In the last 5 months, on multiple occasions, I’ve become aware of the word “persevere” penetrating all levels of thought and emotion. During the most difficult moments it has begun as a whisper, a faint insistence that I get out of bed, take a shower, eat, get off the couch, indulge in basic self care, etc. As necessary the whisper becomes stronger and more firm in its demands that I go for a walk, wash my clothes, phone a friend to make plans, and nourish my brain with something other than “Law & Order: SVU.” In other words, reengage in life and do the things that spark happiness and harmony. Persevere.
I’m finding that perseverance brings the greatest rewards when measured against it’s alternative. The first dose of my second round of chemo was administered last Monday, and it wasn’t easy. A 5 hour infusion of one drug in clinic, then 48 hour infusion of the second that I took out into the world with me until Wednesday. These doses left me with the sensation of having been beaten. I felt nauseated, incredibly fatigued, and lightheaded for 4 days. It was like a bad flu. The kind that keeps you in bed for days, calling in sick to work and groaning with every move. In the end you’ve lost 4 or 5 pounds and are congratulating yourself for effectively taking that much needed cleanse you’ve been promising yourself since New Year’s. In my case, I realized I would be engaging in this cleanse every other week through early spring. Daunting.
But on Friday morning, I set the serious intention of dragging my shambling carcass out of the house to my friends farm for her families biannual, highly anticipated Dia de Los Muertos celebration. As I was mentally committing to this endeavor, my downstairs filled with rain water from a torrential downpour, and as I turned green from nausea, I mentally packed my bag while sucking up water with the shop vac. While frantically moving items from closets that were an inch deep in water and cursing the flimsy cardboard boxes that were never quite unpacked in the garage, I made a quick grocery list and set my time of departure. No matter how tired I was or poorly I felt, I was going to this party because somehow I knew that it was the only way to get better.
The first night and following day I was still fatigued and mildly nauseated, but I was surrounded by friends and beauty. The effect was greater than any anti-nausea medication or pain pill. As I walked through the barn housing a meticulously curated altar where guests were invited to place pictures and mementos of loved ones who had passed, I was struck by the number of young faces in the mix, and I could only imagine how many had succumbed to cancer. And I cried. I cried because in the last month I have often forgotten to be grateful that my diagnosis isn’t fatal and never has been. I cried for the pain of the people who loved them. I cried because I got lucky in spite of the fact that colorectal cancer is so often misdiagnosed and untreated in individuals under 50. I cried because I got to bear witness to the fact that they lived and were loved. And in the midst of that, I began to find my joy and hope again.
Persevere. Feel the pain and heartache and sadness that comes with this disease process. Then move on. My scars will heal, the port will be removed, and my body will continue to adapt to it’s new landscape. My picture was not on that altar this year, and for that, and so many other things, I’m grateful.