It has been a busy summer in my world, full of delight and despair, euphoric certainty and soul-crushing fear. I have lived this summer widely as well as deeply--in Seattle and on Orcas; in Portugal showing my parents my favorite places; at home showing foreign friends the Pacific Northwest; with friends and communities on their own wild rides.
In mid-June, I had my last chemotherapy treatment. I was sitting in my bed, in a little private room, drinking my coffee and doing my crossword puzzle, thinking in the back of my mind of what I definitely needed to get done over the next five days. It's a busy time, building a home and readying another for sale, amongst all the usual chores of day-to-day life. I had, sometime just before this, scheduled "RECOVERY DAY" in my calendar for one day--every three weeks--after my infusion. It took five days to actually recover, but as usual, I was going to power through. Near the end of my 3-hour infusion stay, my nurse delivered my tumor marker results from the previous afternoon's blood draw.
I glanced at them, not really concerned. I've always gone down while on active chemo, easing toward normal, and that's what I expected to see again.
That is not what I saw. My tumor markers had gone up.
I felt the briefest prick of tears, and realized, all of a sudden, that I could no longer gauge my health on those numbers. Slightly deeper than that, and more sobering, came the knowledge that chemotherapy was no longer helping me more than it was hurting me.
So I quit, for good this time.
"I don't ever, ever want to do chemotherapy again!" I sobbed, terrified, a few days later, to my spirit counselor/friend, who was helping me get to the bottom of this torture, self-inflicted, that I was daily subjecting myself to. Instantly my body filled with what felt like a flood of sparkling helium--I was buffeted and lifted by the incandescent golden torrent. It felt like a firehose of energy shooting into the top of my head and one into the soles of my feet, freeing my heart.
The euphoria from this choice--of this fundamental decision to follow my own, personal, inner truth: I AM NEVER DOING CHEMOTHERAPY AGAIN--lasted five days, coincidentally the same length of time as the stagnating feeling of chemo recovery.
For those five days I was on top of the world--I was completely without fear or anxiety. My arthritic thumbs stopped aching. I scaled the rock climbing wall like a gecko. I felt the wonder, and the deeply soothing relief, of knowing that I was SAFE here, now, on this planet.
It was intoxicating, and it didn't last.
I was given that gift of giddy freedom by Grace, I thought, as the balloon began to lose its loft. That euphoria, that clear, unmuddied joy, *that* is how the human being is meant to go through life. But now, I realized, it is my work to find it again. I KNOW the end goal. Clean emotion. Trust. Revelry. Universe, Great Mystery, help me get there.
As time has passed this summer, I've felt increasingly frantic about my chances for life (although repeating my mantra: I will never do chemotherapy again--always brings a rush to my heart). My logical conscious mind thinks "I'm running out of time!" whereas my trusting creative mind knows that there is always enough time to be ready for whatever is next. "But what if what's next is DEATH?" my logic mind cries. Then so be it, my trusting creative mind replies, unflustered. They have not been communicating well with each other of late.
In my search for healing I've been spending more time on Orcas this summer; going there instead of Idaho for long swaths of outside time, and reveling in my ability to work with the land however I want, because it is my responsibility, and I can choose. I have found an acupuncturist on Lopez, and a therapist on Orcas, moving my physical, 3-D team up from the Seattle area to my forever home.
Orcas has allowed me the space and stillness to begin to safely plumb my own dark, scary depths. I finally recognized, this summer, the breadth of my grief for my father. When he died, 22 years ago, I lost my best friend, my champion, and the one person who I knew would always have my back. Ian is too interwoven with me, too close to this struggle, to offer the promise I have most needed: YOU WILL BE OKAY.
To capitulate, to surrender, to give into my fears and return to chemotherapy, even though I know it will kill my spirit at least as fast as my body.
To brave the unknown.
Both choices felt like a choice for death. But then, my mind chimed in, reasonably, all choices lead to death. In that case, why not choose the one that's more fun? Why not, indeed? I know--I know--deeply and fundamentally, that choosing to live, choosing to THRIVE, should be easy. But I couldn't get there.
In Portugal two weeks ago (days after a sobering brain MRI), much to my surprise, I came to grips with another huge loss I've experienced in my life. Triggered by information from back at home, I found myself raging with a poisonous, rabid, nauseating jealousy and grimly putrid satisfaction--the kind of humiliating emotional storm that we habitually tamp down and gloss over--I'm not the kind of person, we say, who thinks such awful things about people I love! But instead of veering away from the cesspool, this time I dove into it. Under the roiling acid hung a deep, heavy pool of anger and grief that, amongst all the other losses of a typical young adult life, cancer had taken away my children.
