Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Back from the ocean

Healing time. Mmmm.

The break, for me, was all about finding a loving relationship with my body. And I'm not sure I'm there. But I know where I'm going.

A and I have been trying not to feed each other's stress levels.  We had agreed before we left, that we needed to take it easy on each other and make sure we both had time alone. It turned out to never be an issue. I walked; she sat. I came back and we watched dolphins together, laughing. We had a really great time, all weekend. We weren't in cancer-land. We were free for two days. The wind and the water seemed to wash it all away.

I have a life-threatening illness that is "refractory" to treatment. I feel well, so this is all exponentially mind-blowing. And as hard as this is, it is relatively easier on me. While I feel well, suffering is mostly an abstraction. Last night I read the biochemotherapy information packet that Kaiser Riverside sent me; it arrived while we were at the beach. I processed it purely intellectually. This is what I need to bring with me; these are possible side effects; these are the statistics related to its working. I don't expect it to hit me emotionally until I'm down there, alone, feeling like crap, with an IV in me that's dripping the best shot I have to survive this.

I can't imagine what it's like to be A right now. And I have no advice for close friends or family. But I am getting love and support from all corners; more than I can begin to respond to. All of it very deeply appreciated. She doesn't have the support that I do.

We are best friends, and housemates. We're not partners. Our lives are mostly in different church and civic communities. My friends are my friends; hers are hers. There is some crossover, but not really that much. And because we don't present together in most places, I'm not sure that people get how much we are together in this. How we talk all the time about how to get through this. How much she is doing, and will need to do, for me.

If you know both of us, please do NOT hear this as, "OMG, A needs a note." She assured me that she knows how to ask for what she needs, and she isn't ready to receive the attention I'm receiving anyway. She'll tell you what she wants. I bring this up to say, if you know someone who is facing a life-threatening illness, and it isn't immediately obvious who their primary support people are, ask them. Ask how you can be present not only for the person who is sick, but for the people who love them the most. If the answer is, "Wait until she asks you," that's okay. (The question itself--that awareness--counts.) And if you know someone who has a friend with cancer, be aware that this is very real to them.

I know it is easier to be me and be the one who is sick, than it would be for me to watch anyone I love go through this. I watch her watch me. To know that one of the closest people in your life is wrestling daily with God and life and death, to know that she is deceptively ill even as you watch her go about her day and not yet struggle with her breathing, and to know that you'll likely lose her before you're ready to... as I said, if one of us has to have metastatic melanoma, I'm glad it's me. I'd be an absolute irredeemable mess, if she were the one who was sick.

I get so many e-mails saying, "We love you; what can we do?" I know that's a totally open-ended question, and I know that "check in with A" is a perfectly good answer. It isn't what she needs yet, from friends of mine whom she doesn't know. I don't know what I myself need, other than the love you're already giving. We're learning as we go. Hold us both in prayer, is the best thing I can tell you.


As I started out saying, the break for me was all about trying to love my body again. I'm not there yet--but I have a foothold. I took a walk yesterday, while A walked with her good friend (and former rector). Margaret had asked me to throw something into her beloved ocean. I walked, ankle-deep in the water, and I skipped rocks. I was thinking about her and Joel and Juan, how she is my older sister and she says I am her teacher now, how there's nothing to like about cancer but she found me because I was diagnosed (thank you MadPriest), how she kept reminding me to hold on to resurrection. How I still hold on to the love of God, but how I don't know what resurrection means now, fighting cancer for the second time. I had thought I was clean, but I wasn't. My body carries this. It is in me and part of me. Sister death will always be at my shadow.

I walked, and I skipped rocks. I watched a wave pull a clam shell into the water, skittering over the sand. The ocean drew its creature back into itself. And I didn't need to throw rocks anymore.

I stood still in the water, and I felt the waves rock me. I watched the dolphins swim and play and leap. And I knew what I needed to know.

When I walked out of the water, I couldn't stop saying thank you.


Ann said...

Ocean is the best metaphor for me revealing God. We come from there and return -- all salty. Can comfort you and and terrify you - but always rising and falling like the breath. It is all good. From personal experience - it is easier to be the one than the ones watching. YMMV. Continued prayers.

it's margaret said...

"Sister death will always be at my shadow."

And one day, all of us will meet Sister Death face to face, and her face will be our face, transfigured with love. And none of us will fear or grieve in that place where there are no tears, nor hunger nor grief, because even the Lord of life has walked that Way, and called us to follow him.

Love to you and A.

Kirstin said...

To both of you, amen.

Audi Mama said...

I just want you to know, I'm listening. xo

susankay said...

Yes -- it's not really "dust unto dust" -- it's "water unto water" -- I'm prejudiced: my parents chose to be cremated and sprinkled in the Pacific.

I may lift my eyes to the hills (and I can do so where I live) but my heart yearns for water.

It heals.

Two Auntees said...

When I need peace, when I need healing within my soul, I long for water. A large body of water. By the water, I get the peace and healing.

Please know that when I speak of healing, I do not mean cure. I understand how you feel about praying to have an illness removed and I feel the same way myself. Glad you were able to visit the ocean.

I send you love, I send you light and I send you prayers.

Kirstin said...

Hi Audi! Thanks for being visible. :-)

Susankay, mine too.

Auntees, I know. Thank you.

Lisa Fox said...

I don't have any wise words. But I am glad you have A. and other friends. All I can do is listen and support. And that I am doing.

Kirstin said...

Lisa, I feel you here. Thank you.

Lisa Fox said...

Reading here again, Kirstin, this struck me. You wrote: "I know it is easier to be me and be the one who is sick, than it would be for me to watch anyone I love go through this."
Amen, my friend. My prayers to your friend A.
I would much rather be the sick one than the loving one. I could face death, but facing the death of one I love makes me rage!

Prayers to you and A.