Circles.

Posted on April 19, 2015

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celebratory dinner

“Wicker, how you feeling?”

“I’m doing alright. How are you?”

“Alright? Damn, man, I haven’t heard you say that in way too long.”

“Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life… is that you can’t bullshit a bullshiter. Honestly, I’m actually doing alright.”

It’s been nearly two months since my last chemo treatment. It’s funny how only two months can seem like so many more. I’ve had noticeable improvements, I wouldn’t say daily, but each week I look back and grasp the positive trajectory of my energy and health. Apparently when you can’t physically do anything for a year, and you now have the luxury of entertaining a mere handful of activities, it give a sense of a full, busy, and purposeful life.

Though I’m on the mend, I still feel like I’m in a purgatory of sorts, a netherworld of in-betweeness in which I’m not quite healthy, but I’m not sick either. I’m finding the process more bearable when I’m more active, participate in what I can, and keep the ‘c’ word as far from my awareness as I can.

Half of me wants to completely put cancer behind me, buried in the recesses of my mind in a convenient box with the other memories you never want to surface again. But at the same time I, we are the sum of our experiences, changing and focusing our lens at which we encounter the world. Cancer has shaped me into who I am at this very moment, how I approach the world, and I need to acknowledge that. So, in that, I will always share my story.

This sense of in-betweeness has been tempered through activity. I tried to explain this ‘stage’ to my neighbor who is successfully wrapping up her adventure with breast cancer: there will be a time in which you begin to see all your friends again, and they will genuinely want to know how you’re feeling-they are curious, hopeful, supportive… a ‘catching up’ of sorts. This continued support from near and far continues to blow me away-I’m so appreciative to experience this as it truly takes a village. The more you see your friends and do the things that make you happy, those questions fade, people start to see you less as ‘fighting the battle’ and more as someone who has ‘won.’

That is… if cancer is a competition, keeping score so there can be a “winner” and a “loser.” Whatever those terms mean.

A handful of recent events has made my in-betweeness feel more like a closing of symbolic loops, coming ‘full-circle.’

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My port-removal gown pose.

Not long ago I was in the waiting room of the Silverbow Surgical building. I sat in the same seat as I had on June 13, 2014, next to Cassie and across from my in-laws, Kerry and Rita. Not long after we all were called back to the exam room, we received the official confirmation that I had cancer. Almost a year later, I find myself in the exact same spot, under completely different circumstances and surrounded by a completely different energy. I had an appointment to remove the port in my left chest.

This time, the nurses were happy to see me, the air hadn’t weighed on their brows and shoulders as it had before. Our conversations were pleasant, our words danced spring-like off the office walls. I am one of the lucky few to have been licked by the fires of cancer and was able to escape the inferno.

I ceremoniously took my shirt off, exposing the unicorn horn of my upper left chest, and sat down on yet another paper-covered table. Cass, wisely, left the room before the doctor started using the numerous syringes, scalpels, and pile of neatly folded gauze that lay beside me on a metal cart. I couldn’t shake the image that in one hundred years there would be a museum display of this exact situation with an informational placard that says something about ‘historical medicine.’

A few pokes of numbing agent later and I could feel the doctor slice me, reopening the same scar that allowed the port’s insertion. I stared at the ceiling, feeling the lifting and tugging of my skin and tissues to gain access to the plastic contraption I had grown an indifference toward. A few anchoring stitches were snipped and the port released its hold. The doctor pulled out the access mechanism and continued to pull what seemed like ten feet of tubing out of my chest. It was generally painless, took about twenty minutes, but was yet another completely unnatural experience.

As the last stitch continues to dissolve, this loop closes; full-circle.

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P2P team

I mentioned in an earlier post, that only 6-weeks prior to my diagnosis I competed in the kayak portion of the Peaks to Prairies triathlon, a race that has become somewhat of a spring tradition. Biker Ryan, runner Lacey, and I finished 2nd in our division. My ass cancer and I posted the 9th fastest kayak split in the race.

I had no intention of a return trip this year; I’m in no shape yet to be racing. However, at the encouragement of my teammates, I’m excited to be racing again this year. And it means even more that Ryan and Lacey want me to.

I have no real goals of taking home a medal this year, this year’s race is more of symbolic act for me. It’s not a race, it is a period at the end of a sentence. It’s a microcosm, really.

The moments of anxiety, the mental and physical struggle to overcome, the unconditional support of your teammates in the face of difficulties, the shared experience, the celebration. It’s not hard to see parallels echoing this last year.

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A recent Wednesday night float on the Big Hole River.

When I put on the Wick Tough-Racing against Rectal Cancer jersey, when I strap the timing chip to my life jacket and push my kayak into the waters of the Yellowstone River, my finishing time will be irrelevant. The act of simply being there, being encouraged to be there, being well enough to be there, and being able to be at this year’s race is all that truly matters. My heart will be doing most the paddling this year. Which is good, because it’s in much better shape that the rest of me.

When that starting gun goes off, one of the more meaningful loops closes. One loop that tells me that life, in one form or another, will resume; full-circle.

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Posted in: Cancer