You know what it feels like when you suddenly listen to yourself? When you hear the brutal language of your own self talk? When you hear how you are perpetuating your own negative programming? I hear myself say or write “chemo sucks” many times and on some level I am speaking the truth. Chemo truly does suck. Food is uninteresting, I am preoccupied with trying not to puke, I get constipated, I can’t think straight, I’m crabby and don’t feel like visiting with anyone, and I feel like a flat tire with no zest physically, mentally, or spiritually. When the FedEx delivery comes with my five day supply of temador pills, I usually thank the delivery person for delivering my poison, and they walk away scratching their heads. Meanwhile my body starts bracing itself: poison is imminent. Retreat, barricade, hide in the bunker, prepare for a siege! I endure the week, the thrashing nights, the preoccupation, and I look forward to the last day when I can start to rebound again. Except now, with nearly a year of this chemo regime under my belt, I notice that the rebound takes longer and doesn’t reach quite the same energy level.
But when I practice wrapping a black belt around chemo, I see different things — dare I say gifts? Teachings? Something to actually be grateful for?
Being part of the cancer club, specifically the chemo committee, is humbling. We are a strange and motley assortment of warriors, probably an accurate cross-section of the valley’s demographics, as cancer seems to have a rather strong nondiscriminatory clause. We are learning a kind of endurance, resilience, and stoicism that no non-member could possibly understand without going through it themselves. I walk into the cancer center to get my blood drawn, and look into the eyes of the other men and women sitting in the comfortable reclining chairs, most of them getting an infusion of some fancy, toxic, non-pronounceable chemo through their ports, and in that brief exchange, I feel a comradery, a community, and most of all empathy. If I continue down the chemo road and if my veins continue to add to their list of noncooperative tactics to being stuck for my weekly blood draw — so far I have been accused of being jumpy, rolly, scarred, valvesy, and positional — then I will probably have to have a port as well. Like the others reclining in their comfortable chairs while poison drips into their veins, I too will bring a blanky, a stuffed animal, a smart phone, a good book, and a best friend. We club members will look at each other with recognition and kindness even though we may never speak.
It seems Henry and I have a long and growing list of people we know who belong or have belonged to the cancer club and the chemo committee — members of my own family, beloved friends and artists, some of the valley’s finest citizens, and two women who lived in the same Jaroso house we lived — the older woman we bought it from and the younger woman we sold it to. (How’s that for strange?) Our community has widened to encompass many more people. When we speak, we speak straight from the heart with no bullshit or pretense. Sensei Mortality sees to that.
The other day when my feet were dragging, as if the loops of the garden hose were purposefully reaching out to trip me, and clumps of grass were conspiring to stub my toes, I could hear my negative self talk begin to complain, but I silenced it and reminded myself to be grateful for obstacles because they teach me to pick up my feet, watch where I’m going, be mindful and embodied. I will try to be grateful for the lessons Sensei Chemo is placing in my path. It’s not like I have to blaze a trail; many have gone before me and I’d have to work hard at getting lost.