Last night I failed in my attempt to be a very good cancer patient. I was selfish and unsupportive of my partner, who is going through his own version of hell with me. I lay awake long after he was peacefully asleep and tapped into a rage so big and fierce that it stunned me.
Not rage against something specific, although god knows that must be a part of this cancer process, but like a woman gone wild. I visualized smashing everything, decimating buildings, burnishing forests with flame. In there somewhere was the mean voice “you aren’t doing this cancer thing right” and I felt the rage rise up and consume her too.
I had to get up, and read some Anne Lamott to try and feel ok as a human again. I fell asleep, at last, trying to hold the burning part of me in the light, bearing witness.
But I woke up with sadness, and a sense that I had failed my partner, and we talked about it and I distracted myself with a crossword puzzle and then he went to go dance–something neither of us have done in such a long while–and though I tried not to, I felt left behind. And I felt enraged.
I texted a couple friends, got a little support, and then went to my “den”–the warm bedroom where I spend most of my feral healing time–to read some cards that had come in the mail that I hadn’t gotten to. My friend Kathie–a superlative card sender–had chosen one that said: “There are lessons for us in everything. Even the hard things. Even the things that break our heart.” Though this message is powerful and true, it was the picture of the heart with a ribbon round it and the words “hold tight” that got me.
I sat on the bed, leaking tears again, and wondering, when will I be that devil-may-care chemo patient, who dashes on her red lipstick and rides her bike to infusion and makes all the nurses laugh? The woman who takes effortless care of those who are taking care of her. When will I be good at this? When will I get it right?
Then a small voice, my wise voice, said–Elia, why don’t you go upstairs and dance a little? Just a couple dances. Just try.
So up I went, to the small space where I sew and practice yoga and where we watch TV. I lit my favorite incense, and a candle–with some skepticism, but to humor the soft voice. I looked through my playlists; something mellow, I thought. My wise self chose differently: a great list that I had made for a friend’s birthday party.
Ok, just a couple songs. Just stretch, even.
I started in duet with the recliner, not really remembering how to let my body into the dance. Nina Simone’s Feeling Good–a remix. I dropped my head and felt the burning in my swollen fingers as I gripped the back of the chair.
When I’m well I will rent a hall and dance to this song.
The list unfolded and I found myself staying with it, a hurky-jerky chemo-dump-frump dance, stomping in my slipper socks, gray hairs whirling silently to the floor.
Sometimes the radiance of the human spirit and my own heart feels so incandescent as to eclipse the sun. Yet this same heart that shines so bright can, almost at the same moment, be a supernova of rage.
I am coming to accept that I may actually never do chemo or this cancer thing gracefully. Not every dance is beautiful; the important thing is, perhaps, just to keep moving.
This morning I reached up my hand and my fingers touched the jetstream; the current that sends down stories, and poems, and songs, and music. The winds of inspiration.
There will be more dances.
There is no “right.”
You are not alone.