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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Rock and a Hard Place

Annie and I were resting in front of the TV. We hadn't been in Visalia long, maybe a day or two. Shahab happened by, saw us parked there, and knew he had a captive audience.

*Background Interlude—a lifelong lover of the outdoors, Shahab's attention switched from skiing to rock climbing in his mid-fifties. In the past decade, he has accumulated an astounding collection of rock-climbing gear (which he squirrels away all over the house, from guest-room closets to unused showers) as well as obtained himself a copy of what appears to be every climbing-related DVD ever produced. Those he keeps upstairs, with his collection of Yoga DVDs and Bollywood Dance videos.*

And so a particular Climbing DVD was selected and produced, with the specific purpose to inspire. I was skeptical at first, but within the first two minutes was utterly blown away. The video is of a kid named Alex Honnold—maybe he's 22? 23?—solo climbing Half Dome in Yosemite. By himself. With no rope. 2,000 feet. In less than 3 hours. Don't believe it? See it here with your own eyes.

It is astonishing. Obviously he is familiar with the route, knows all the moves, could do it in his sleep, whatever. But to have the mental capacity to trust himself to just step up onto that giant rock face and keep putting one hand in front of the other, followed by one foot after the other, over and over and over again for two thousand feet. Without any hesitation, or second-guessing, or safety fallback whatsoever. The mind boggles. Or at least mine does. And I do feel incredibly inspired.

So, back on land, here I am, five days post first-chemo in what will hopefully be an uneventful 6-month stretch. Aside from a teensy touch of nausea the first two days—immediately relieved by Compazine and MJ—I haven't actually felt any side effects. Am a little tired, sure, but the 100mg of steroids I've been swallowing every morning seems to be balancing that out as well. Tomorrow I go back down to 20 mg. Could that be the great game-changer? I doubt it.

Combine all that with the internal sensation that Mega-Spleen is howling in retreat like the Wicked Witch of the West under a bucket of water, and this is the reality:

I feel better than I have since the whole thing started.

I feel better than I have since the whole thing started, and it's terribly confusing.

When I went in yesterday for my weekly blood-test at the SRCC (see photo below), Anna and the other nurses were excited by my reports of overall well-being, and happily reassured me that if I hadn't started feeling sick by now, then I definitely wouldn't be getting any sicker before the next treatment. (After the next treatment, which will definitely be a stronger dose, who knows?)

Obviously this is great news. Who would ever wish to be gut-wrenchingly, bone-achingly, mind-numbingly ill? That's craziness! But for now, with my next appointment on the 26 of April, that leaves three loooong weeks to idle away the hours in meditation, preparation of healthful meals, walks around the block, art therapy (see photo above), cribbage games, and restful visualizations of healing. I guess this is what I imagine rehab must be like. Except I get to smoke the pot.

The problem is, idleness has never suited me. I've been genetically hard-wired by a long line of overachievers to believe that sitting in restful contemplation of anything is a waste of time. If I am sitting on my ass, what else could I be achieving? What languages could be learned, instruments mastered, talents honed, skills improved, muscle groups developed, accomplishments accomplished?!

Basically, ever since the first wave of chemo turned out to feel more like a motorboat wake than a tsunami, I've started having these crazy thoughts that maybe just sitting here surviving cancer isn't enough.

I should be taking a longer view, I think at times. What exactly is my plan once I'm through all this? Shouldn't I be signing up for science courses at the local junior college in case I do decide to go into the healing arts? Or looking up Masters' Programs close to Northampton? Or studying for the GRE? What about going to the gym? (Dr. Dad doesn't like to let a day go by without reminding me that Lance Armstrong rode his bicycle every day while he was doing chemo.)

Combined with that strange restlessness is an intense juxtaposition of feelings about being at home.
On the one hand, it is my sanctuary. The only place I could ever imagine myself being while I go through this. Everything around me is deeply familiar, in that way that only childhood homes can be. Only here can all my needs be so perfectly met. Only here can I have the luxury of moving from one pool of sunshine to the next, napping in the grass or praying on the patio. Only here do I feel safe enough to fully let myself experience whatever fate has in store.

On the other side of sanctuary, I'm almost ashamed to admit, is a slightly bitter taste. Is it monotony? Not a whole lot changes on the day-to-day in these parts. Grass green today? Check. Pool still blue? Yep. Dog still begging for meal scraps? Check again.
Also, after 11 years of living on my own, I've suddenly regressed from being a fiercely independent nearly-married almost-30-year-old to what feels like a teenager again. My parents are as open and welcoming as they could possibly be, but the house still comes with their rules. Certain sponges must only be used for certain purposes. Cars must be parked in the garage at specific angles. Elaborate computer protocol is observed. Towels folded. Music kept at a respectful volume. Tidiness maintained.

Regardless. The only way past these little whirlpools of doubt, confusion, boredom and restlessness is focus. Alex Honnold-like focus. No matter what I'm doing with myself day after day, whether it's being sick or being not sick, designing my future or watching six episodes of Friends in a row, I am really climbing half dome. Putting one toe after another in that little bitty crack. Moving my body up, inch by inch, foot by foot. I can't look back, or think of other things I'd rather be or should be doing. Nor can I look forward, to the impossibly distant top of the mountain. I can only look to where I next put my hand. Breathe. And stay attached to that rock.


  1. Chels and I will be on the west coast the third week in April most likely, just sayin...

  2. Hi my dearest Kia jun whom I love very much,

    You are climbing your Half Dome in your own style my dear. You are very inspiring and give me plenty of strength. The place you have already reached in this climb, others like me need years of meditation to reach.
    A wise man once said if God wanted to hide a secret from mankind she/he would have hid it behind boredom. Meaning that boredom is a threshold that when endured become a window into our own self.
    Once this is behind you perhaps you would take some time off in an Ayurvedic spa in India wit Anny, where they can cleanse your system from the chemo and there you will discover what is your calling. In the meantime the best exercise for "doers" is to do NO THING. Easier said than not done.
    A big hug to Anny, power to her.
    Love you,


  3. Stay..attached. That's Pooh's " To just be". Simple as that.

  4. OMG so beautifully expressed!!!