Today I complete the 23rd of 28 days of my radiation and chemotherapy treatment. I’ll be more than 80% through this first part of my treatment program. And while I wish I could tell you things are getting easier, the fact is, they are getting harder. Chemotherapy and radiation are cumulative, so over time, the side-effects grow. I’ve been informed that the next couple of weeks will likely be the hardest of all.
Up until now, I’ve been introduced to just a few side effects. Along with the obvious plumbing issues, fatigue and persistent nausea are my regular visitors most days. I’ve learned to manage the nausea with regular doses of ginger tea and ginger ale as well as an ever present supply of Saltine crackers. As long as there is something in my stomach, I’m pretty stable. And I’m getting a lot of sleep at night to combat the fatigue. As for the plumbing issues, I’m accepting them as my new normal.
An emerging side effect is a painful feeling in the soles of my feet that’s not uncommon with my particular chemotherapy drug. I feel like my feet have been bruised and parched from the inside out. It started early last week, mainly in my heels, so I walked on the front part of my feet. But in the last few days, there's now a persistent parched feeling, and the pain and tenderness extend throughout the soles of my feet.
As I instinctively react to the various side effects of my treatment, the words “Man Up” ring in my ear.
It was a direct challenge delivered by my Oncologist, Dr. X during our first meeting as we discussed the possible side effects I would experience from chemotherapy. Her point was to give me some perspective. As she and my medical team try to save my life, I need to accept and deal with the tough stuff that will show up.
So, when things get rough, I’m challenged to not to feel sorry for myself or assume the role of a victim. I’m reminded to accept and live with the pain or discomfort of the situation. I acknowledge my sore feet and try to walk without complaint. I say “yes” to my treatment and all that comes with it.
I try my best to “Man Up.”
Earlier this week I started reading the book, Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Marie Rilke. The following paragraph in the 8th Letter jumped off the page to support and enhance the challenge from Dr. X.
“We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience.
How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
I can easily identify the dragons in front of me. I acknowledge the fear and moments of terror I face about all the unknown that lies ahead. I anticipate the inherent danger that my diagnosis implies. It’s easy to find my mind stuck and rehearsing the different abysses I could fall into.
Rilke’s words urge me to trust this situation I’m in and its presence in my life. And with the scary things that I encounter along the way, to act with courage and beauty. I am reminded to accept and love the parts of me that feel frightened and helpless.
It’s almost like he suggests I “Man Up” as well. But it’s more than the macho bravado the term seems to imply.
It’s more elegant, mature and soulful.
As a result I am compelled to ask, “What does courage look like for me in the face of this diagnosis and treatment? “What does it mean for me to act with beauty toward all this?” “How do I love the frightened, helpless parts that live within me?”
The answers are not obvious to me. These questions lead to even more questions.
But in the process, it’s my hope that in my desire to live the questions, some princesses will show up along the way.