I’ve been sitting here today, writing in my personal journal about what I’m expecting from my appointment tomorrow, what I’m expecting from the next few months, what, indeed, I’m expecting from my life, based on what I know right now.
I am not from a family of moderates. My father, when he was discharged from the Air Force back in the ‘60s, where he’d played first chair French horn for four years, auditioned to be the conductor of an orchestra. It was down to him and another guy, and the other guy got the job. Dad decided music wasn’t for him, obviously, if someone else could get a job he thought he wanted, so he moved back to Renton and started working for his dad, as an auto mechanic.
My mother taught high school English. She believed her role as a teacher was an important one in the lives of her students, and she was an excellent teacher. She also lived on a small farm raising animals and vegetables (the minerals—huge rocks that bound up the rototiller every time we went to plant the garden—raised themselves) and two children. She probably worked 80 hours per week on her job, and added everything else on top. She eventually developed a habit of rising at every morning so she would have an hour or two to herself to grade her papers. Her one concession to busy-ness was to give up making the family bread.
My brother struggles with extreme behavior in his own way.
For myself, I am aware that I’m in a constant balancing act. That is, in certain parts of my life, in certain situations, I am aware that I’m balancing my tendency to do things to extremes against a very real desire to enjoy lots of options without stressing myself out about any of them.
Of course, my health hasn’t always been one of those areas.
I have a goal for myself, for my life these days. My goal is to better integrate all the aspects of who I am into one whole. Most of my life, I lived very much in the mental/physical world. This is not to say that I wasn’t occasionally emotional about things—I was. But we didn’t, ultimately, have a hugely emotional household, and I do struggle now to make sure I am giving enough weight to how I feel about something. I was good in school, though, and I learned to do, with my body, pretty much anything I wanted to do. I wasn’t the most athletic kid, but I could ride and ski and swim; I could do some basic car maintenance; I could cook and weed. But anything that wasn’t tangible, I just didn’t believe existed. We weren’t a religious family nor (and I eventually started to understand the difference) a spiritual one.
Last year, with my second recurrence and my mastectomy, this changed. Last year, I suddenly started to be aware that there’s a lot more out there in the Universe, a lot more in us, too, than I had any idea about. And so, for the last several months, I’ve been reading a lot, and talking to a lot of experts, about the parts of being human that I didn’t realize were there.
What I haven’t been doing is actively applying moderation into my own life, even while my stated goal has been moderation. Instead, for the past year, I have been actively avoiding one valuable category of health assistance—allopathy. Sure, in part I didn’t feel the physical need until very recently. But the fact is, I haven’t had any check ups, including blood tests. I haven’t had my annual mammogram on my healthy breast—already seven months late. I haven’t even had a PAP.
I have spent the last year thinking “Western medicine=cancer.” And, I’ll probably find out tomorrow that that’s still true.
But . . . it’s not true. Western doctors save lives every day. And so I have no choice before me tomorrow but the difficult one—for moderation. To listen, with an open mind—and an open heart—to everything each of my people has to say to me. Each of them has spent years perfecting his or her skills. Each of them offers me knowledge, interest, experience that I cannot possibly hope to reproduce on my own. Each of them shares with me unspeakable personal value. But none of them is me, and only I can truly choose the options that are right for me. And only if I listen, with my whole being.
Yes, I could, theoretically, choose to be done. I could decide that it’s too inhumanizing, slogging into the clinic once a week and submitting to drip bags full of poisons. I could decide that my last year, of seeing different people and doing different things, was pointless. I could choose to give up, right now, accept that the end is close, and slowly wind down over the next few months until I simply die, riddled with the cancer that I thought wasn’t going to kill me.
Or I could choose, again theoretically, to give myself back over completely to the oncologists and the allopaths. I could decide that the lesson I learned this year was that I can’t, in fact, take care of myself. I could be back in the weekly infusion chair, chock-full of poisons, my ovaries removed, then off to the radiation oncologists for microwave zaps of radiation. I could choose to pick my authority—Western medicine—and meekly follow whatever it suggested.
I am not going to choose either of those paths. I don’t know what I will be offered tomorrow. I don’t know what the oncologist will say about my “prognosis”. But I am going to accept that she is another intelligent, thoughtful human being in my arsenal, who has my best interests—my life—at heart. I am going to trust that she has given her deepest attention to learning all she can about her chosen field. I am going to trust that she will share with me information that she believes, wholeheartedly, will benefit me the most.
And then I am going to choose.