It helps that you see me as a warrior. There are days I want to lose myself in a cheap love affair with rainbow-colored sugar and pure escapism.
Last week I went on a superhero spree, rolling through the sequels of Ironman and the Avengers. Hey, it’s an improvement. The week before I reverted to a Twihard fan, oscillating between vampires and werewolves.
Seriously folks, it beats the news where villains are cast as heroes and heroes as villains. At least in the movies, the roles are clearly defined.
I’ve spent considerable time studying story structure. Actually, we all have. You may not have studied the actual craft but you’ve grown up on fairytales, movies and “Once Upon a Time.”
You know every story has a beginning, middle and end.
On the screen, this equates to ACT I, II and III which looks something like this:
Act I: Get your hero up a tree.
Act II: Throw rocks at her.
Act III: Get her down.
I’m 24-hours unplugged from the newest round of chemo which puts me up the tree, dodging rocks. This is where the pain comes, the true vehicle of transformation that carries the incentive to change.
At the end of Act II, there’s always that down and out moment when the hero falls out of the tree, seems to die and all is lost.
In mythological story structure, this is a symbolic form of dying to one’s old self and rising, transformed:
The lesson has been learned, the moral has been instilled and the old, selfish ways that got us into this mess have been surrendered.
We are born anew in Act III, the Hero of our own story.
I’m not going to save the world. I don’t even know if I’m going to save myself. That part hasn’t been written yet.
But I am the hero of my own story and just like the news media, I tend to “skew the news,” usually when I have to tell loved ones bad news on the cancer front, tossing in some good news to soften the blow.
Heck, I did it to all of you in the last blog, presenting a caramel-coated poison apple to make it more palatable.
The raw truth is a little harder to swallow:
Did you hear? We’re switching the chemo cocktail again, kids! Adding a nasty biological agent that attacks your skin like nuclear waste, tossing in a radiation treatment plan 5 days a week to shrink that neck tumor squishing your jugular and oh yeah, Superhero Oncologist Bruce Lee just filed a new medical certification to extend your leave from work —
Not for another 6 months.
For one year.
Now… I could let this freak me out.
A lot of people in the airline industry are on leave, some not by choice. I’m not the only one going through a hard time.
I could settle in my treehouse of misery with swirls of strawberry pound cake and a pint of ice cream and whine, “What’s the point of prayer, meditation, juicing, eating organic and daily exercise? It’s not wooooooorking.”
I could lose myself in other people’s stories, read about someone else who had stage 4 cancer and after a few chemo treatments was declared cancer-free.
There are a lot of success stories like that out there. And believe me, I could get twisted up wondering why that’s not my story. Especially when I’ve taken up gnawing on broccoli stalks instead of Red Vines.
Let me share something with you:
I had a profound feeling when all this started that I was meant to go through a personal transformation. This meant cancer was going to be around long enough for it to stick.
See, transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It takes consistency. Determination. Getting back up when I take a hit. Over and over and over again.
A few months?
Nah. I’d be sucking down Diet Mountain Dews through a Red Vine and flying COVID craft from sea to shining sea by now.
I’m the type of person who will push until it breaks.
Not you. Me.
It took me four years to get one year of sobriety because I just couldn’t wrap my head around living life a new way.
Now, I have 9 years of sobriety. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, harder than taking on cancer.
It taught me how to surrender to life on life’s terms, how to live in the moment, how to suit up and show up regardless of how I feel.
It also taught me how to tell a different story.
Do I want a whiny heroine lounging in bed taking on cancer for me?
And speaking of Hell, this inscription is said to be over the doorway:
Abandon hope all ye who enter here.
Now, I don’t know who escaped Hell to bring us back this sacred gem but it brings to mind the question:
Why would I want to abandon hope with a pint of ice cream, if, as the inscription says, without hope you’re in Hell?
And why would I deliberately want to put myself in Hell with a whiny ice cream eating heroine? Can you imagine the drama when the ice cream melts?
Right. I get to tell my story the way I want it. So do you.
In fact, the story you tell yourself about you is the most important story there is —
It determines how you SEE yourself and sets in motion the actions you do or do not take.
