The doctor came in looking fearful and worried. He tapped the file in his hand over and over. Tap, tap, tap, tap… He was young and inexperienced, working late night in the ER. The doctor that gave me my official diagnosis and treatment was an experienced, cure creating genius who I owe my life.
Back to his tapping; tap, tap, tapping.
“We looked at your scan.” He paused, I shifted on the crackling paper covering the examining table. Tap. Tap. “I have to tell you- it does not look good.”
He paused far too long. Tap.
“You have a large growth near your heart; (he coughed spontaneously) it wraps around your neck... and um- pushing on your artery” He looked from my husband’s face then back to mine. "That could be cancer."
The words flew by me with little impact. To this day I don't think I've actually processed what he said.
Instinctively I smiled. A giggle might have escaped my tightening throat.
“Ok.” I said. The doctor waited, staring at me, trying to gauge my reaction, but I refused to have one. Since I had left home at 18, I had learned to fight through my battles stoic and alone, like a statue bearing the weather.
“I don’t think you’re taking this seriously ma’am. You need to go see your doctor immediately.” He waited for an outburst, perhaps a flurry of tears or outrage. I laughed at his apprehension. The tears would come later when I wasn’t ready for them.
“Can I have my paperwork?” I wouldn't accept the information. An athletic young woman in my 20's and I had just started a promising career.
“This is really not funny. You need to take this seriously.” The doctor got angry with me, like a parent towards a child that refuses to listen.
“I understand.” An attitude apparent in my voice. It really isn't funny. I can't take this seriously.
Unwillingly, he handed over the copies and pointed us to the exit. I felt his worry trail behind me.
Cancer is not painful. It does not hurt as it nestles into your bodies safest, warmest places. The cancer ridden lymph node protruding from my collar bone felt like nothing at all. The snakelike trail of glowing matter wrapped around my neck, a choker I never knew I was wearing.
Surgery on your neck is uncomfortable. I didn't know the lymph node they removed had ever existed, until I felt the pang of it missing. After the third surgery, my husband had to lie my head down gently and pick it up each time I needed to move, lie down, bathe, or eat. But even that was livable.
Getting a port put into your chest is an invasive, unnatural feeling. A large lump of plastic sitting above your breast and easily visible to anyone interested in looking. From the moment it was inserted into my vein, directly outside my heart, I wanted to scratch my skin open and rip it out.
But chemotherapy… Chemotherapy is an absolutely nightmarish experience. It is the most intricate physical and mental agony that I have ever felt. The word therapy would be laughable if pumping chemicals into your body for months and years on end didn't somehow cure you.
I always arrived to chemotherapy appointments late. After laying in a CVS bathroom for 40 minutes my first time around, I did not look forward to the ‘battle’ against cancer. I didn't shave my head on video, do my makeup sexy, take pictures smiling on treadmills, I didn't go to support groups, no one celebrated my last session; I just hid inside myself and cowered from the world.
“I’m sorry, I’m here.” The friendly nurse, always smiling, pulled the file with my pre-chemo photograph out, onto the counter. I shied away from the photograph, a vision that made my current reflection unbearable.
“Room 7 honey, I think it’s empty.” She smiled again warmly, I could tell she meant every muscle. The nurses were angels. I just couldn’t bring myself to feel the same, and I returned it with a fake, one cheeked upturn of my mouth as I drudged behind the counter to the private treatment rooms.
Elderly couples and patients sat holding hands during their treatment in the sun room. I didn't want to see the sun.
After counting the thousands of milligrams of medicines, steroids, and chemicals that took half the day to mix into my bloodstream, I could not handle company.
Frankly, I did not want my hubby there. I was already too sick and tired to work, I wasn’t getting paid on leave, I could not cook, clean, or even have conversations with him… For a woman who took pride in being independent and taking care of others, I had become a helpless person who needed everything from the one man I wanted to take nothing from.
Five hours of watching him watch me suffer was too much for me to bear.
Halfway through the treatments, my hair had started to fall out to the point that I had a bald spot on the back of my head. In a rush of angry energy, I had taken the scissors and cut my hair to about an inch from my scalp. The rest of my body had become bloated and flabby, and my eyes and smile no longer glowed; I had always thought it was endless inside me.
The nurse came in with the first bags of medicine and laid them on the gurney. I sat in a reclining chair that faced a small television. She washed her hands, put on the gloves, went into various drawers, and got the IV tower ready. The large needle they pushed into my chest to connect my port was about the size of a furniture nail; 2 inches long and thick enough to poke a visible hole.
“Ugh, I hate getting plugged in.” I gagged, gazing at the needle she carefully removed from the sterilized bag.
“Are you ready?” She asked.
Never, I thought. “Can you count me down from three?”
“Sure.” She said softly. She pushed on my port with her finger to find the right location for the needle so they would not have to move it around while inside me. Strange to feel something with the inside of my skin rather than on the surface. I closed my eyes and swallowed.
