“We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.”
– Pema Chödrön
A few weeks ago I picked up a book for one euro called The Art of Doing Nothing. I had a flipping heck! moment when I opened it later at home to see it was published 20 years ago, and with lovely photographs shot on film. Obviously the problem of hurtling about at breakneck speed towards ones’ goals aren’t just a Tenties issue.Very timely as I’m about to enter week 3 of a 6 week stint of daily radiotherapy.
I can’t say radiotherapy is fun. It involves a 4 hour round trip, it’s really tiring and the time is dragging really slowly. As everyone knows, a watched kettle never boils. The book is at times a bit sugary for my savoury tooth. But it has some golden nuggets of inspiration to help me bury the hatchet with Time and relieve the stress of the situation I find myself in. I meditate while I’m laying on the slab being zapped; exchange stories and histories with the lovely taxi drivers who take me to and from hospital; scrutinise the daily changes to the landscapes, weather and the sky as we travel, and to take note of things I can use later in my sketchbook. And while I wait for the taxi, appointment, physio or doctor I read or sketch, so all in all I’m having some reasonable success at ignoring the pesky kettle and just being in the moment.
“Waiting is not a prelude to the future. If anything, it is a prelude to the past.”
And at the very least I can say this about radiotherapy:
It’s not chemotherapy.
I’m getting stronger and brighter every day, slowly but gradually eliminating both actual and metaphorical poison. I even have 5 o’clock shadow that’s becoming proper stubble on my scalp. Eyebrows are slowly coming back too, but they make me look like I’ve got husky dog DNA. My chemo port has been removed. Yay! Can I get a toot toot?! I have a whiff of a social life returning when I’m not too exhausted, and I’m enjoying not being a consumer of or contributor to the noise on social media.
I still have plenty of crappy things going on in my body that will take a long time to improve, and have twice weekly physio to help repair the earlier muscle damage in my chest, upper back and tendons. While the being bent out of shape bit isn’t too great the massage afterwards is very much appreciated, thank you.
What with all that and remembering to do the resting, exercise and eating nutritious food bit in between, this cancer malarkey is a full time job. Lucky I have great teamworkers with me.
I had a running list of Dos and Don’ts – what to say/how to act towards someone who is struggling through cancer – that I compiled and added to, generally whenever I’m feeling angry, tired, sad, alone and in a bad place. I was going to provide a public service and helpfully publish it on this here blog because apparently the two most googled cancer topics are 1. What do I say to someone with cancer? And 2. Why have people let me down me during my cancer? Clearly there’s a big problem here, but I’m not going to post and instead choosing to be more open to the thing that scares me.
So let me just say this and be done with it. Remember – truth is always greater than flakiness and besides, dishonesty is so transparent. Make sure they feel like they are a super important priority i.e. not ‘too busy’ for them, and they can be certain of your genuine love and support. Bam. Cancer is hard.
Gifts are also very, very good. Spoil ’em rotten 😉
One of the many kindnesses came from my dear friends Tilly and Will – the Twillys. They live in an idyllic place nearby called Capiès, where they also have gites. Imagine* a beautiful old stone house with views over vineyards and hills, little stone paths and steps weaving through gardens and corners of lavender, rambling roses, fragrant jasmine, tamarisk and fig trees. A pool, woods, and little hideaway nooks. Shady chairs by a chess table, benches piled with cushions, huge hammocks slung between trees. Heaven indeed.
My Mum and Dad have been fantastic while I’ve been ill**, despite being hundreds of miles away. We so desperately wanted to see each other – with no one copping for the shopping, cooking, cleaning, just some quiet, calm, happy time together. Ten weeks into chemo the Twillys welcomed us all with open arms to stay for a couple of nights. Dad is disabled and I was feeling rough, nauseous and exhausted, but they truly pulled out all the stops for us, taking such great care of us all so we could have the gift of precious time together. The storms and rain with only an odd glimpse of sun didn’t really matter. There was plenty of warmth; chats, laughter, hugs, rest, peace AND homemade pizzas from their astonishing pizza oven. They even made a vegan sweet potato and caramelised onion version. Nausea gone. Should be on prescription.
What do you mean did I remember to take a camera? Yes I forgot clean underwear, rainproof shoes and a jumper but never a camera!
Mamiya DSX | Fujifilm Superia 200@100
* Or instead of imagining it, go check out their website.
**2 days ago was my birthday and the day before 13 years since I came to live in France. I’m so grateful to be here to celebrate both of those events.