This Was Unexpected


This is me, figuring out how to teach virtually. Also trying to figure out what’s going on with my shoulders, because every single picture had this weird right vs. left arm thing happening. Whatever.

This is not the post I was planning to write this month. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and I was planning to shame you all into getting colonoscopy’s immediately, especially those of you aged 45 years or older. Did you know the new screening age is 45? You should know this, because the age of bowel cancer patients at diagnosis is trending downward at a rapid rate, but there’s no way I’m asking any of you to schedule an elective procedure today, barring the fact you have rectal bleeding, then I might tell you to get on it. Is coronavirus or colorectal cancer more alarming? That question is above my pay grade. I was finally going to write about Pilates and GYROTONIC®, because from where I stand today, I am able to really speak to the benefits of both in terms of rehabilitation. Why did it take me so long, you might wonder? Because for a long while I was just too close to the illness, and still struggling too much trying to survive to see the forrest for the trees. In light of the world going into lockdown, though, none of this has felt especially relevant, and now, as so many are struggling in this new reality, I find myself on comfortable ground. Luckily, Glennon Doyle’s book “Untamed” just came out, and she described one of my skills far better than I could: I can do hard things. It isn’t a skill I wanted, but it is certainly one I’ve earned.

There will be a lot of people going without paychecks, families unable to see each other, friends separated, life work balances thrown completely to hell, and so many big, scary unknowns that we will find ourselves compulsively drawn to the internet for answers that aren’t actually there. It is a strange, strange thing for the world collective to be living in the great big unknown, and surprisingly I will tell you that it does not feel better to have company here. Come to find out, I liked it better when most of you were on the other side of the glass, because selfishly, I only had to worry about me. Right now, I’m worried about you, too. All of you, and not because I do not know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you can do hard things, but because unknowns as big as this are such an existential mind fuck. If you’ve ever wondered what might be floating around in the recesses of your psyche, be prepared for it to come bubbling to the surface in the coming weeks. It’s okay, and after the initial shock, rarely as disturbing as it seems at first glance.

When I was first diagnosed, and each time I’ve been diagnosed since, other cancer patients strongly discouraged me from Googling, but knew I would regardless of their sage advice. For the last three days, I have been unable to stop myself from incessantly checking the real time infection rate by country and state. The number won’t stop going up, and I am compelled to watch it. This is going to have to stop, now, and the answer isn’t because it’s making me nuts, but because it is taking up precious time. All I ever want is more time to write, and today I have a ton of it. I want to cook more, but always say that cooking for one isn’t as satisfying. I’m staying in New Mexico with my person for the next little bit, so this is a good time to flex that muscle. There are one million and one downsides to this situation. I might not see my family for awhile, and everyone knows I keep them close. I wander through the house like I’ve lost something, and realize that I want my friends. I just completed my final certification in GYROTONIC®, and all I want is a damn tower to move on. My finances just got seriously screwed, but that’s been the norm every time I’ve had to have surgery over the last 5 years. I was getting back on my feet in a real way this time, but…

But, nothing. I’m still on my feet. I know now that I am not so breakable as I once thought I was, and that I’ll be okay. That is the gift I can finally say I got from cancer. These times will pass, and we will be okay. I’ve seen the dark side, I’ve luxuriated in it’s pain, and in the end, I keep finding ways to turn to the light. This is what I want you to do, too, and please, not at the expense of feeling your emotions fully, because you must do that. This whole situation is insanity, but can you kick and scream or cry in a tight little ball or break every plate in your house, and then find some light? Even if it’s just a tiny sliver, what is your light? What do you want to create? What do you want to build out, build up, build bridges to? What are you curious about? What excites you? What do you want to know? I have seen “Fame” so many times that I can almost quote the movie verbatim. Yesterday, I took a dance class from Debbie Allen, and have decided I’m a dancer, now. Today, I downloaded Jane Fonda’s 1980’s workout from YouTube, and kicked it old school. Holy god, I need my leg warmers, STAT! Fyi, my leg warmers are in Texas with the rest of my stuff. I came to NM for the weekend with an overnight bag so that no one besides me would touch my luggage, and then decided that if I was going to be quarantined, I was going to be with my beau. I never anticipated a time where I would be grateful that his jeans fit me, but here we are.

The world is going to feel surreal and strange for awhile. Can you ease into the strangeness? Can you get a little weird, and meet the absurdity of this situation half way? How creative are you willing to get, because I am dying to see all of it! If we are forced by circumstance to slow down in almost every conceivable way for however long this lasts, what are we capable of doing with this precious time? I take none of this lightly, but I spent so much time over the last few years consumed with worry about the future and fear that I would never feel real again and shame over being financially broke that I don’t have it in me to worry anymore because worrying never helped. It was unavoidable sometimes, but it never helped. 

If there is anything at all I can do for you, I will be right here. In the meantime, make me something beautiful or dark, but create so I can be inspired by you. I need it, too.

4 thoughts on “This Was Unexpected

  1. Miriam Malek

    Your writing is beautiful. I am a friend of your mom’s from San Antonio (golf buddy) and have known of your fight for many years. Find peace in NM. No better place.


    1. Shelby Walters Post author

      Thank you, Miriam! My mom is so sad to miss the golf tournament this year. She always has the best time! I am happy to be here, and hope that you and all your loved ones stay safe and healthy.


  2. Mary Berlin

    Shelby, i have followed your writing since you began posting. Your talents shone through your Illness. I admire your strength. You are beautiful inside and out


    1. Shelby Walters Post author

      Thank you so much, Mary! I hope you and John are well. You always look like you’re having fun, and enjoying life. Take good care!



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