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.

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16 Responses to “Here I Am”

  1. Rosalyn Will Says:

    Hi, Louise,

    It’s me, Ros. I’m so glad that you walked today. I’m even more happy to hear that you had the almost mystical experience of suddenly just “being” and recognized how important that is. All our lives we absorb the idea that we’re not much if we don’t constantly strive and push and produce.
    It takes something major to jolt us out of that mindset.

    In 1998, when I was in rehab after breaking my hip, the ever-practical part of myself made sure I had a notebook and pen constantly on the table by my hospital bed. Ah, I thought, two whole weeks — I’ll get a lot of writing done. It didn’t happen that way because then I had time to think, to have an earnest conversation with myself. Suddenly, there were whole hours when I could step away from who I was at that point: a frenzied, overworked woman — yes, writing every day — but tethered to impossible deadlines. and not writing what I really wanted to write. That’s when I decided not to go back to work. I would take early retirement. Maybe give myself permission to go back to school.

    I’m sorry that you’ve had to undergo more chemo, but knowing you, that and the blessed breaks in between will become part of your lived experience, and someday will help someone else through your writing to find days when it’s wonderful just to be.

    My thoughts are with you, Louise. Hang in there.

    Ros

  2. Amy Says:

    Such a lovely post, Louise, as always. Thinking of you.

  3. Margaux Fragoso Says:

    I won’t write too much here at the risk of knocking down my 4, lol…

    as always your posts remind me how important our work as writers is…

  4. Aurora Lopez Says:

    Dear Louise,
    I don’t know you or anything about your life. Your piece is so lovely that I even doubted you are truly going through chemotherapy. The pace, the light, your voice in the text is so powerfully surrendered, balanced (between the physical, the mental and the resigned emotions behind), and the simple wisdom that emanates from your walk, your gauging your efforts, your acceptance, is touching. It is as if I had been told the biggest truth in the softest voice.
    I loved your writing (this is the only one I’ve read of you, I will read more!). Thank you…
    My thoughts will fly to you regularly, charged with good energy, hope and gratitude,
    Aurora

  5. Julie Raynor Says:

    Dear Louise,

    This is such a beautiful piece, simple but exquisite, and I am grateful for the chance to reread it again today. I wrote several paragraphs of response last night and poof, it disappeared before I could hit post, so rather than push myself to do it again, I went to sleep. Already the system you share here was helping me, as well as the words that came to you and will stay with me forever like a mantra.

    And this morning in the first meeting I’ve been to here, I talked about what you wrote, which spoke to everyone there, a woman next to me with two days who shook continuously, as it does to me. I also shared some of it with my sister who is facing huge changes. Because it is the biggest truth, as Aurora says in her reply above.

    I am still a little shocked to find myself where I am, between two worlds it feels like, facing what seems beyond me in starting a new life, but also know it is a gift if I can just let it in, not be so afraid, of what? Letting it happen? Feeling? To be where we are, with and in ourselves, is the work of a lifetime.

    Thank you for your generosity in sharing what you are seeing, thinking, and feeling. On Writing. And life.

    Love, Julie

  6. Theodora Venizelos Says:

    Hello Louise,
    First, I want to commend you in your efforts, and know that you will only be stronger in the end. To recognize the present moment despite such a challenge means you possess an inner strength that will see you through this.

    Regarding writing and the present moment, I too know the feeling of being frustrated with where I’m at in the writing process. I have always struggled with my inner critic who constantly admonishes me for not writing everyday, or if I do write, not writing well enough. I think that cultivating an acceptance of the present moment can do wonders for a writer, and I am glad that you were able to accept where you are as a writer, and as a person on the road to recovery.

    Thank you for sharing your insights and I trust that your health will improve.

  7. Ruth Murphy Says:

    Looking out the window of my fifth-floor condo this morning at tiny birds soaring 20 stories and higher still, I thought, “I could never have been a bird. I wouldn’t have the courage to fly so high.”

    I wondered then if birds look at me and think, “I could never have been a human. I wouldn’t have the courage to be Earthbound and face whatever comes.”

    Thinking of strength, of bravery, of stoicism, I tended always to think first of all creatures of the fields and skies. Until I saw my husband’s incredible courage and grace in the face of devastating illnesses.

    Jim was a writer, a globally renowned financial columnist, who wrote superbly (and humorously) until the moment he died.

    He was stronger than the stronger Grizzly, as brave and as noble as the highest-flying bird.

    So are you.

  8. Angelica Says:

    Louise De Salvo,
    I can relate to your experiences with the “killer day” in writing. Some days I feel like I get way too ahead of myself and others, I don’t apply myself enough. I’m trying my best to be aware about these certain days with my writing and your blog entry made me feel a lot more at ease. It’s good to know that just because I may not be doing 110 percent everyday it’s not because I’m doing poorly in terms of the writing process. Like you wrote, sometimes we really are at a 1.

    -Angelica R.

  9. Doug McKeon Says:

    “I am here”
    This is an idea that has popped up in my mind multiple times. It has most likely been there for more good times than bad but i can remember pretty low moments of my life where all i could do was roll up my sleeves, watch, and react while thinking “Here I am…Let’s see what i can do.”. I wasn’t wasting my precious time on thinking about how things could have been because I realized they weren’t and probably would never be.

