Monday, May 05, 2008

I woke too early again

Even with the Ambien, I’ve been awake since about 3:30. I woke from a dream, wherein one of my teachers and I both forgot a final paper I had to do, and the rules of the institution wouldn’t let us negotiate.

That dream is pure fiction. This instructor, within three days of hearing my diagnosis, excused me from all remaining work. And as long as I follow the procedures, I can extend incompletes as long as I need to. I think it’s just speaking to all the details I need to attend to. And once roused, I’m awake.

I used to be a moderately flaky student; I turned things in at the last minute, or late, all the time. Frustrated the hell out of one particular instructor, because she knew I could do my work well, when I did it. Now, I don't see that pattern in me. I agreed to write two reflection papers, to complete another class, and I’m trying to fit them in with everything else. Sometimes I do just sit and stare at the wall for awhile, or at this screen. It’s true that I don’t really want to do the reading to refresh myself. It’s also true that I wish I hadn’t taken this class for a grade; I’d rather just throw something together and call it good, knowing it would be good enough. But I know that I will get these two papers done, and write them as well as I can.

What doesn’t get done before the 12th, won’t, until summer. That’s when my PET scan is. Every time I go to Kaiser, I come back without a brain. Even knowing that what I have will not kill me, I get wound up so much just being in that environment. I never used to. Both parents worked in hospitals. I’d go there and play, when I was little. None of my own procedures that I was old enough to remember, rattled me all that much. This, is different. The word “cancer” gets branded on your being. I really need to do some deep breathing and yoga stretches, something to diffuse the anxiety. I know I’ll be okay. In two months, or 14, this can be a memory. But I will always be different.

Truly, I really like who I’m becoming. I have a depth I didn’t used to; a seriousness, and a focus, that I’ve been needing and lacking for a long time. I trust myself more, and I trust my body to tell me what it needs. There’s a whole different level of awareness.

I’ve lost a certain lightness—but I’m still, deeply, joyful; and I still laugh. The true gift in all of this, is an unspeakably deep and overflowing gratitude for life. I know how close I could have come. (That’s not me being dramatic; others know it too. I get so many hugs now, because people need to give them.) Cancer sucks—but it gave me that. And I know how much I want to be here, to be well, to experience everything in this life as fully and completely as I can.

“How are you?”
“I’m alive. And that is everything.”

I’m learning about social cues, mine and others’. I’ve often needed to talk—but sometimes, I just want to be normal. Someone asked me at the barbecue last night, how I was. I answered, “The real answer is, hangin’ in. The immediate answer is, hungry.”

We laughed. He asked me when my surgery was, and I told him what would happen. Telling the story is therapeutic. I say, “They’ll cut a wedge around my tumor and put my ear back together. Then I’m going on interferon for awhile. After it all heals, I’m cutting my hair short again and getting a warrior piercing.”

In that answer, I still get to be me. I’m not just an acquaintance or friend going through a difficult time. I’m claiming who I am, in this, and I get to say so.

For some reason, that really matters.

Someone else asked how I was; a classmate’s wife, whom I really like and rarely get to see. She caught herself immediately, because she’d asked it from a casual place, forgetting that my answer might not be simply, “Fine.” We had a good, and real, conversation—all about transformative experiences, loving yourself, and balance. It was really wonderful, and I got to listen to her stories too.

There is another couple, not at school, with whom I’m realizing that the proper tense is “We used to be friends.” You can’t expect someone to change because you have, any more than you can expect it because you want them to. I knew that the one who is a cancer survivor would get it, and he did. The other, just didn’t—or we don’t get each other, anymore. I caught myself arguing with her about my experience, because I felt like she just wasn’t listening. She may have been simply unable to connect. That would be true to whom she’s become in our relationship. But it’s a toxic, destructive dynamic, and I’m not going to go there anymore.

I guess the lesson is, hold on to the experiences that feed you and the people who love you. Let the rest go. Be thankful for love, and know that everyone muddles along, doing the best they can.

All I can do really, is let go and let myself be fed, and know that someday I can hold the fork again. And know that all of us have times when we can give and when we can’t, and when we need to receive what others hold out to us. Just because someone asks for the story, I don’t have to tell it—and just because they don’t ask, doesn’t mean they don’t care.

I will be able to nurture others again, eventually; and I’ll have a better sense of boundaries when I get there. Part of me is tired of being the object of so much compassion—but I really still need to be held in love and prayer. I don’t know how to navigate this.

It’s not even that I’m tired of being the object of compassion. It’s that I wish we all treated each other that way, all the time. People hug me for real, and they tell me that they love me. Several times a day—and it’s because of this diagnosis. They realize that I matter to them. But don’t we all, matter to each other? When you ask someone how they are, don’t you really want to know?

What could community be, if we all understood how precious life is? There is no way to teach that. You have to know it in your own body, or the body of a friend. Some of my witnessing on the blog is to show this. Know me. Know how much you love your own life.

I am still physically well. And I am emotionally exhausted. I can’t imagine trying to go through this with a 9-5 job. People have given me so much grace.

All I can say, again and always, is thank you.


jadedjabber said...

I am new to your blog and didn't know you had cancer. Though, I am not dealing with it in my body, it is something going on in my family. Community is important, you are right.

It is good to hear that I am not the only 'flaky" sem student out there. Right now, I am reading your post instead of getting a final paper done. Meh, whatever.

Mother Laura said...

Oh, Kirstin, I just saw the news and am so very sorry.

Also very grateful that it is as confined as it is and that you are feeling so much love and support.

Wish I could give you the love and prayers and hugs in person but I'll send them with the angels.

May 15 is my dear Rachel's heavenly birthday and I know she will add her prayers to mine.

Keep taking good care of yourself and call me any time it would help.

mary said...


I have wanted to join a yoga class for a long time. Would you want to join me sometime this week to check one out in Berkeley?

Mary Hudak

pj said...

Kirstin, have I been spelling your name wrong all along? I have a friend named Kirsten, and I'm very easily confused. :p

Hang in there. When you get that warrior piercing, I expect to see photos here. (((((K)))))

susan s. said...

Yes, the best answer sometimes when folks ask how you are is something like, "I'm vertical."

Singing Owl said...

"All I can do really, is let go and let myself be fed, and know that someday I can hold the fork again."

Wow! ((((((((((HUGS))))))))))))))

Grandmère Mimi said...

Kirstin, I'm so glad I met you when I did. It really makes a difference when I read all this that I can picture you as a person and not just as a picture.

I let Grandpère drive again in New Orleans last night, because of my knee, but he managed not to give Paul whiplash. History did not repeat itself. Thanks be to God.

I remember the first time I went for a radiation treatment. A few minutes after I walked into the waiting room, it hit me, and I thought, "My God! All these folks have CANCER!" And then I thought, "Well, I have cancer, too. I'm in the club." A few people looked really sick, but the majority looked amazingly healthy, and that was an encouragement to me.

The thought that comes to me now is that just because you have cancer, it doesn't mean that cancer has to have you - if that makes any sense.

Paul said...

Great observation, Mimi. I doesn't have to have you.

((((((( K )))))))