The doctor used the C word. It wasn’t like I would have argued with his suggestion to go for further testing; I was there because I was ready to take action. Still, he played that card, invoking cancer and thus setting in motion a train of thought that can’t help but pass by wigs and weight loss and end up somewhere near Last Will and Testaments.

I never write about my health. For me it is like dropping the veil, admitting that I’m not a “rope muscled ballgown wearing superhero,” or, as I was recently referred to when my dogs all sat with their noses pointed up at me, a “devotional object.” I live a certain duality as a psychotherapist too, maintaining enough distance from my patients to not really exist as a full human being but to be a blank slate and a safe and permanent presence. I am my patients’ rock, I am my dogs’ rock, I am my own constant. Being ill just doesn’t jive with that.

The past few nights have been intense. Awake in the early morning hours, pain sharpens awareness to a single finely-honed point. Each breath is careful, slow and mindful. Each breath is a prayer of sorts. Each breath is fully experienced, laced with hope and ultimately filled with acceptance. There is nothing beyond this moment, this breath, and this pain. I am just present, anchored right here, right now, experiencing this and nothing else. Last night Cinder shoved her head under my hand when I hit the couch for the fourth night in a row. She checked on me, ears laid back in supplication before padding quietly back up to her own bed, satisfied.

Ill equals defective. That’s what my judgmental brain tells me. I know that the human body is full of design issues and vulnerabilities, flawed and miraculous that it functions at all. I know that our time here is limited and that being embodied is fun and cool in some ways but it ends. And I have my ideas about what happens after that; I’m sure you have your ideas too. I struggle with being here and being ill: part of me insists that it is not necessary, that proper care and feeding will keep all ailments at bay, that somehow this pain and frailty is my fault and failing, and that I should quietly endure. I struggle with just plain acceptance – sometimes things just happen. Bad things happen to good people. And then I struggle with some ever-shifting notion of healing and the belief that I can “fix” this. So far traditional medicine (including hormone balancing, medication, and all the recommended lifestyle changes) has not offered much relief. Acupuncture, chiropractics, yoga, and supplements have relieved me of plenty of cash, but no lessening of symptoms. A witch doctor (I call him that to his face) has helped more than anything else, reducing the frequency of these overnight sensations, but even he has not been able to wave a magic wand and eliminate them. The specialist says surgery will fix this. I cock my eyebrow and he adds, “but I don’t recommend it.”

My mother-in-law has recently had the C word land squarely in her lap, with a few additional C words close at its heels: Cancer, then chemo, then critical condition. Within the space of a few days, she went from being her “normal” self to being hooked up in a chemo ICU. Among the thoughts and feelings that inevitably pass through the hearts of those she has been close to is the thought of how complete her loss of control has been. How shockingly fast and how utterly complete.
It is the being out of control – the sudden loss of normal functioning replaced by inability to manage the most basic of human tasks (eating, sleeping) – that bothers me the most. And the pain. I can handle headaches, period cramps, tendonitis and toothaches. For whatever reason (physical or psychical) this particular flavor of stomach pain crosses the line into something intolerable. I dread going to bed; I actually experience panic attacks in anticipation of the pain returning. Sometimes it doesn’t return for months and I ease up a little. Then blammo, it’s back and I am perched on the couch in the wee hours, sipping breath and waiting.

I wandered in the woods today, took a million photographs of small things that charm me and let myself feel content with that. I believe that is what the doctor ordered. The rest will all come out in the wash.

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6 Responses to Dis-ease

  1. Nancy says:

    Heather….I came across you on Facebook. I have a nephew that is a friend of a friend and that is how I noticed you and your dogs, as I have that ridiculous bond (as some humans call it) with mine.
    And that is how I ended up reading your blog and enjoying every word of it, until I read your October entry today. Although I do not personally know you, I wish you well in this journey of the unknown. Do what you do best, walk in the woods, spend time with your family, play with your dogs and most of all, take time for you. I know you will be ok.

    • halia466 says:

      Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to respond. It really means a lot to me. As I said – I rarely drop the veil and actually talk about what’s been going on the this part of my life, and the response has been so overwhelmingly supportive and kind I am rather taken aback. Part of me is very tempted to try to sweep the post away – I didn’t mean it, I feel fine – but I know you now know the truth. Some days I feel fine and some nights are tough. I am going to go walk the dogs right now and enjoy every step, every woof, and every “^%$##@*!!! Cin-DER!!!” that I have to bellow. It is all good.

  2. Janie says:

    hi Heather, I also recently found your group and blog. the C word got personal with me several years ago, leading to a series of annoying and invasive tests. and all I thought about was, why me? take care of yourself, nurture yourself, do what makes you happy. thank you for sharing. I feel less alone.

    • halia466 says:

      Hey Janie, thank you so much for reading and adding your thoughts. Yes, “why me” is definitely one of those phrases that get moaned in the wee morning hours, out loud or not. I am so glad to help you feel connected. I FERVENTLY believe that connection is what we’re all here for; at least in this embodied state. Glad to be here, blabbing away, and so grateful to you for reading. All the best, and stay in touch — Heather

  3. Bonnie Ward says:

    Hi, Heather!
    I was taken aback by your October blog! Thank you for your courageousness in opening up and sharing your thoughts and feelings about your health! In doing so, you have and will help others who have and are, experiencing the same thing! I know you Heather as a fb friend, so I know enough about you to know that you are a fighter, you have such a zest for life . . . you live it to the fullest, and know how to enjoy it! And you appreciate the things that so many take for granted! These are the things that will get you through. You have my utmost admiration!
    Oh, and I absolutely love your blog site!!!!

    • halia466 says:

      Hi Bonnie. yeah, well, I was kind of taken aback too, I guess. I try to be upbeat and present “best-foot-forward-spit-spot” and all that (thank you, Mary Poppins) but sometimes that just isn’t real. One of my all time favorite writer/bloggers, Hyperbole and A Half just published a post about depression (her own) that was gut-bustingly hilarious, and terribly terribly sad. It was brilliant. Sometimes I have to be real, in my own Annie Dillard-esque way.
      Thank you so much for your kind words about the blog. I am thinking I will give up my yahoo website and “live” here full time, so I am thrilled to hear the compliments.
      Warmly, Heather

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