With each Chemo round I am gaining more knowledge about the ups and downs of getting through the treatment phases. There really is no way to predict what will or will not happen because; what I’ve learned, is to expect the unexpected. The same things that worked last treatment may not always work for the new round, which is so aggravating. Just when I think I have a handle on how to prepare and what to do, my body says, “Whoa, there girl, I don’t think so!” I’ve been pretty much down and out, so weak that I have to keep taking breaks as I try to sit up to write this blog. I’m light-headed, nauseated, constipated, hurting, and frustrated that all my efforts to “fix” myself are not working. Socrates once said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Ain’t that the truth!
This odyssey with the chemo is a progressive journey of enlightenment about the limits of what my heart, mind and soul can conform to when faced with physical and mental challenges; some are more difficult than others, especially when I am feeling depleted of all energy. I’d like to think I am acquiring some good judgment in my pursuit of balance with this illness, with what I can do and what I can’t. I’ve learned to set smaller goals on the days I’m not well. Accomplishing even a few things gives me purpose and keeps me from getting depressed. Yesterday, I managed to boil and debone 20 pounds of chicken parts I had in the freezer to make my dog’s food, even though the smell had me on the sofa nauseated for about an hour, and cleaning it all up was very tiring. I dusted all the fans in the house, cleaned the toilets, and made more bread and a pie for hubby. Little things, but for me, great accomplishments. So far today, I filled the outside bird feeders and made fresh sugar water for the hummingbirds. Being able to feed the birds who give me such joy as I sit by the window, watching them fly to and from the feeders, and listen to their lovely tweets and trills makes me so happy. These are some of the little goals I set for myself each day, and when I manage to get them done, I consider that a good day for me.
Praying with the Good Friday liturgy of the church this morning, going through the readings of the Passion, was so different this year. Entering into that passion with Jesus and seeing it through my own suffering has given me a better understanding of the sacrifice that Jesus made, willingly, for our redemption and salvation. Reflecting on these past 19 days since Chemo, I realized the gift to others that our suffering can be. Following Jesus’ example, when I was first diagnosed with cancer, I decided to offer up all my pain and suffering for the soul of my brother, Jerry, who passed away 2 years ago. As a Catholic, I believe in “offering up” prayers, struggles, suffering, etc. for the souls of those in purgatory. So, each morning when I pray, I offer my daily struggles up for my brother. When I began this daily ritual of praying for Jerry, it was, and still is, out of love for my brother and my concern for his immortal soul. Though, at the time, I had no idea that it would also be a gift for myself. On my worse days, when I am feeling so awful and sick, I remember that my pain is a gift to my brother, and, each time I remember that it cheers me up. Yes, even in the midst of suffering, I feel joy; and, my pain has a purpose and a meaning and THAT knowledge, makes whatever I have to go through on any given day, worth it. It changes my attitude to one of gratitude as I look up and say, “Brother, this is all for you, I can do this!” Love for humankind is what got Jesus through His suffering. It is what we are called to do for one another on a daily basis, to let love guide our hearts and our lives – sacrificing ourselves for those we love.
Though I’m happy that my brother is racking up lots of prayers for his soul, it doesn’t entirely ease my pain. The cumulative toll the chemo is having on my body zaps my strength, both physically and mentally. I have been able to plant some of my summer flowers but only by taking frequent breaks and pushing myself to the limit of my endurance. This past week, I helped my husband and son put up a fence – well, I held the string and the level; that was something! I really enjoyed being with them while they worked and being outside. Sometimes, I play mind games with myself, giving myself pep talks when I feel I haven’t the strength to do something. This often happens on days when I insist on walking the dog a mile down the road when I know I don’t feel well, and then, halfway home I can barely put one foot in front of the other. On those days, I assure Jesus that if he will just help me to get home I won’t be so foolish again. I wish I could say that I learn my lesson, but that would be lying. The book I used to read to my children, “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper, with its message of “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….” is the same messaging that rules my mind. My mother is to blame for teaching me that. She always assured me that I could do anything I put my mind to. Unfortunately, she wasn’t good at counseling me to know my own limits. I’d like to think I’m getting the tiniest bit better at that. My body is teaching me what my mother did not, refusing to listen to me when I foolishly get in that “I think I can” mode. I get as frustrated with this weak body as I get with my dog, Madeline, who never listens to me when I call her to come inside. And, that is a LOT of frustration, since I have to go out and hunt for Madeline on 14 acres of land – and the darn dog has learned to hide behind trees so I can’t find her!
I’ve always been a person who is positive and upbeat, but, being physically ill has started to depress me, which is so foreign to me! I suppose I want what I want – to feel good, even just to feel less sick would be an improvement. On top of everything else, I now have Esophagitis, caused by the chemo and other medicines I’m taking, It makes it hard for me to swallow, and causes me to have a consistent knot in my chest that is very painful. The constant battery of physical woes, especially being so weak that I have to spend more time in the house, gives me the blues. Watching television is not something I’ve ever done during the day and don’t want to start now. I have completely stopped watching the news if I can help it because it is so biased and mean-spirited and very often depressing. Anything I can do inside the house holds no interest for me anymore, I’m an outdoors person and I want to be outdoors. I never realized how difficult it can be to focus on anything, even something as simple as following a recipe, or paying your bills, when your body and your spirit is debilitated. My faith is the only thing that stirs my spirit. When I am feeling down, I turn to prayer for healing; it lifts me up, clears my mind of negative thinking and gives me hope that endures. Isn’t that the continuous circle of life for those of us who believe – enduring the trials of this world by clinging to our faith – over and over again in perpetuity?
My prayer for Easter is this: May Easter joy permeate the hearts of all my friends and family, and may the spirit of sacrifice that Jesus modeled for us, lead us to follow His example of faith, along with humility, generosity and love towards everyone we meet.