Sunday, November 27, 2011


"Did it feel short, Mama, or did it feel long?" David looked up at me with his big brown eyes and I had to think for a minute about what he was asking.

"This chemo, D, or just in chemo in general?"

"The whole thing, Mama. Did it feel like it went on for a long time, or did it feel short?"

I had to think about it for a minute, because at that exact moment one of the longest, most grueling experiences of my lifetime actually felt short. I was over the line. It was over. I was done. What was there left of that experience but to leave it behind?

Even though I am only two days out from the last session, I'm already dealing with a myriad of complex thoughts about what it means to be out of treatment. I feel like I am seeing glimmers of my old self coming around, touching into the old me and seeing the possibilities of a life restored. Last night I stood washing dishes and listening to Nick play various tracks from Jimi Hendrix on the stereo while he and the kids discussed Hendrix's style. We had just spoken of going to Seattle to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary in August and to show the kids the town. Suddenly I was awash in tears, feeling in my body the real me coming back to take that journey with my family and all the wonderful things it will entail.

I can feel what it will be like to be normal again and it's just so completely overwhelming.

But on the other side, I don't want to lose the significance of what I have been through, what people have helped me through, what women and men go through every day who live with cancer. Part of me wants to hold on, to remember how shitty it felt, to remind myself of what it took from me so that I make good choices about the way to live going forward. I don't think I can shut the door on this, nor do I want to, but I'm not sure what kind of space to give it in my life.

I wrote a post awhile back about this year being a pause in my life, the fermata, the time that the music stops for as long as needed. My wonderful friend Deb, herself a musician, shared this thought with me:
I like the idea of a fermata. There's a real beauty in that time when the note is held, or even better, when the rest is held. Everything is suspended, time stretches, you stop looking back at the last note, and start looking forward. You know that the tricky part about a fermata - at least in ensemble playing - is starting up again, since the group has temporarily abandoned meter. That is why first violinists get so good at the quick rhythmic inhalation that warns "we're going to start now!"
How do you start up again after something like chemo? I've been sitting with this idea for weeks now. I'm feeling around in it now. I'm letting myself build into it, tears and all. As they unplugged me from the chemo line for the last time, I wept. Not so much for joy, but just for the end of it all. My tears freaked the nurse out, but my friend Jenn was there crying along with me. I passed over the finish line neither on my knees, nor with arms raised in bold triumph, but rather with an appreciation that was humbling to the greatest degree.

Maybe you start with humility. Maybe you let yourself reflect. Maybe you don't push yourself back into the busy-ness of what life is about too quickly. Maybe you take time to heal and appreciate and rest. Maybe the starting back in comes slow, the rhythm restoring as if feels right, first violin be damned.

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