I write this as the bad days (this time) are behind me. Sometimes I think (perhaps unrealistically) that I will be better prepared if I remember a bit about those days—sometimes I think amnesia is my best ally. I am now in the time period where my blood counts will go low, then slowly rebuild, and I will gradually feel better and better until the hospital days come again—that is, if all goes well and according to plan.
The days immediately after the 2nd hospital round were the ricochet days. I looked up the meaning, to be sure I had it right and it seemed like the perfect analogy: ricochet: to rebound, bounce or skip off a surface, particularly in the case of a projectile.
So, the hospital is the projectile. It comes at me with the force of a canon and I have to surrender to it because there is plainly no other option. But the days after do rebound, bounce and skip in an unpredictable manner, and they surprise and they are dangerous, just like a ricochet off a firearm.
I walked out after Round 2 weakened and sleep-starved and nauseated and though it wasn’t as bad as the first time, the ricochet caught us sideways and reminded us that I am quite simply very fragile when I emerge from that environment. At home, or in the natural world, I wake up from a sound sleep when the wind shifts. I note and celebrate the currents of the seasonal world. It’s a train wreck for anyone to go through this process, and for a “Sensitive” (in the sensory world), perhaps the healing after intense chemo comes extra slow.
The only thing I can do is to retreat to my interior world where the outer trappings for life in the exterior world get put back to together piece by piece by the body, and gradually sleep and eat and walk myself back to life. I am not the best of company. I tried to use an old folk tale called Skeleton Woman to explain it to Elena. Hard to make it fit exactly but I keep coming back to how Skeleton Woman knew the man she loved could never love her in her bony form and so she used her powers and her love to put flesh on, and hair and rosy lips. But that’s what it feels like, to explain it mythically—the process of coming back to the world. Without going too deep, Skeleton Woman has been busy and she has had a lot of work to do to re-imagine ordinary life. I haven’t seen the last of her, I think…
My friendly outdoorsy husband has been incredibly present to this often austere relationship and complicated situation. I worry about him and he worries about me and we both tell each other repeatedly to “cut it out.” Bottom-line, he is heroically working through all the complications that I can barely focus on. Having cancer, as it turns out, is a busy life. Who knew? When you get discharged from the hospital, you take home a regime of pills and shots and many visits to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance; to get blood drawn, receive blood products or more chemo or hydration. It takes up an amazing amount of time to sort it all out and do it all right. Sometimes, it is fine—and you go and smile at the other bald people, and you are glad to meet the Native woman on the elevator who brightly announces to all that “every day above ground is a good day”. Sometimes, you don’t look anyone in the eye because you don’t want to acknowledge that you are even there on a warm sunny day in March.
Ricochet days are dangerous because they bounce from the initial blast. You have the experience, and you tough it out and afterwards, your body re-lives it and grieves and shouts no. At the hospital, I found myself going into a dark place to think, beginning with the hard questions at the end of the movie Planet Earth (can wildlife co-exist with people on this planet into the future? It is a disquieting subject to really focus on, if you are me). When I got home and started finding documentaries about Auschwitz to watch, I shook myself out of it. There was no way healing was going to come of those gloomy alleys. Much better choice was Steve’s Seattle Library selection: Music Within, about Richard Pimentel, who helped create the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Today, the day before Easter, was warm and sunny. I felt good enough to go for a 40 minute walk with Steve around Green Lake and I even wore my wig under a ballcap. Felt funny but Elena told me—true or untrue—that I looked “normal” and besides, we agreed, everyone is focused on how THEY look, not me. She took me into Whole Foods. First time I have been in a store since I got diagnosed on Feb. 27. Wow. Overwhelming. You would think we came away with some wonderfully healthy food after that. Well, it was—for the soul. Pure wonderful cheesy nachos.
So, life in its new form evolves. Elena brought me a treadmill, so I can walk daily, twice a day, no matter what the weather. Steve and I love watching The West Wing, which somehow we missed when it was on TV. It is our evening ritual, maintained even in the hospital bed. I am able to eat and enjoy Steve’s hearty cooking. We still have humor, and we are not afraid to use it on each other.
Your notes to me urge me to feel the power of the Earth’s re-awakening. Thank you. Thanks to Skeleton Woman’s love and magic, I move again in human form, greeting this surging energy and most grateful for it.