Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Living together

For the past two weeks, I've been anxious. The fear doesn't take the overtly obvious form of panic attacks or depression; it's more of a feeling of constant soul discomfort. A nagging feeling of anxiety that reminds me of the "mean reds" from Breakfast at Tiffany's. After describing the blues as "just being sad," Holly goes on to explain pensively that the mean reds are when "suddenly you're afraid, but you don't know what you're afraid of." However, in my case, this isn't completely true. I knew exactly what I was afraid of.

Last week, I had my first MRI since beginning my cancer treatments. I think any cancer patient would agree with me that the yearly check-ups to detect if the cancer has returned are absolutely terrifying. Anyone other than a cancer patient, I've found, is confused by my terror. "Do you feel sick, is that why you're upset?" "Are you stressed because you found a lump?" The answer to both is no, but most people don't fully emotionally comprehend that the results of that test could determine whether I can live my life normally or if I have to face more treatment which, the second time around, is even more debilitating. The fear of what destructive forces could once again be hiding in my body made it increasingly more difficult to breathe.

In another one of my favorite movies, the quiet and beautiful Elegy, Penelope Cruz's character is a young woman who finds out she has breast cancer. She describes the experience of having cancer as being "trapped" inside herself. Before I heard that the lump in my breast was cancerous, I didn't fully understand that description. But after my diagnosis, "trapped" was exactly how I felt. From the second I found the lump, my relationship with my body started to change. In fact, before I found the lump, I didn't even realize that I had a relationship with my body; we were one and the same. Having cancer made me very aware that I am a separate entity from my body, but it also made me realize how inextricably trapped I am within it.

Two weeks before I found the lump in my breast, I moved from San Francisco to Walnut Creek. Mostly, this decision was made out of necessity. The commute from my apartment in the city to my school in the suburbs cost not only my time (about a fifty minutes each way) but money. Between the gas bills, wear on my car, and bridge tolls, I was spending hundreds each month to sit in traffic. As a part of this life change, I renewed a pledge to myself, one that I made a few years before but had long since taken a backseat to daily stressors. The pledge was that I would try to be the healthiest--physically, mentally, spiritually--I could be, each and every day. Ironically, only fourteen days later, I found the tumor.

My body felt like a stranger. I've been betrayed by loved ones a few times before, but the betrayal by your own body is the most basic, visceral type of pain. My reaction was one of overwhelming panic. I felt like the captain of a sinking ship. "This one's not working anymore! Get me out!" The feeling of desperately wanting to live while your body seems to be trying to kill you is one that I won't soon forget. I don't know if I believe in a soul, but a part of me--my mind, my spirit--felt completely detached from its shell. I had wild visions of this spirit jumping into another body like a hermit crab switching homes. Cancer, I believe, is a particularly hard disease to reconcile for young, seemingly healthy people because it's not a virus that invades your body and attacks your cells. It is your cells that are mutating and your immune system that can't kill them. Because of this, it feels like your body is committing suicide without seeking your opinion. Faced with the MRI, this feeling, diminished by months of feeling healthy again, came back and knocked the wind out of me.

Slowly, over the course of this past year, my attitude towards my body has evolved into a "we're in this together and better make the best of it" sentiment. In this life, we are subject not only to random accidents, contagious disease, and dumb luck affecting our health but, also, the sometimes surprisingly separate, rebellious world of our own bodies. And like any relationship, even if you treat them right, at times, they can turn against you.

During the last two weeks, I've also been packing and getting ready to move in with my boyfriend. Strangely, these two events seem to mirror each other. Both are life-changing and character-testing. Any lingering feelings of holding back, not trusting him completely because of past heartaches, must make way for the hope and risk of giving my heart and life openly and freely to this man. Just as my heart, also, has to give trust and hope back to my body.

My philosophy for both is simple. Try my best to make them happy and healthy. Always be kind and recognize what is beautifully unique about them. Trust that just as I give them the best of me, they will give me their best. And, always be grateful and feel lucky for the precious time I have with them.

In case you were wondering, the MRI was clear of any sign of malignancy--thankfully, I am still cancer-free. Whew! :)