Afflictions

Just over nine months ago, I went to my primary care physician to see about a persistent cough. Thus began my experience with lung cancer. At least that’s where my experience with the medical establishment’s engagement with my lung cancer began. Who knows how long the tumor had been growing inside my right lung? I don’t. My oncologist said she didn’t. She guessed it was quite some time, based on the final determination of the tumor’s size.

That first cancer-related visit with my doctor, on the heels of the final legs of my brother’s lengthy hospitalization, seems like a lifetime ago. Since then, I’ve undergone countless x-rays, PET scans, blood draws, CT scans, an infuse-a-port installation, a lobectomy of my right lung, four chemo treatments, a pulmonary capacity test, thirty radiation therapy treatments, and god knows what other tests, probes, and procedures. I don’t think my body has ever fully recovered from all those invasive and intrusive experiences. My weakness remains. Shooting pains continue, though not nearly as severe as they once were.

I’ve tried to “buck up” and get along with my life as if nothing has happened. And, really, I thought I could do that. I thought my body would heal, quickly and completely. But it hasn’t healed as quickly as it once did after such traumas. My age, I guess, is asserting itself. My body is saying, emphatically, “you’re not as young as you once were.” No, that’s not it. It’s saying, “You’re getting old, you’re wearing out, your tissues are decaying faster than they can replenish themselves.”

My physical decline today is emphasized in how I feel this morning. I ache. I hurt. I feel sore and slow and uncomfortably infirm. Yesterday’s hours of sanding and scraping and sawing and otherwise engaging in an almost endless battle with elderly deck boards and youthful young timbers brought me to today’s realization. My body informs me this morning that my efforts yesterday were the province of young men; and my body is paying the price of bravado and pride. Maybe if I would just wait until I fully heal, such work would not take such an enormous toll on me. But I’m afraid that’s probably not the case. Once the assaults on one’s body outnumber the body’s healing responses, the body begins to get tense and attempt to shield itself from the onslaught. Full recovery seems impossible when the body is shrinking away from its environment.

I shall do no more on the deck today. In fact, I’ll wait to work on it until the predicted period of rain, which is expected to begin tomorrow and last at least a couple of weeks, is behind us. Perhaps by then, I’ll have sufficiently healed to enable me to do the work that needs to be done. Or, perhaps, I’ll relent and let the most recent contractor come back. Or hire someone else. I’m still waiting for the most recent contractor to provide a replacement 2x6x16 and a receipt for $170 in lumber purchases. Even without those things, though, I will push forward. I want the deck complete and usable before mid-summer is upon us.

I want. Yeah. I want. But will I get? We shall see.

***

How does one know when one is supplying enough comfort and support to someone going through tough times, but not too much? When does being available begin to seem like “hovering?” But when does one’s efforts to avoid cloying concern, instead, make one seem distant and uncaring? I suppose it’s just a matter of making one’s intent clear and asking for honest reactions and direction.

Those questions were on my mind when I was in the midst of my cancer treatments; not so much for me, but for people who wanted to be available to me if I needed them. I could tell that some people were uncomfortable, not knowing quite what to do or say to me. They didn’t want me to feel like I was being smothered, but by the same token they didn’t want me to feel like I couldn’t rely on them if I needed them. I’m not sure I was as helpful as I might have been. I could have just told people I appreciated their concerns, but I needed my space. Or that I could use an ear and a shoulder. But too often, I think, I just remained silent, hoping people would just “get it.” Too often, I think, I assume other people can sense my emotions. I don’t know why I make that assumption, because I know I can’t sense theirs. Another lesson for another time of deep reflection. This isn’t that time.

***

Humans are symptoms of the diseases that have befallen our planet.

Humankind is a disease whose wide-ranging symptoms afflict our planet.

Is it one or the other? Or both?

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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