It occurs to me that it's been a while since I've provided an update about my mum, Abbie, and her breast cancer treatment. I am grateful to be able to tell you that she finished chemotherapy before Xmas, just in time to enjoy the holidays with family. I have to say, and I write this with the keen awareness that I may find myself having chemo at some point in the future: Chemotherapy is something one should take pains to avoid at all costs -unless, of course, the counter cost is a recurrence of cancer that will likely kill you.
As mentioned, my mum has had, and continues to have, awesome treatment at an excellent clinic in North Carolina. She has had access to the best medicine available, including the nausea meds that, here in Canada, you have to pay for independently (which is to say, they're too expensive to be covered by our socialized medical system). She has done yoga and had sessions of acupuncture daily. She has received excellent support and constant help from my father and health professionals of numerous descriptions.
And yet, not gonna lie, chemotherapy is a hideous undertaking. Admittedly, Abbie didn't have a moment of nausea - something I manage to feel weekly and I'm just a regular girl, going about her day. But chemo, while it may cure you, is generally an insidious beast. It fucks with your brain, among other things (if only while you're going through it, and perhaps for a short while afterwards). It causes burns, debilitating neuropathy, the kind of fatigue that prevents one from being able to stand up for hours at a time. Of course, it also causes insomnia. Drinking can be a terrible chore, as can the resulting dehydration. One can't be much around others, what with the risk to one's immune system. And the list goes on.
I mean, really, losing your hair is the fun part.
So to say that we are happy to be done with that phase of treatment is a wholesale understatement.
At the moment my mum is having radiation therapy 5 days a week for approximately 6 weeks. I mean, that's no walk in the park either. Mind you, I have quizzed her about which is worse (from her current vantage point) and, unquestionably, radiation is the less terrible ordeal. And that's despite the daily sessions and resulting burns.
I suspect that the reason I've put off writing this update is because I truly prefer not to think about it - though I know that so many have you have been (and continue to be) so kind with emails and thoughts and prayers, and perhaps you are wondering where we're at.
We're ok. We're ok in that way that people who are going through a finite tough time are ok. We're ok in the way that being ok is a choice, and really, what's the alternative? We're so much better off than so many people who have to manage cancer that I'm loath to complain. And yet, arguably, we're not as well off as those who don't have to worry about it.
I like to think of myself as a liberated being. I don't mean this in terms of my mores or my feminism, in this context, but in terms of my ability and belligerent willingness to do the things that bring me happiness. I have to say, however, there's nothing so compelling, after observing (nay experiencing) the serious disruption of the health of a loved one, as the notion of living well now. Your life is exactly what you are doing in this moment. If you have cancer, or are in recovery, if you are stressed, depressed, if you are sleep-deprived, chronically ill or unfulfilled, if you accomplish a goal today or rediscover something lost or drink and eat with loved ones and friends... This is the life you're living now and it's all you have and it's everything.
So, dare I suggest (not that you've asked for my advice), that you find every way to feel the immensity of your mortality - your existential freedom - as often as you can, in as many ways as possible. Do not waste time regretting what you haven't accomplished. Do not judge yourself over perceived failures. Read that book you've been meaning to pick up for a year and half. Buy that lovely bottle of wine that's a bit too expensive. Learn that skill you've been telling yourself you'll get to eventually. Take that course. Pick up the cheque at your next gathering and enjoy feeling like a big shot. Make those plans. Sit on your couch like a potato and be happy that you're not at some party you really didn't want to go to anyway.
Sure, there will be obligations. But they must be balanced by the urge to please yourself. It's trite, but true: When you look back on your life, it isn't the pleasure you eschewed that you'll remember.