A week ago Sunday, I awoke early as usual. But the ordinary did not awake with me. Lights glowing on my computer’s printer spun in circles. My forehead was damp. Queasiness played with my belly. I closed my eyes and took some deep breaths. Outside, the wind chimes sang with customary sparkle. Their sweet sound helped me find my bearings. I opened my eyes and stood on wobbly legs. Steadying myself against the wall, I cautiously moved out of the bedroom.
Hot flashes, scratchy voice, nasal drip, eye irritation, bruising, nose bleeds, fatigue that floors me, highs followed by lows, dry skin (especially facial), burning feet, numbness that migrates nearly to my knees at night when prone, hairless legs, transient achiness in hips and thighs and one shoulder, cramping (occasionally severe) in my calves and feet, shortness of breath, arrhythmia, and now, something new: an episode of dizziness. Which of these is the cancer? Which is the chemo? Is old age a factor? Does it matter?
For much of the day, my blood oozed like sludge. The vertigo subsided but my energy took several hours to restore itself. By 3 pm I needed to do something, anything to assert my spirit. I filled the hopper of my spreader with fertilizer and treated the lawn to some early spring nourishment. The activity got my blood flowing. I cultivated a large garden space vertically, then horizontally. I sowed wildflowers. I tilled the soil once more to cover the seed. My strength returned and I hauled gravel to fill potholes in our driveway. Afterwards, I shelved the morning’s lightheadedness under the category of anomaly; a category that grows with each cycle of drug treatments.
Still, this was no way to begin what was to be my final week of work. On Friday, March 30th, I retired from my job as Postmaster after 34 years with the Postal Service. I didn’t want a party but the community had other ideas. Wednesday morning, I discovered platters of food, desserts, and coffee awaiting my arrival. Throughout the day, customers appeared to nibble, reminisce, and wish me well. They brought wonderful gifts and cards containing heartfelt comments. Thursday and Friday, many more customers stopped by to share their hope for me to enjoy a lengthy retirement. I am feeling well loved.
Realistically speaking, though, I am not entirely in charge of the duration of this passage into the post-work world. Cancer has a way of distilling one’s expectations. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s liberating to finally put your trust in the moment, rather than the future. My body is an experiment for which the mortar and pestle of oncology grinds its concoctions. Can science create a remedy? Perhaps, though I am not attached to the promise of curative solutions.
Last week, while trying to make sense of my lightheadedness, I worried if the cancer, simmering in my marrow, was about to boil over. Perhaps, I thought, I should put in writing some final arrangements that are important to me. Such are the broodings of a cancer survivor. For better or worse, we find it difficult to stray far from our fears. Of course, this bit of worry from yet another side effect of my good chemo/bad chemo reality caused me to overreact. Most likely, I was simply dehydrated.
It’s been ten days since my world spun in circles. The episode of dizziness has not repeated itself. I am back where I started: no pattern of relapse, no final instructions, just the usual suspects of anomalies. Yet, when oddities are all there are, then maybe anything is possible, good or bad. I’ll take that thought into retirement.