Chemo has been quite cruel to me lately. This particularly harsh drug has kept me house- and couch-bound for upwards of a week at a time. It’s made me feel like I had the worst stomach flu of my life over and over and over again. It’s taken almost all of my eyebrows and eyelashes at this point so that I now no longer recognize myself when I pass a mirror. But the cruelest thing I’ve found so far about chemo is that it, the thing that is supposed to save my life, makes me feel like I’m dying. Feeling like you’re dying while battling a life threatening illness is a recipe for psychological disaster folks. Even though I logically understand that the poison coursing through my veins is destroying the cancer it’s impossible to not feel defeated, to not feel like a shell of a human being, some sad, sick shadow of my former self. It’s also frankly impossible to not feel like this is how it could all end. I can’t remember if I ever imagined my own demise when I was healthy. Perhaps a few times on a turbulent flight, in bad road conditions or when I crossed the street in front of a car that was coming along much faster than I had anticipated. But when you have cancer (and once you’ve gotten over the shock and moved passed the denial phase) it’s hard not to at least occasionally have waking nightmares about getting a “bad scan,” hearing from your doctor that you’ve run out of options and watching your light fade no matter how hard you fight the darkness. Chemo makes me feel like my light is fading, like it’s grown dim and I don’t have the will or the way to bring it back. It’s a dark place my friends and it’s why I often describe this particular chemo as the worst thing that has ever happened to me. It’s not just the wretched illness. It’s the psychological distress of feeling so wholly ill.
So how on earth am I surviving these dark thoughts? Well sometimes I succumb and sometimes I have complete and utter mental breakdowns and sometimes I have very bad days and sometimes it feels impossible. But I have also started cultivating an intense and greedy zest for life in some back closet of my brain. I feel like a player who, despite my enthusiasm, has been benched for too many games in a row. Put me in coach! I want to get back in the game so bad I could scream. If only these pesky cancer treatments would get out of the way I would devour it all. And so, I have become intensely wantful. Full to the brim with wanting so many things out of my life, however long it will be, that I can hardly sit still.
These are some of the things that I want:
I want to travel to parts of the earth that are far enough away that the very air feels different. That the sounds and sights and smells around me are so new and tantalizing that I couldn’t possibly soak them all in. Like when I was in Tunisia and I would literally stand with my eyes closed in the Romanesque hotel lobby just to appreciate the intoxicating smell of jasmine that hung seemingly by magic in the air at all times. Or when I was driving through Dehli and entirely unable to peel my eyes away from the incredible mass of humanity that filled its streets in every conceivable mode of transportation in every possible direction. I want to go and be in these far away places. I want to travel everywhere and take it all in.
I want to stand near the mountains and canyons and rivers and valleys of the world. I want to be reminded of how small and short-lived we all are. I want to be surprised and delighted by the earth.
I want to go out west where the sky is bigger, there is more room to breath and the scenery has a flair for the dramatic.
I want to hold and hug my friends. I want to tell them I love them and I want them to understand how much I mean it. I want to spend my life making sure that they feel heard and held and appreciated.
I want to hug my family and tell them I love them and I want them to understand how much I mean it. I want to spend my life learning from them, leaning on them and letting them lean on me in a way that you can only do with family.
I want to be with my nieces and laugh at their jokes and watch them grow and get excited about what incredible people they are and feel fully how lucky I am to be in their lives.
I want to push my body in new ways. I want to it to go rock climbing and feel the exhilaration of making it to the top. I want to go on grueling bike rides and feel the relief and reward of a downhill slope. I want to run farther than I have ever run before and feel exhausted by how far I could go. I want my muscles and bones and heart to feel really alive and I want them to be well used.
I want to fall in love with strangers who can reflect back to me some part of myself or remind me of something I know is true even though we just met and even though we might come from very different places.
I want many long nights of really good conversations. I want to lose myself in the kind of debates and exchanges that only come when we are truly vulnerable and I want to learn deeply from the minds and hearts and joys and sorrows of those all around me.
I want to feel really proud of my work. I want to come home still feeling the high of a great accomplishment, one that I know will have a lasting impact on the world, one that makes me feel excited to be a participant in the drama of life on earth.
I want to create life, give birth and raise children of my own. I want to feel love unlike I’ve ever known and to experience the joys and sorrows and fears and miracles of parenthood and pass down what I know to be true to another generation.
I want to eat delicious food that nourishes my body and leaves me feeling more whole.
I want to go to really good concerts and be moved to tears by really good music. I want to dance until my body is sore.
I want to take perfect and imperfect photos of really meaningful moments and not just weddings but moments most of us would consider small until we look back and realize how much we miss them.
I want to have a lot of fun with my husband. I want to find ways to laugh with him in all of the difficult places of our lives but also take adventures with him that heal us and refresh us to our cores. I want to continue to learn from him, to communicate with him and find new ways to empathize with him as my partner.
I want to be bold in my appearances and embrace the ways in which I now look nontraditional. I want to find a way to communicate a truer version of myself so that barriers can be broken before they are even put up.
I want all of this and more. Some of it I can do while getting treatment. Some of it will have to wait. But not too long. I want to never wait too long to do anything again.