I’m the person who gets misty eyed in nature documentaries when the predator captures its prey. The shark eats the penguin, who eats small fish, who in turn eat the algae. When the shark dies, its body will decay and its nutrients will be adsorbed by the algae. It’s horrific and devastating, and it’s, quite simply, life.
But sometimes life can be heartbreaking. I feel sad when I pass roadkill, see a friend through a rough breakup, or discover someone’s crinkled twenty on the ground. I can’t go back in time and change any of these things.
My doctors are in a panic. The hospital who performed my PET-CT is apparently notorious for dropping the ball. Another doctor shared horror stories of the facility failing to inform patients of critical medical results, drastically altering the patient’s trajectory. When you’re talking about potential malignancy, a few months can be the difference between a long life and a lawsuit.
Four months ago today, my legs were steins filled up to the brim with radioactive activity–a sprinkling of soft tissue masses sucking all the sugary fuel into my legs, away from my slowly-starving organs.
Just under four months ago, my infectious disease doctor gave me permission to discontinue my anti-fungal medication. In medicine, no news is typically good news.
With steady titers after six months, perhaps it was simply an autoimmune response. If cocci was hiding in my body, those 75,000mg of fluconazole would surely have annihilated it.
Wouldn’t it have?
Today, I feel the way I do when I watch a helpless salmon leap joyously into the air, only to be unceremoniously crushed between the jaws of a hungry bear. It sucks. But I know that it’s a part of life.
I feel as if I’m observing my body from a safe distance, empathetically, with compassion.
Oh, you poor thing.
I know these things happen.
But it makes me sad to see you like this.
I didn’t realize how badly you were suffering.
The joint pain, the headaches, and the abdominal pain…are those? …oh, god...all along?
I wish I could alleviate your suffering; I wish I could make things better.
Over much of the last three weeks, I’ve felt the best I have in years. I’ve been hiking again, running, lifting, and attending yoga classes. Though slower, lighter, and with more intense focus, in my mind, I’m basically-recovered. I may be tired as all hell as my muscles plead for me to slow down, but I feel so very alive.
Yesterday, I completed a steep and rocky five-mile hike. I felt the breeze against my face, watched chipmunks scale the mountainside, and savored the sweet nectar of a fresh orange while looking out over the vast cityscape. I laughed, I smiled, and I felt such deep gratitude for my strong and sturdy legs.
I’m better, I thought as I peered off into the distance, hands extended upwards in victory. It’s gone. The infection is finally gone.
I keep being washed over with small waves of sadness. It’s not self-pity or despair, but instead a recognition of the body’s fragility–my own body’s fragility. There are some things that a balanced diet, regular exercise, and a positive mindset cannot protect us from.
It feels as if my body is a vessel which I’ve been entrusted to care for. It’s not me, but it’s the place I call my home. Across thirty years of ownership, I feel that I’ve done a pretty good job of caring for it.
And yet, sometimes the homes we tend to lovingly may be wiped away by floods, demolished by fire, or infested beyond repair. It’s, quite simply, life.
Sometimes a salmon will be caught by its tail and then violently thrash until free. She escapes and continues her journey upstream, carrying with her the scars and memory of the experience. Permanently tattooed into her very being is the message: I survived; I am a survivor.
When homes are lost, people often clear the ash to rebuild larger, safer, and more sound homes. Despite moments of sadness, families settle into the new circumstances. We survived, they tell themselves, and we had the courage to start over.
In Buddhism, there is a story of two arrows. A man is shot with one arrow, which represents inevitable physical pain. He them proceeds to shoot himself with a second arrow, representative of the optional mental anguish we often put ourselves through.
When we hurt, we don’t need to focus our energy on the pain, negativity, rejection, or fear. That will only cause additional, needless suffering.
If we so choose, we can release our attachment to our opinions about what’s going on in our lives and instead live in the present moment and ride the wave of life. We can decide to step out of our body for awhile and tend to its physicality without drowning in emotion, gasping helplessly through the currents of fear.
What an I trying to get across here? I’m not quite sure, to be honest.
If I had to guess, I think I’m trying to convince myself the infection has left my body since the scan was performed in September, even though the greater likelihood is that infection has spread and infiltrated further depths of my body. The rushed call from oncology and the recommended biopsies are simply precautionary–doctors covering their bases, insurance collecting their coins.
Feel the emotions, let them pass. Pluck out moments to be grateful for, and breath deeper when you struggle to find them. The self-talk has been ceaseless, as I’m volleyed between “this isn’t good” and “you’ll be okay.”
After a night of restlessness and worry, this morning I need the reminder that “this too shall pass,” that “I can’t control my reality, but I can control my response,” and that I’m strong enough to get through this. And I know that–whatever this thing is–I will.