    There have been specific times in my life where i realized that i didn’t like where i was but “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…” There have also been times where all i did was fight, and complain, and wish. But lately I’ve been realizing that time spent wishing is time spent wasted and time spent doing gets things done The thoughts you have shared in this post are things that people, including my self, should attempt live by.

    As far as writing goes I guess I’m trying my hand at it and your words are resonating in my skull. I’ve been writing (a bit) seriously for about a year now and am often discouraged. Your number system seems like a good way to keep moving though. I will definitely be keeping it in mind the next time i sit down to write.

    It’s unfortunate that sometimes it takes life changing circumstances for important things to hit us but at least they hit us.

    -I hope you kick the shit out of cancer.
    Sincerely,
    Doug McKeon

  10. Anna Says:

    Louise, your words here are a wonderful example and extension of the passages in Writing as a Way of Healing about self-care while writing (writing while caring for the self). They are integrally related, are they not? They are parts of the whole of what we are and do.

    Good health and good writing,
    Anna

  11. Mary Ellen Says:

    Such an inspirational blog entry! First of all, I would like to say that I am so happy to hear that you have finished your chemotherapy, that is wonderful news. As for writing, it is amazing the way you connect the process to your process of healing. It makes such perfect sense, yet few people have the ability to take such life lessons and apply them elsewhere. That is true “living”, taking the most you can from each experience. Thank you for writing this, and reminding me of that.

    Mary Ellen Gillick Davin

  12. walter Says:

    Recently, I have been trying to move myself forward with not only my writing but with every goal that I set for myself. Reading “Here I Am” allows me to see the simplicity of the solution. Not in the sense that producing instantly becomes easy but seeing that the ability to accept the present is accessible to all people, at all times. Your story about the chemo-therapy is very moving, and allows me to explicate the idea of “Here I Am” with ease. I now know the remedy of loathing the inevitable and all the negative feelings that comes with it.

    Walter Skinner

  13. marcp Says:

    This reminds me of my days as a runner. There were days I would be on the track doing repeats, and I would feel like a 2, or maybe even a 1. My coach would push me though, and a lot of time I would be able to pop off several more repeats at the same pace I had been hitting. Other days, my legs were simply fried and I would have to retreat. It’s hard to say when you feel like you’re at a 1 and are truly at a 1. I always strive to give myself that extra push to see if the desire, motivation, and inspiration is there. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t…

  14. oneup Says:

    Here I Am sounds like the first verse of a song I wrote a few years ago. It was a reflective love song. This one too is reflective love song but to oneself. I’m glad you finished chimotherapy and hope everything is fine. I also connect writing with my issues. I just wished to be able to do it with my big issues. I just can’t but at least the small ones can be fixed with a few lines of writing.

  15. Aisha Nasim: ENGL392 Says:

    Student: Aisha Nasim
    Instructors: Edvige Giunta
    1253ENGL392 Sem:Advan Memoir Writing Wkshp

    Here I Am
    January 25, 2012
    In this post Louise DeSilvo discusses her experiences about chemotherapy. She never knows what to expect when she undergoes these sessions. However, she realizes they will not be easy. Nonetheless, she brings a favorite book, DVD, CD, knitting or some other hobby so she can endure the procedure better. Sometimes the nurses tell her she is a good patient, but she never knows what that means, Inside she is a very scared person. As in other blogs Desalvo uses her experience as something to write about. I wonder if I was a professional writer, I would choose to share accounts of my illnesses with strange readers. Deselvo feels that she is teaching them something about copping, but also that people really do not cope. She gives an example that she once heard about a young teenager who lost his father, and people said, Johnny is taking his dad’s death well. Desalvo asks, should he and what do they mean. I lost my dad when I was fourteen, and I did not take it well. I did not cry in school all the time and sometimes tried to seem brave, but that doesn’t mean that I was accepting it, I was still questioning why he died, how he died, medical mistakes and most importantly the his loss had in my life, but like Desilvo, I copped somehow as she plans to cope with her cancer and its treatments. She plans to go back to writing and her subject will be about a South Pole explorer whose mission failed. However, he changed the purpose of the mission from exploring the South Pole to making sure all his crew members survived, and they did. Survival is a topic on Louise Desilvo’s mind these days as I guess it will be for any cancer patient. If I were her, I would first want to get better but I agree that having a goal to resume writing will help her cure as much as medical technology.


  16. I couldn’t ignore this post since you wrote it on my birthday 🙂 First and foremost, I know some time has passed, so I hope your walks have become longer and your healing is going well. Even if your most tender times, thank you for sharing with us. Even through the difficult times, it seems that you can still teach us through your experiences.

    As I was reading this blog post, I couldn’t help but think how many parts of my memoir should begin with the prompt “Here I am…”. In my own writing, I always forget to write how I feel, where I am now. I go right into the memory and I forget to use it, see it as a tool for where my life is now. I’m pages deep into my memoir, and you still don’t know how old I am, or even if I’m a boy or girl. haha! I have to admit that when it comes to writing, I have felt very much a 1 or two lately with lots of things going on, so it’s been a bit difficult. But this entry has helped me contextualize that it’s ok. Maybe there’s even power in starting a prompt with “Today I feel like a 1…” haha. I’m gonna play with this stuff in my memoir.

    As always, lots of love and light. Namaste~
    -Kelvin


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