Seven years before, in the same little Portuguese village, Ian and I had been trying for a family. I raged and wept at his loss, as well as my own, and felt the crushing irrelevance of a barren, childless life.
It's not fair, cancer. And I'm here to tell you: doing your logical best to get over it--"I won't want what I can't have"--doesn't work.
But this is all part of the Circle of Life, and consciously attended pain eases as well as euphoria does, and as the Portugal trip wound to a close I was able to see two important things about creation: 1, that it wasn't until now, age almost-42, that I feel emotionally and spiritually ready to truly nurture a child; but 2, creation is vast, and there are infinite ways to bring new life into our world.
Much Life, at its best, took place on Orcas last weekend. Suffering from jet lag and anxiety, I nevertheless made the drive up with Spackle last Friday, knowing that Orcas was where I needed to recover my equilibrium. On Saturday I hosted my father-in-law and his lady friend, including taking them on a slow tour of the land in Nublu, and pointing out my woods projects and the resting place of my mother-in-law's ashes, in the copse next to Hoover; and sharing with them at dinner that night my decision to quit chemo. My brother and sister-in-law, whom I haven't seen in years, came to visit the land and chat with Burke (while the parents toured other areas of the island), and enjoyed a spectacularly beautiful day for their seaplane rides.
Sunday and Monday I spent blessedly alone, doing what whim suggested. This was largely snoozing and consulting various oracles, to help me continue on my journey to know, and therefore heal, myself. I resumed Amelia, who had been left behind for recent travel. It was not difficult to decide to stay Monday night and take the 7:15am ferry to my Seattle-area appointments yesterday.
The reward was life-changing.
As I felt my tension release Monday evening, my anxiety about My Choice dissipate into the quiet around me, I looked inward, to where I stood, teetering, balancing, on a tightrope strung between two lakes. On the left, the roiling, stinking, acid-green horror of chemotherapy; on the right, an unknowably deep abyss. I'm scared, said my inner skeptic, unable to believe that I could survive the leap into the Unknown. I know, said the rest of me. I'm scared, too.
I drew four Tarot cards: within, without, above, and below. Within, The Sun, XIX*. The sun sometimes blinds you, I thought, thinking about the searing light of the weekend weather. Maybe the abyss isn't endless darkness; maybe I'm just temporarily blind to what it is. And beyond that: Use your SUN to light the way of your ideal path. YOU light up the darkness, you yourself. That abyss has in it what YOU want to see; you are the life-giving Sun, and you are the light-receiving Earth.
Spackle and I took our treats--peanut butter Kong for him; raspberry soda for me--outside to bask in the deepening twilight, and imagine what it would be like to illuminate the life I choose. I saw Nublu parked nearby, a quiet glow in the waning light. I saw beyond, up the hill, the foundations of my forever home; nearby, the Dacha; to the north, the reaches of our land.
This is mine, I suddenly thought, with my whole being. THIS IS MINE. I tasted the words, considered the preposterousness of the conceit: that I had any claim to such beauty. Because it IS beautiful; the most amazing, heart-wrenchingly perfect place that I can imagine.
For as long as I live, I belong here. I felt the glowing golden roots of my soul shoot deeply into the ground and into the rush of the earth-energy meridian that surges through Crow Valley. I sat in a bliss of delighted wonderment, alternately sobbing and laughing at the absurdity of such unbelievable good fortune.
I BELONG HERE.
This was different from my top-down recognition, the aren't-I-lucky-to-have-the-chance-to-steward-this-land understanding. This was a foundationally different experience, and I had burst into a torrent of weeping, because I had finally found my place in the world. I am not just here because of what I can do for the land, for the community, for the island; I am here also because of what IT can do for ME. It is symbiotic, our relationship, and profoundly cleansing and fulfilling.
I had not realized how adrift I felt, and how lost, and how that underlying feeling of irrelevancy shaded every decision I made. What should I do with my life? Who cares? Play some KenKen. Should I choose chemo or not? Who cares? Reread The Blue Sword, yet again. Should I do this? Who cares? What about this? Whatever.
We are building our dream, forever home, on Orcas Island, largely because of the money I inherited when my father died.
He did have my back, after all.
I'm going to be okay.
*I never got to the other three cards that night
This song, by Imogen Heap, is pretty much what I'm feeling (just listen to the music; the graphic is an out-of-focus, unrelated picture)