Yesterday was busy as Christmas Day always seems to be. Cooking, cooking and more cooking followed by cleaning up. I didn’t mind because the meal was very much enjoyed, even by my son who employs the ‘avoid vegetables at all costs’ policy. Time spent in the kitchen offered an opportunity to reflect on the past year and consider what it’s like spending Christmas with cancer treatment as my ever-present companion.
The words ‘faith, hope and charity’ came to mind as I checked the turkey’s progress. I’m agnostic and although those words are described by some as the heavenly graces, to me they’re just words with some significant meaning. Having contemplated the heavenly graces I also mulled over cardinal virtues; fortitude, justice, prudence and temperance. The Greek philosophers identified these many, many years ago and philosophy was one of my recent topics of study so it’s no surprise the cardinal virtues joined forces with faith, hope and charity as I prepared our carrots and parsnips.
These seven words – faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, prudence and temperance are as good as any to describe the experience of cancer at Christmas, the dirty mark it left on 2012 and my attempts to erase it. I like things to be relatively clean and tidy, not perfect but passable. Cancer doesn’t fit that bill:
Clean: Adverb – so as to be free from dirt, marks, or unwanted matter. Adjective – free from irregularities, having a smooth edge or surface.
Tidy: Verb – bring order to, arrange neatly. Adjective – arranged neatly and in order.
I’m no longer free from marks or irregularities nor am I arranged neatly and in order. My treatment plan is designed to eradicate unwanted matter but there are no guarantees. I aim to be passable in 2013 hence my theme for today is Faith.
Detecting that there’s something wrong with our bodies calls for faith. Faith that we’ve a relatively good idea about what we look and feel like, what’s normal and abnormal. Without this underlying faith I’d have faced a heap more trouble this year. The trouble I found myself in was trouble enough. Unlike crustaceans and salamanders we can’t regenerate body parts and we can’t operate on ourselves so we have to place our faith in the medical profession; sometimes its a challenge. I received a clean bill of health in January 2012. What if I’d ignored the inner voice whispering “there’s something wrong” until January 2013? It’s almost too scary to contemplate.
Fortunately I trusted my instincts and returned to the medics; unfortunately they confirmed my concerns. Diagnosis is one thing but treatment is quite another. There’s so much to weigh-up at a time when rational thought can be displaced by disbelief. More faith was required – to remain positive, chose the optimal treatment pathway, believe surgery and harsh chemotherapy would do the job (without killing me in the process or disabling me for the rest of my life).
These are big decisions that medical science can inform but as yet no-one is equipped to fully underwrite. Alone with the knowledge that any choice I made would be life-changing called for a leap of faith. The maze that is cancer and its treatment meant I’d either find myself on solid ground or I’d need to learn to fly PDQ.
Cancer treatment, particularly chemotherapy, is challenging. Being confined to a physical body undergoing chemical warfare and death at a multi-cellular level on a regular basis isn’t an everyday experience (thank goodness). Things fall off – hair, eyelashes, nails; other things stop functioning – healing processes, skin renewal, the immune system. I learned how to fly to combat an extended period of imprisonment in a body I barely recognised that’s ill-equipped to do the things I want to do. Flying combines a good deal of faith that in time, things will repair themselves with the knowledge that I can think myself free. Free from needles, free from chemicals, free from hospitals, physical impairments and pain. My physical body may well be dying at a rapid pace on a regular basis but it doesn’t mean my spirit has to follow suit. It can be anywhere it wants to be.
Christmas with cancer has been quite different to other Christmases. Socialising in crowded places is off-limits and visiting or receiving visitors is only possible if people are fit and well. I’m happy in my own company but I never imagined being a hermit and this Christmas is proving unusually reclusive due to the need to avoid germs. Waking on Christmas morning in the knowledge that I’d be back at chemo camp in three days, on steroids again within 48 hours and doing a human pincushion impression several times before the week was through also put a slightly different complexion on things. It would have been easy to dwell on these less than festive thoughts but they’d have stolen the spirit of Christmas. I set them aside, had faith that I could ignore them and went about making it an enjoyable day for the sake of my family. My mission was accomplished – they enjoyed it and that’s all I asked, with the help of a little faith.
In spite of this year’s difficulties, having faith that I could overcome adversity and in the abilities of those who care for me has enabled me to jump some significant hurdles while remaining relatively unscathed.
Tomorrow I’ll reflect with justice as my theme.