Saturday, March 22, 2008

Fixing Cancer

How long before you can say you are a cancer survivor? How long before the coast is clear and you can skedaddle out of the world of unsuspected, unknown microbes that dance around in our cells screaming and yelling on low tone (identified with girls in prison) to a music we provide in a hum we don’t know we are humming. Will ever bump, every pain, every itch be relevant? Will one become hypochondriatic? Or will we be able to see the centers of the cherry blossoms, the bees nosing pollen from a purple crocus, the bison at peace in the new green field and quit focusing on ourselves. Others are so much more interesting.

Is there a diet, an exercise routine, a mental game that we can fix cancer with? Can we jump rope so many times while chewing vitamin gum and be loosed from sin? Good heavens. Cancer can not be a tear, but a smile. It’s not a crucifixion but an Easter. Right now, I feel my tomb is empty and what was slept in there has gone. But then I’m an optimist.

Am I cancer free? Has it gone? As far as I’m concerned, the door has closed. That door, anyway. And I stand outside. Today I met my next oncologist, a popular doctor at West Clinic who wears a business suit and Italian square toed shoes rather than a white robe. He said I look fine. I feel fine. I’m fit. But the cancer I had, he said, developed in the cells in a certain way that could develop again somewhere else. What did you say? I missed it and didn’t dare ask again. But he added, it can be treated against reoccurrence thru hormone therapy (since mine was estrogen fed) or Chemotherapy. Chemo wasn’t necessary for me but I must take estrogen blockers - one pill a day - for five years. That’s okay with me, however I asked that he allow me to start such body changing therapy after my trek to the base camp of Everest and to Mt. Kailas and Bhutan - the two month adventure coming up in two weeks. He had no problem with that. My body could make odd changes as estrogen production would be reduced and I wouldn’t know how to deal with that so far away. There is, he said, no urgency. June 16 is my next appointment and estrogen blockers will begin.

West Clinic is about as close as Memphis gets to something like Sloan Kettering. It is where cancer, having thrown challenges in the lives of the unsuspecting, and some expecting, confronts the bravest of warriors. It’s where the victims meet and greet it and learn to live through it and with it. It’s not a dream place. It’s a place where the facts are as straight as Jack Webb on Dragnet. Just the facts, mam. As I entered this special place, which is a traffic jumble to get to, I brought with me the stack of papers that had been sent a week prior to fill out. They asked questions for which I had no answers. Who remembers chicken pox or the day menstruation began???? Not me. I can’t even recall when I had my last period. My brain didn’t mark that as a milestone just as I didn’t notice when I apparently went through menopause.

I was then presented with an electronic device which looked like a mixture of Etch-A-Sketch and the new Brain Games. I was to tap the screen with my answers. (There is a computer whiz sitting at a desk to offer assistance.) Most of the questions were related to how I felt since the last visit (of course there was no previous visit for me) and went through a huge list of questions about how I felt - dizzy, tired, coughing, sore, dry eyes, dry throat, off-balance, suicidal, depressed, as if living wasn’t worth it, kind of things - a ton of negative thoughts. None asked if I felt good, energetic, happy, complete.

My nightmare is waiting. Waiting wastes life, wastes time that is valuable when you get to the top of your sixties. I had been warned that waiting was part of the punishment, the payment for cancer’s invasion in my life, part of the price of having the best doctor’s attention. The walls in the general waiting room were filled with awful artwork. I noticed that right off, being an art collector and lover. So I took out my crochet needle and kept focused on that and sent messages on my blackberry. It was almost two hours before I got the call to go to the next cell. I was surprised how many very elderly people were in the holding lounge. I think of cancer as a middle age bull to ride. But we live long past what was once the norm so there is more time for it to grab hold of our weakening organs. In modern life, we have more time to do things right, to live healthy, and to worry about what life would be like if we survive mates, children, and best friends. But we also have more time to know God and to straighten up our act before it’s too late and judgment day arrives. We have more time to master love and gather in more and more of the needy, the unloved, the lonely, the weeping masses.

I wish I could leave the cancer anticipations behind as I set out on a new challenge. I wish the survivor’s five years were complete. I’ve only passed through a month. But in the interim, it’s best to grab the horse by the tail and gallop on through life’s next adventure fearlessly, pulling out all stops, and loving everyone I am given the opportunity to love. Am I going to change my lifestyle? No. I have finally settled into the "Me" that took so many years to become acquainted with. And so now this me is going into strange worlds and lands to see how I feel in places outside my "conocimiento", outside my experience and knowledge, outside my comfort zone. I trust people are similar everywhere and it’s being able to accept who they are in spite of who I am that will allow hands to grasp each other in friendship.
Photos: paintings by Linda Sloken, Beth Edwards, and discovering bison in Memphis after a six mile trek, well, it's not the same as Jackson Hole.

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