Tuesday, November 19, 2013


On this day, November 19, two years ago, I had my very first cancer treatment. ABVD Chemo therapy regime began. It was the day that thrust into motion what would become the worst two years of my life. Why bring up this very inauspicious past event, you might ask? Because I have this feeling that sometimes remembering helps.

I recently went to a reading by author Wayson Choy who has just written a book about his own near death experiences. He said 3 things that really struck me:

"Time won't heal but you can live through it. You can survive it. You can put it in its place."

"Write it out. Write out the truth, so that you own it and it doesn't own you."

"You don't control life" - even though this was one I know well, it was so affirming and comforting to see this man, well into his seventies, say something that most people spend a lifetime trying to deny (and he even said it with a gigantic smile!). I remember pent up air just leaving my body hearing him say this. It was a palpable sense of relief. I guess because any control I had over my life, or pretended to have, is now absolutely completely gone. I cant even try and deny this. I am so exposed. So vulnerable in my powerlessness right now. And I just don't have the strength to hide it - or pretend anymore.

Anyway, I think these are some of the reasons why I need to write this out - 2 years after the fact. Because I don't want the pain of the past couple of year to own me...... indefinitely. Eventually I want to own it, and fully integrate it into my experience without the knee jerk reactions of fear or anger or confusion or depression that it so often evokes. So here I am - writing it out.  

I remember the day the above picture was taken. It was about mid way through all of my chemo...and I remember that it was approximately a three hour wait that afternoon. I am holding up a card - everyone gets one when you walk in the waiting area, and you stay there until your number is called. Volunteers wheel around carts with cookies and tea and coffee. When your number is called you are ushered into the main chemo area by nurses decked out in what look like giant blue moo-moo's - but which are actually meant to protect them from the poison they are injecting into me. Big cushy chairs (chemo lazy boyz) are arranged throughout the room. I remember this particular day playing games on my sisters Ipad while I waited for the 2 plus hours it took to finish chemo. I felt like if I had to see one of those volunteers bring around more tea I would scream or punch them in their smiling faces. Yeah - it was at that point.  I remember wheeling the IV back and forth from the washroom. Yes...I sat in that blasted chair for 2 and 1/2 hours every time. Often I would be the last person out of there. Thinking back on it...the whole thing is truly disconcerting! But, ya gotta do what ya gotta do. There was a specific drug that they had to empty into me that the nurses called "The red devil" because it was red in colour and it stung your veins as it was going up your arm. That red devil was a bitch.

But nothing was as bad as the aftermath - right after...the nausea chamber, the overall horrible physical feeling lying on the bed in the dark after coming home from the hospital, the weakness...the full body weakness...that kept getting worse and worse and the weeks went by. The feeling of every bit of strength drained out of me. Chemo really does destroy your body. The rumours are true.

What a pleasant jaunt down memory lane....not! (The above is a picture of my radiation mask. Which I still have. Somewhere.) The truth is, when I look back on all of  it, despite the obvious grossness of the experience, and the general surreal feeling of "Wow - this is actually happening to me! I am a jaundiced hairless person receiving chemo!" - Despite all of this....the experience of going through it was a four star vacation in comparison with the experience of life afterwards. I feel that the cancer was the trigger that set off a much more painful and difficult experience, that being the loss of an identity, along with significant people I loved, a home, work I loved, and so many other deeper and harder things to articulate. Its strange to look back over the cancer experience and realize that even in the midst of that, I was so much happier and more satisfied with life at that time (even with chemo!) than I am now.

Sometimes when I think about this it almost undoes me. But there's nothing to do now but wait and hope that in some way I'll come out the other side of this with some measure of perspective and some feeling of having found a place in this new life. So this is a big reason why Nov.19 will always be a significant one to me.

This Elizabeth Kubler Ross quote gives me some of the hope that I need. If nothing else, I hope that this entire experience will turn me into one of the people she describes here. I believe that would be enough to justify it.

Happy Nov. 19

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