The day that I had my first biopsy was really hot; John was raising a pergola and he had to rush back from Gorham, soaked in sweat, to meet me at the hospital. It was late August; the trees were still lush and green, although soon the leaves would begin to reveal that they had lost their jobs and been dismissed. My first three hospital rooms had views of a brick wall, and the windows could not be opened; I had no sense of the world outside until I stepped out into the fresh air for the first time in three weeks.
My second two rooms had views of the same tree, a big beech behind the parking lot. I watched the leaves turn yellow, then brown. When we drove to the hospital at the end of November for my last round of chemo, the leaves had all fallen. I marked my passage through this illness by the senescence of the trees; the season of my cancer.
When I got out of the hospital the first time I weighed 91 lbs and I had shaved my head. I have never been a particularly substantial girl, but 91 lbs. is a little light. Now I am up to 103 and my hair is growing back. But I stand in the shower and wonder what happened to my body.
Chemotherapy causes a sort of menopause; in young people it is usually temporary but it is still a shock to have one's hormones suddenly stop. Combined with the sudden weaning of my son and having spent a lot of the fall limited to the bed and occasionally the hallway, my muscle tone and body fat have diminished. I have scars from the PICC lines and the chest tube (that was from when the staff punctured my lung accidentally during my trip to the ICU), but the bruises from my low platelet counts have mostly faded at this point.
2010 has been an amazing, wonderful year. I had a baby on January 1, we sold our old farm and moved to exactly where we want to be, the business we started in 2009 started to gain some traction despite the depression, and I have had the incredible experience of self-discovery that is this cancer. It has been an eventful year, and the passage of time shows in my face - I have aged, quite suddenly. Looking in the mirror I don't always quite recognize myself; it's me but it is not the me I am used to seeing.
Finding the gift in this has been more challenging than in other aspects of this experience, but it is there. There is nothing to cling to in my appearance; I have the opportunity to let go of my ideas of what I should see there. Spending so much time with the actual workings of my body, its essential functions and demands, has changed it from an outward form to an inward one for me. It is a vessel for functioning in this environment, looking exactly as it should, teetering occasionally on the edge of the abyss but coming back to balance. It has borne two children, experienced pleasure and pain and the mundane.
Our bodies are not static, and time wears on them even as it enriches them. We must nourish them; the true meaning of wholesome food sometimes seems almost lost in the mainstream of the culture in which I live, even as it is obsessed with stalling the effects of the clock. Avoiding sickness and healing from it is not magic, mystery or modern medicine alone; what we put into our bodies is a defining factor in their function and resilience. Identifying and sharing the power of food has become part of my mission in paying forward the gifts of my illness.
Time is not the enemy; it is in its passage that we grow.