What a strange and wonderful six weeks it has been since I last posted! I entered the hospital on March 27, three days before our planned trip to Hawaii. I'd been pushing so hard to get chemotherapy lined up before or after the planned trip that I disregarded increasing signs that I was not only not well, but getting weaker and less well every day of the last 10 days of March. After a long night in the emergency room at Kaiser Oakland, I called my daughter Lindsay to give her and my grandson the bad news--no Hawaii for now.
I was not manufacturing white blood cells and therefore had no way to fight off the most innocuous of colds (innocuous under normal circumstances). Four days in the hospital in Oakland wearing the ever lovely and revealing hospital gown, with no make-up and hair that looked sculpted from someone's idea of a witch's hat (it came to a persistent point at the top of my head) brought slow progress in the white blood cell department. Blood tests, IVs and innoculations led to a further decision to assess alternative chemotherapy drug options and to check on the size of the affected lymph nodes via a second (since January) CAT scan. I still, four weeks later, feel tender in all the spots on my arms where fluids of one kind or another were pumped into me.
The CAT scan showed significant positive shrinkage in the lymph nodes in my chest and abdomen. My doctor suggested we quit for the time being for two reasons. I had not reacted well to the normal drug used for my kind of cancer (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) and I was finally getting healthy after a truly scary month. I asked him if I were his mother would he make the same recommendation. Yes, he smiled. So, OK, no more blood draws (for a month), and no more chemo for who knows how long. Six month check ups and on with life is my plan.
I am different now in so many predictable ways. I don't know nearly so much as I thought I did about my future. Before chemotherapy, my plan was to go on into my nineties as my mother did, with little change in exercise, travel, or my social and professional life. My plan now is to pay attention to life itself, every day. Before chemotherapy, my plan was to do as much as I could pack into every day and every month, to continue to accomplish and to meet deadlines for writing, academic work and coaching. Now I want to do only what seems appropriate for my energy and my interests. I want to work at what nurtures me and those with whom I work. I want to laugh as I exercise and paint and garden. I don't want to cook much. Food still feels like a potential enemy and not a friend, but this is changing, slowly.
I can't count on feeling great every day, or feeling great all day. But I can count on feeling--tender feelings for my brother and niece who are fighting their own battles with this strange disease--appreciation for my husband who really put his normal gruff personality on hold and went out of his way to take care of me these last months, and wonder at the many encounters I have with people who share their own stories with me, who express such love and friendship toward me, and who make my life so full.
I had hoped for a magic attitude adjustment in Awakening Joy. I've enjoyed the program and James Baraz' book very much. I think, though, that the experience of having cancer and then undergoing chemotherapy has been the primary vehicle for my attitude adjustment. Perhaps I was spurred to question my own emotions more deeply because of the course and the book. However, finding my way to acceptance of my life as it is, and to appreciation for all that is present in it came as a gift of the experience of illness as much as the learning from any course. This makes me smile. I've always trusted information and learning as a way to change. Now I know that experience can change me as much as knowledge, that being in and of itself can change me if I allow that being