Friday, January 18, 2008

And That's The Truth

The large mustard colored envelope was bulky with cancer: all kinds of pamphlets and booklets about the myths and facts of the disease and how my life now begins from zero (this is the first day of whatever life I have left) as I join a new sorority of women struggling to be able to say they are cancer survivors. Forget about old habits, now the calendar is blank and complicated. The most painful booklet is about radiation which I must live with for six weeks. It discusses the extreme possibilities of all kinds of radiation - which you can’t help but read - and then you have those images in your head and know they are going to flash around like search lights in the night. Get thee behind me Negativity.

Burn my boob? Side effects are the hairy part, if you have hair. In radiation you don’t think hair will fall out, that’s the dark side of chemo. But the state of the crown reigns high in most women’s worries - think of all the monies spent at beauty shops hiding the grey, streaking the blonds, curling the straight, straightening the curl, and blow drying the superduper new cut. (I’ve been blessed not to have to do any of those alterations but get a haircut. )

About a decade ago when I was chaplain of the British-American hospital in Montevideo, I attended many wonderful women enduring chemo and radiation and the lifelessness cancer causes. I had long white hair at that time, but the women I visited were bald. I’ve always felt no matter how ugly, fat, gross I looked, my snowy hair was the thing that carried me through. It was more me than me. Imagine losing that. Imagine. I did and so immediately had my hair cut short and have worn it that way ever since. No, I haven’t shave it like female singers Sinead O’Connor and Meshell Ndegeocello or like gorgeous Senegalese or Ghanaian or Masai women I met in my travels there in the ‘60ties. Those inspirational women wrapped themselves in colorful swags of patterned cotton fabric and tied toddlers onto their backs with same and even left their breast exposed. Hmm. I haven’t been that bold but times a coming if I have to expose my breast to the air every day during radiation. (That’s private air, not public, pleeeze.) As to the value of hair, I like having something on my head to grab and twist in my fingers when in deep thought, as if that was a sign of a brain working.(Note when I googled shaved headed women singers, the results were mostly Britney Spears. I forgot about her shenanigans. She sort of denigrated the idea of shaved heads. Alas.)

Breast radiation is not a hair loss promise. It’s fairly direct and doesn’t drool off into other sectors of the body. What is supposed is tiredness. I must have the courage to say I’m tired, gonna take a nap, can’t run for that corner shot. I must listen to/coddle my body, I’m told. I haven’t been very good at that. (Lots of time my body says "sit around" but I know it’s just lazy and trying to get out of exercise.) But there is one guaranteed side effect - my skin will get dry, scaley, burned as if by the sun, and it won’t be fun in water. And there is a chance I’ll lose weight from diarrhea etc from the medicines (Holy Hannah! Hurrah!). I must eat protein (fun for a vegetarian) and drink boucoups of water and liquid (I do that anyway.) Now all this is anticipatory vis a vis the publications informing me of what to expect.

I would love to beat the odds, wouldn’t you? I’m aiming to try, to be able to continue the ball work, the elliptical (I almost fall off that even NOT nuked) and to run up the 84 steps from the park to the top of the bluffs when I finish the river walk. Well, I may have to hold on to the rail. I have to remember I’m 68, Will I be chicken when wind chill factor is zero? Memphis can get blustery at times.

I’m not taking all this without a punch back. Tomorrow I go to Los Angeles to visit friends (flower design producers who do Hollywood and the Oscar’s grandest fiestas; a fabulous African American poet who became my friend last summer at Squaw Valley and is helping me with my poetry; a jewelry designer more upbeat than Hannah Montana, and the stocky Filipino women wrapped in towels at Beverly Hot Springs Day Spa who’ll beat on me, shiatsu me, and then scrub me until I’m another shade of white, followed by cream baths (you are stretched out on a rubber mat on a massage like table) and aromic warm waters - they wash your hair about a half dozen times as your head hangs off the mat, and you float and warm up in a thermal pool fed by miracle waters from La Brea Tar pits. I won’t pass up the eight course experience at Matsuhisa (the original Nobu restaurant in the world; once Nobu himself cooked when I was there) and a stroll through Prada’s open air store and Barneys, a favorite.

My destination, however, is the Golden Door health spa in southern California - where I’ll bond with a great friend for a week locked behind golden doors (true) wearing blue sweatsuits and taking mountain hikes at 5:30 each morning, tap dancing, kick boxing, and stretching until I’m a few inches taller, maybe. Last visit I was doing five hours of aerobics a day. I hope to equal that this time. I’m not intrigued by the pampering stuff like daily massages, although I have a paraffin wrap that cleanses your skin, and maybe a scrub. Best is you go to dinner in your blue and white Japanese robe and slippers and have tiny artwork painted on your big toenail by a Japanese pedicurist and reflexology specialist. Japanese flavored GD whips up spirits, bodies, and energies in such a magical way that you are refreshed and transformed and learn how to eat low calorie healthy. Plus you learn to daily sprinkle Flax on your cereal and a drop of Beano on your salad. Sigh.
Photo: Golden Door Dance Class

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