You have reasons why you can’t change? Can’t do things differently?
Honey, you should see my list. In fact, I’m going to show it to you.
The new chemo cocktail is a combination of Oxalplatin, Flouriscil and the lovely Vectibix.
It packs a punch.
Not in a way that makes me tired. Fatigue is a side-effect in someone else’s story. So is nausea. These are huge blessings and I don’t take them lightly.
No, in this parade of evil-doers, Pain leads the charge. It’s the reason I’ve taken to hanging with my superhero friends on the big screen. Chemo fog is real. Add pain meds to the mix and well…
It makes me dumb. A side effect hampering my ability to write, the words swirling just out of my reach, beautiful and teasing like butterflies.
When Pain is really kicking in my abdomen, it radiates to my flank and down my leg, making it impossible to lift said leg and put on a pair of shorts; instead I support my leg with both hands to relieve the strain.
I could sit down to put them on but I don’t because hopping around the room on one leg gives me some exercise and entertains my husband.
Then there’s the annoying side-kick effects, the Robin of Batman:
Peripheral neuropathy that makes my fingers and toes prickle like they’re waking up. Only it doesn’t stop.
And if I pick up anything cold, I get zapped, like an electric shock.
You know when I read that side effect? I had to try it. I deliberately picked up a cold can of spring water out of the fridge.
Now you see why it took me four years to get one year of sobriety.
It’s AUGUST and I’m shuffling around the house in Uggs and gloves.
If it goes on long enough, my hands start to cramp. They literally just curl in on themselves in distorted, twisted, witch-like ways.
That too, annoying.
Add another impediment to writing.
I know I’m in Act II where I get rocks thrown at me.
Maybe that’s the difference between you and me. I know this will pass.
It happens to all of us — We get to a good place and cruise for a while, then something comes along and knocks us off balance. It’s the dichotomy of life, the eternal balance of up and down, light and dark, forwards and back.
We don’t ever stay in homeostasis for long, my friends.
As for me, I’ll take the pain because the new nurse up at the cancer center let me in on a little secret that not only helps me bear it, but welcome it.
Nurse Frieda is exactly what you’d expect a German nurse to be — Short, stout, strong accent and strong personality with no bullshit delivery.
I love her.
She circles through the infusion room like a flight attendant, showing up every 15 minutes to check on her people and make sure nobody’s trying to run off to the lavatory together.
Right. There’s two guys in here with me today who’ve been card-carrying members of AARP for at least 20 years.
I’ll try to control myself.
She tells me the pain is a “Tumor Kick” — the cancer reacting to the chemo.
Can you say “Amen?”
I’ll take that all day long.
Nurse Frieda rolls up her cart full of syringes, butterfly catheters, gauze and tape.
“You’re getting the Vectibix today,” she tells me. “The insurance approved it.”
Vectibix works in tandem with the chemo. It attacks EGFR — Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor, a protein on the surface of cells that helps the cells grow and divide.
And it has nasty skin reactions, all of which I’m experiencing now.
But my favorite side-effect? General deterioration.
Seriously. Look at the photo.
I can’t help but laugh. Why not ONLY put that?
I shared this with you because if I can go through this? You can go through the pain you need to change.
You can endure the cravings and compulsions of severing bad habits, old patterns and toxic people that are killing your zest for life.
Don’t you dare tell me it’s too hard. You don’t get to tell me that.
And don’t feel sorry for me.
I’m grateful every day for the life I’ve been given.
Every day brings an infusion of hope and support from people like you who carry me one more day, not just with medicine but with love.
Even now in the midst of global turmoil, love is the answer.
Love places an entire world of bliss and beauty within our grasp if we but have the courage to SEE ourselves differently —
Then we’ll have the courage to DO things differently.
The story you tell yourself today is all that matters. Not the past, not what others tell you–
What YOU tell you.
This is your life. The only one you get. If you’re not bouncing out of bed every day filled with joy to be alive, isn’t that reason enough to change?
My dear, life unfolds in the mystery. Have the courage to live there.
You are worth it.
You are strong enough.
Endure the rocks. Your inner Hero awaits you on the other side.