The wait period between chemo and radiation proved to be a very strange time for me, and I think for many people who have been in and out of this journey with me thus far. At the beginning, as I have carefully chronicled and for which I have been eternally grateful, my team, having dubbed themselves Tigers, rallied and they were constantly there, circling, sniffing around, making sure I was good, and healthy, and fed, and taking care of any superfluous details for which I simply did not have the energy. Once summer hit, and the beaches beckoned and holidays began, many of them went off to do their own thing, and I have already talked about how difficult a time that was for me. Then summer came to an end, and people began to trickle back in, back-to-school-ing-and-harvesting-and-pickling-and-canning-and-jamming, which I was able to be part of and, for some projects, even take the lead. This ensured me the time with my friends (read: Tigers) on which I have truly come to rely. This is now coming to a close, and the frenzied rush of support I had at the beginning and post-surgery has settled right down. I handled chemo well. Radiation will be a breeze. I think that’s what people assume, when I’m out walking, cooking up a storm, and keeping myself as busy as possible so that I don’t have to think about Cancer.
I know that type of support is like running a marathon. When the illness is not yours, the endurance part of that support run is nearly impossible. It’s difficult. I get it. If I could opt out of it, I would too.
I have likened it to a few things, this gradual disappearance of constant calls. I guess the way I would process it would be this:
In our schools one of the models of instruction that we use, with great success, is called the Gradual Release of Responsibility. The idea is that when kids are struggling, or even when they’re not, we can achieve the most success by easing them into independence. By first telling them about a task, then sitting beside them and completing the task with them, explaining and encouraging as we go. Then you get to a stage where the student does the majority of the work, and you’re there to encourage and question them if they go off the path they’re meant to walk in whatever problem in which they’re immersed. Finally, once you’re confident that the student is confident enough to go forward and do the work independently, you back up a bit, resist every teacher-temptation-to-take-over, and let them come to the realization that they can do it on their own. And when they can, it’s a beautiful thing, for both you and the student. Watching that light go on in a student’s face when they realize that they have done something difficult on their own makes every horrific day (and these are many, believe you me) of teaching worthwhile.
There have been some lessons I have learned about people who just aren’t cut out for the difficult stuff. They flit in and out, opting in for the easy times and running straight for the hills when times are tough. What I have learned is that those people opt out of difficult situations across the board – not just with me. The people who have chosen to be part of this journey with me and stay it out with me, even when things are difficult, choose those difficult moments to stay close, and lend support. When things get easier, as they are beginning to do, those people then take those moments to back off, let me show myself that I am strong enough to do this alone, and remain steadily there all the same, while they take the opportunity to recharge. There are others, who, strangely enough, want little to do with the good times or the everyday, but who surprisingly are unflinchingly there in times of crisis. I have needed (with the exceptions of the ‘flitters’) and benefitted from all of these people. They have allowed for that ‘gradual release of reponsibility’ model to help me figure out how strong I am. They know now that I need help at the beginning of every big transition. I need company, and talks, and outlets and encouragement. They also know that I’m strong enough to go it alone if I have to.
At this particular transition, I have gotten all of those things, whether inadvertently or very purposefully. Invites to walks, errand-runs and phone calls fill my need for idle chit-chat and distraction as I move into this new phase of treatments. I needed someone sitting beside me as I waited for my first round of radiation, watching horrified as the various burns walked in and out of the waiting room, gracing foreheads, cheeks, necks etc. I got that too.
Radiation is different from chemo for me in that I have to go in alone. Perhaps it’s good that I’ve had so much time on my own as of late, because it may have prepared me on some level for the aloneness of radiation. I am not one who does ‘quiet time’ very well – I kind of run away from being in my head too long, because it’s busy there, and right now, it’s not necessarily a good place to be. The ‘what if’ lives there; the ‘what if I never lives there. I, therefore, try very hard to be that object in motion staying in motion and very much AWAY from those what if’s and what if I never’s. Perhaps this is the reason I’ve clocked almost 100km on the trails since chemo ended. Motion is good for me.
So. When you’re strapped to a table high in the air at your most vulnerable, you really can’t be in motion, and you really must be in your head, unless you want to burst into song and join in with the 80s rock that seems to be the trend in the ‘Spa’, as I’m calling it for at least this first week. And while I can sing along to Chicago with the best of them, I don’t think the lovely ladies in Radiation would appreciate having to re-align me 50 times for a 10 minute session.
This leaves me with this: Visualization. I realize, as I’m manically trying to flip through the slides in my head to find my safe place, a place that will help me to keep breathing in-and-out-and-away-from-the-mounting-panic-so-that-I-don’t-launch-myself-off-the-table kind of place, that I am slammed into a memory of another terrifying time for me, having been carried across a hallway to have an emergency C-section because my baby was in trouble. I remember being sat on the operating table, in full transitional labour and full of terror, and being told to breathe, and putting my forehead against a chest and breathing in and out, in and out, while they put a needle in my spine and told me to relax. I remember being able to find that place where I could disappear into my head, and inhale and exhale, and trusting that everything was going to be fine.
This is where I stayed, for those very short minutes of radiation session #1 yesterday, eyes closed and meditative. And today was much, much easier.