Directly after inserting the needle came the saline to clean out the port and make sure it was working correctly. For some reason, this was the only step of the process that made me want to vomit.
The sound of the saline rushing into my vein, the metallic taste that flooded my mouth. I hated it, and even as I write this I find myself needing something spicy or overly sweet to drown out the taste.
I put three pieces of Big Red gum in my mouth to help obscure the sound and taste and gripped the arms of the chair.
“Ok, 3, 2, 1…” I chewed loudly and felt the needle slowly push into my chest and then the awful injection of metallic liquid that followed. My eyes closed, I chomped loudly on the fresh gum until I heard the “Ok your done!” The gum lasted another couple seconds and then I spit it out gagging.
Now, the waiting.
Each hour an elderly man, whose walk was nothing more than a shuffle, whose wife had passed in this ward, who couldn’t imagine not helping others in her position, volunteered at the office and would bring around a tray of snacks for the patients and ask if they wanted anything to drink. The most I could ever get down was ginger ale and crackers, but I always took whatever he offered and tried to find a smile. I could feel the love emanating from his weak smile as he shuffled back out.
By the time IV bag three got hooked up, I fell asleep. Even as I dozed I could feel my body becoming saturated in chemicals. Like a sponge, each and every pore and hair on my body felt engorged with different medicines and steroids. The smell of the hospital ever soaking and emitting itself from my body. I couldn’t stand to be around myself.
By the final hour, even when I used the bathroom I smelled the medicine coming from the toilet. The soap in the bathrooms smelled so horrible and overpowering, I had to bring my own bars of soap from home just to keep myself from vomiting in the sink. Dragging the IV tower behind me, I went back to the room for the last few hours.
My mom was at most treatments for me.
Fortunately or not, she never did see me suffer the worst. The hours before chemotherapy and the hours directly after were when I felt my best, if there ever was a “best”.
Right before, the drugs from the previous treatment were starting to work their way out of my body and I had at least a little of my self back. Afterwards, the medicine and steroids maintained a drug induced energy that, internally, I had no business having.
By the time the night after chemo had come and it was just hubby tucking me in and cooking me food I could barely eat, the drugs that did the real damage took over.
Moaning, muscles seizing, loud sighing, head pounding, a gnawing nausea that refused to turn into a proper throw up.
“Bubby... my body hurts… My veins.. they feel like they are pinching all over my body…” I was too tired to see or hear his reaction.
I curled tighter into my fetal position under the pile of blankets.
By the following day it was as though the wheels of my mind
just could not
seem to rotate
It was like the chemicals
my brain and shut
how amazing he is…
my head is
I think I
beautiful outside… I
Owwwww…. what was I ?
my husband… I miss
my hair I miss
my husband my
like a fighter.
And that is when I felt my soul go quiet. I gave up, I was thankful for nothing, I had lost my voice.
When you are thankful for nothing you have or the moments being presented to you, you become a slave and addict to the faults and negativity around you. No one's soul can speak in that ambiance.
Instead of healing, I just saw the pain I was feeling, the interrupted marriage, the new career on hold, the kids I might never have (of course we know there's three Beasties now!), and everything I might never get the chance to do.
I shoved the voice trying to escape me down into what I thought was a bottomless pit, but years later it is now bulging and overflowing at the sides.
Procrastination, distraction, and fear of failure had my motivation chained by the throat. Each word I let loose, each word I set free on the paper (whether worth reading or not), is a desperate attempt to crawl out of that winding hole that is so easy to fall down.
There are times, when I am calm, when I can't tell if it's the calm at the center of a storm about to destroy everything in it's path or that breathtaking silence before a life changing epiphany. But, in those silences my soul speaks.
It's that feeling, when your soul is in motion and your brain is getting the tingle of inspiration, when we create beauty and art for the world. When our body moves without knowledge of physical barriers, when our song escapes without restraint, when our labor produces beauty, when our words tumble out onto the paper without our control, we let our soul speak.
After allowing myself to believe that my words weren't worth anything just because I don't scream them or gets thousands of shares, it took a long time to remember they mattered. Even if I have to whisper them to thin air, they will always be a concrete part of my soul's voice.
It was this re connection with myself that allowed me to fight against that feeling of being muted. By listening to myself again, I allowed myself to accept blessings like love, passion, children, and even a successful career; things I will be forever thankful for.
A Thanksgiving toast. To the people not scared to dance anywhere the music calls, the singers who don't need a microphone, the writers who feed our minds, the artists who beautify the world, the laborers who heal it; For the voice I was given, the brain in my head, the breath in my lungs, the heart in my chest, for the moments in life my soul speaks to me and for the moments I listen. May our soul's voice flow through everything we do and color this world in ways we could not imagine.
To the soul speaking moments in life.