Tomorrow, I’m starting three weeks of daily radiation and a low dose of chemo pills, to treat the tumor on the left side of my brain. Hopefully, the recent surgery removed a lot of the new tumor, but my doctors assume there are still cancer cells active in that region. I feel pretty trusting that radiation is both a helpful treatment and one that isn’t likely to have lots of risks, since I haven’t yet had radiation in that part of my brain. Many things remain uncertain, though, such as if and how to treat the rest of my brain after the radiation.
When I met with my oncologist last week, I asked him how he currently saw my prognosis. He said that he hasn’t previously seen someone with this kind of cancer growing on both sides of their brain survive for many years, but maybe I could be the first he’s seen.
My mental abilities appear still feel slower than after the last surgery, but the changes are subtle, like when I could feel myself stretch to do the self-check-out lane for produce at Target. Or other times I need to take breaks when writing to keep my thoughts clear. I go in circles in thinking of what I want to write more than I used to. I sometimes mess up a word I’m trying to say, but I think the main ideas usually come through.
When I work with my health story colleagues, helping people prepare their stories, two themes we work with are fleshing out both the agency and communion within their stories.
In cultivating my own agency, I want to be proactive as a part of choosing my treatments, in partnership with my doctors, and not just passive, and I want to pursue wellbeing in my diet, exercise, relationships, and attitudes. At the same time, I want to surrender, receive, and accept what is outside my control. I find that the combination of agency and surrender is a quite a dance, with lots of grace needed to mix it together.
I’ve still been getting lots of time to sit at the river each day, one of the main things that helps me notice and receive deep connection and communion. There’s a particular tree that leans into the river that I’ve become quite attached to. I often feel connected there with Bruce Kramer, who spoke beautifully as he approached his death, interviewed by my friend, Cathy Wurzer. When I sit under that tree leaning into the river, I often have internal conversations with Bruce about the process of healing in preparation for dying. Though I didn’t meet Bruce when he was alive, I’ve had many conversations about choices we each made, or want to make, about treatments, quality of life, and opportunities for healing. Bruce made choices such as not getting a breathing tube, even though it might’ve extended his life. I find both the influence of Bruce and my tree companion nurture space for both choices and connections.
I was reminded about this paradox by my friend, Debbie A, who reminded me of Rumi’s invitation to “Be helpless, dumbfounded, Unable to say yes or no. Then a stretcher will come from grace To gather us up.” I honor both my helplessness and power, both in connection with the trees and friendships that hold me.
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