cells to do their job. The cancer patient’s army is filled with casualties of war, some, broken and wounded, others, dead. That makes you vulnerable, and, often sick. The other blood components, the ones that keep you feeling energetic and healthy, also suffer some damage. And in the end, you feel pretty rotten. Sometimes, it has to get worse before it gets better.
I have completely lost my sense of taste and have several tender ulcers in my mouth. My favorite foods are bland, their familiar flavors hard to identify. Most things have a hint of metallic to them. Only sugar, which I am not supposed to have is appealing. My fingers and toes tingle. Neuropathy, the side effect of Taxol, is unrelenting and never ending. Some days, it feels like my extremities are eternally asleep. And often, it hurts like a thousand little pin pricks. I have bone pain and headaches daily, and my blood pressure, which has always been low, has spiked. My brain is a little addled. I struggle to remember names, which is often embarrassing. Ironically, language, and the usage of common words or phrases, has been a challenge. It’s an occupational hazard for a writer.
I am learning a lesson about vanity as well. Cancer humbles you. It is hard to be full of yourself when you have to push an IV pole around just to go to the bathroom or when you try to zip your pants that no longer fit thanks to the steroid weight. And, of course, I am bald. I have no eyelashes or brows. Even the tiny hairs which protect my nose and ears are gone. I feel rather androgynous when I look at myself without makeup, which is so unlike me, but then, I no longer look like the woman I once was. I no longer feel like her either.
When you are terminally ill, your world becomes very small. I spend a lot of time in my bedroom, often staring at the dirty windows that I am much too tired to get on a ladder and clean. But that aside, there is a microcosm that I have created for myself, a tiny portion of the real world I once inhabited. This is my life now, but it won’t be forever. I hope to spring from this cocoon of rest and recovery as soon as I am able. I am learning to be still and wait.
In the meantime, as challenging, ongoing and cumulative as the effects of treatment are, I am grateful that my body is responding. Yes, each infusion takes its toll, but it, along with Divine Mercy keep me alive. There is life at the end of the tunnel, and if all goes well, I will be cancer free, my body a bit worse for the wear, but able to rebuild its depleted reserves. I hold on to that promise. If I can find my way into remission once, I hope I can again. And perhaps the new version of myself will be even better than the one before. It’s possible.
God has an infinite number of miracles at His disposal. I keep the faith that He has attached my name to one.