Here I Am
January 25, 2012
It’s a beautiful morning here, where I live in the northeast. A nice enough morning for a walk – it’s in the mid 40s. A present during this time of the winter when it’s often far too cold for me to walk. And today, five days after my last chemotherapy, an especially welcome day, for I never could have ventured out for a walk if it had been windy, wet, and wild and snowy, as it had been a few days ago.
So I dressed in layers, wore a soft wool hat to cover my now bald head, and decided to walk, yes, but to stay close to home, which meant a wee walk up the block and back, and then, if able, all around the little park nearby, then home. Twenty minutes at the most, but I could bail out at ten, if necessary, and given how I’d felt on Monday, the third day after chemo (confined to bed most of the day, unable to eat, except toast and Sicilian orange jam – I’d insisted on that luxury for myself on that miserable day when I needed at least one pleasure), I felt sure I’d walk less today rather than more. For I hadn’t exerted myself to any great degree yet, though I’d walked a tiny bit yesterday. Whether I liked it or not, I had to accept that I was back to Square One – very weak and lacking in stamina, so that anything I could manage was (I knew) damned near heroic, though I didn’t want to think of it in that way.
But you’re told to walk for your recovery, to try it even if you think you can’t. Or rather, you’re told – and this is a good system – to assess where you are to determine whether you should exercise. If you feel your strength is at a 5, then exercise. If a 4, then exercise. If a 3, start, be prudent, then stop if you become fatigued. If a 2, then rest rather than exertion is in order. If a 1, then don’t even consider making an effort. And…always make sure you have some energy at bedtime; don’t go to bed exhausted.
I like this system. It’s one I’ll take with me into my post-chemo life. It’s a little system I’d wish I’d known about before. How many times have I sat down to write something on a project when I was a “1,” when rest, rather than work was in order? How many times had I wasted the energy of a “5” to do something that didn’t move my work forward, like write long unnecessary emails or read stupid stuff on the Internet (a review of the garments the First Lady has worn since President Obama took office – appropriate reading for a “2” moment, if at all, I now realize)? How many times did I even reflect upon the amount of energy I had, and how I could most appropriately use it?
Well, this morning I was a “3,” and I was prudent, and, much to my surprise, the act of walking energized me, and so I continued, continued past the ten-minute mark and took myself up past the little park. At one point, gazing at the trees in the park, many of which were ravaged during the fluke October snow, I thought to myself “I am here.” Where that sentence came from, I don’t know, but came it did. Perhaps it was the gratitude that I’d been out walking for, by then, nearly fifteen minutes, that made me so aware of my being-ness, of the fact that I was where I was. Just that, no more. There are those moments when you’ve been diagnosed with a dangerous condition that the recognition of “I am here,” though so simple, staggers you with its its implications, and that’s what happened to me, today.
So, on to writing.
How many times in my writing life have I wanted to be other than where I was at the moment? Not “I am here, and isn’t it a miracle that I’ve walked even this far.” Not “I am here, and aren’t I lucky to be here right now, caught in the mire of this very difficult chapter which presents so many learning opportunities to me.” Not, “I am here, at the beginning of the process, which I vow to relish.” But “Damn it, I wish I were finished with this section.” Or, “I can’t wait to finish this piece so I can start that other.” Or, “I only wrote 250 words today; I wanted to write more; what’s wrong with me?”
The day after chemo – at least the regimen I’m on – you feel okay. The medications to limit negative reactions are still in your system. You feel rather “up,” in fact. Two days after chemo – a bit more “normal,” but still “up.” The third day after chemo, for me (and not everyone) is my “killer day,” the day when I can barely get out of bed, the day when everything hurts, the day when my nose leaks and my eyes tear and much, much more. I’d been warned about this, but early in the process, I somehow thought that what happened to other people wouldn’t happen to me. On my third day, I’d somehow avoid what others had to suffer through. (Infantile power fantasies; delusional thought system; arrogance; stupidity – call it what you will.) Then round one of chemo, and whack – the third day, the “killer day.” Then round two of chemo, and whack – the third day, the “killer day.” By the third round, though, slow learner though I may be, I figured I’d get whacked (though I still hoped I wouldn’t), that it was inevitable, that I shouldn’t fight it, that I should prepare for it (expensive Sicilian jam in the house; good bread in the cupboard; nice, clean sheets for the bed; meditation tapes on the end table to get me through the night when I awakened). So I was ready. And for the first time, I didn’t fight it. I can’t say I liked it – I didn’t. But, just like on my walk today, I thought something like “I am here.”
I didn’t waste my energy protesting where I was in the cycle. I didn’t wish it were different. I didn’t blame myself for being where I was (and let me tell you there are plenty of dangerous books out there about cancer that say, in effect, you cause it, you can prevent it, you can shrink your tumors by using your will). I did something that’s hard for me. I accepted where I was in the process.
Accepting where we are in the process of writing. That’s a wonderful skill to cultivate. And I say it’s a skill because, quite simply, it is. It isn’t easy. It takes work, just as accepting where I am in the process of chemo takes work (reading the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn; meditation; simple yoga, journal writing). But it’s work that’s worth doing. And, like everything else that we do that’s good for ourselves, it’s a lifelong process.
And – and this I didn’t expect – after my walk, here I am (I am here), writing.