Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Taxol, Wild Donkeys and How We Be Through It

I’ve mentioned along the way of this journey that, absolutely, A/C chemo isn’t easy. Candidly, Taxol (“T”) has been even tougher for me, which the doctors say isn’t usually the case. Voila, more evidence that treatment is a very, very, personal journey, and no one size fits all, so no need to carry any story forward that isn’t your own.

There’s no doubt in my mind that chemo tests you, mind, body and soul. It is a big decision to have it. It’s a big decision to stay with it. And, every day, it’s a big decision about how you’re going to be with what lies before you.

As I navigated some “typical” symptoms of pain, fatigue and numbness and a really interesting newfound ability to walk like an ancient, dying troll (thank you, Taxol, for the awesome, awkward joint pain!) after my first T treatment, I also spiked a 102 degree fever for 6 days, the result of some mysterious secondary infection acquired along the way. 

Walking, or rather hobbling, down the Taxol path, my goal has remained constant: hold myself and this treatment with love and light, and find a path through whatever comes that embraces ease, even in the midst of, “Holy crap! This feels really, really hard!” 

How do you find ease when your body is on fire? How do you find love when your mind is locked on pain? When your entire world seems to be made of one dimly glowing red ball of suffering, is there even a path back to the light? When you can’t even move, let alone think, can you really manage a way to something more?

On Day 5 of my first T treatment, I was spiking yet another morning fever and my vision was black and blurred and full of stars. My ears pounded with dizzy blood and I couldn’t get a half, let alone a full, breath into my lungs. Over the last several days, I had also come to an uncomfortable awareness that something had shifted in me: I was inhabiting this wreck of a body, and this body was doing its very best to fight the can’t-sir and heal and get well from the treatment, but my spirit was struggling. Inside this dark feverish place, I was clinging to roots, trying to find one with a tough enough center to hold. It was like riding a wild donkey in an ocean of melting jello. Each time I thought the final wave had hit, another shivered right behind. It seemed as if there could be no purchase. I felt as if my soul had come un-cinched. I felt as if my spirit were adrift.

My practical nature says, these are the times that call for tactics. I believe that to move beyond suffering, to move through pain, to create the life we seek in each moment, requires discipline and a solid set of tools. So I started to pull all of mine out. I could pray. I could meditate. I could do affirmations. I could do self-Reiki. I could invite support and help. I could do yoga. I could do visualizations. I could get some coaching. I could sleep. I could drink green juice. I could, at least to some degree, and so I did, all these things. And, yes, they helped. Each one, like pulling a tiny red thread, helped just a bit to move me through.

But there was still a problem. I was still adrift. 

It has been my experience that in the deepest shifting places, there is really only one way through: do one thing, the very simplest thing before me. Do just that one thing, really, and encourage myself to be 100% present to it, allowing no distractions.

The morning of Day 5, I decided that one thing I could do was walk to the kitchen, let the dog out, and get her a biscuit. I thought I had the energy for this. Even if I was totally dizzy, even it wasn’t easy, I told myself I’d do this with ease. I was wrong. I bent my dizzy head down to get the biscuit and came straight up into the spice rack with a huge smash and crash. 

As I stood there rubbing my injured noggin, I realized, aha! An opportunity! It wasn't the biscuit fetching that had been my one thing. This was my real chance. A chance to do the one, simplest thing --  really, really -- no ego, no gladhanding, no pushing through. This was the chance to do precisely what was available to me in that moment, 100%. And so, I sat down at the kitchen table and for a few moments, I just cried. 

This wasn’t a pity party cry. This wasn’t a poor me cry. This wasn’t a dear-God-make-it-go-away-and-I’ll-be a-better-person bargaining cry. (Lord knows, I gave up on any form of bargaining months ago when this whole triple negative thing showed up in the first place!) This was simply a cry. A cause and effect cry. Like the kind of crying I used to do when I was a child: smash your head, feel that it hurts, cry and shake and rock away, and gradually, infinitesimally, feel the relief as it spreads over your bones and the pain begins to recede into memory. This was the kind of cry that reunites spirit and skin. I can't remember the last time I had a cry like that.

I think that acknowledging the moment of pain and being able to separate it from suffering is, in itself, a vital tool to reach through what is difficult and carve away the shadows. My learning was that finding your way to ease and back to center is sometimes less about great mental acrobatics and self-help techniques, and more about what is essential and what is visceral. It’s about asking, what is here for me now, really, no shit? And being willing to hear the answer, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you.

I think I forget that sometimes. That there is really nothing to do, nothing that wants doing at all. That all is in right and perfect order, all the time. And that rather than a need to do, there is simply someone I need to be willing to be, in all her crusty, dizzy glory. The wonderful surprise is that this someone is available to me in every minute of every day, no matter how wild the donkey, no matter how strange the ride. I just have to settle down and let her show up.

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