Friday, November 11, 2011

The metaphoric cancerous body

and the body, what about the body?
Sometimes it is my favorite child,
uncivilized. . .
And sometimes my body disgusts me.
Filling and emptying it disgusts me. . . .
This long struggle to be at home
in the body, this difficult friendship.
            -- Jane Kenyon, "Cages"

I am reading several books simultaneously right now. Ondaatje's Cat's Table - a lovely book. Rife with metaphor and lyrical but not obtuse prose. I am also reading Susan Sontag - Illness as Metaphor and I return back to my old friend Dr. Mukherjee, Emperor of All Maladies. It is a good mix - while none of the characters of the Ondaatje book have cancer, there is death, renewal, and lots of water. I like the water thing. History and historical fiction awash in a sea of illness rhetoric. And speaking metaphorically, I feel engulfed in a wave, no, a tsunami of hope today. I see a bright, shiny lovely future. I see the slide show of faces, and I am now in them - making rabbit ears behind everyone's heads. Maybe it was the lovely lunch with Peter and Gayle, or the wonderfully moving Remembrance Day service at school and Gus's moving speech about his grandfather or Robyn's photo of her grandfather, pickin' and a grinnin', or the sound of my children laughing and playing nicely together. Actually, who cares?! Hope is my bottom line these days.   
My assignment this week is to move, and contemplate this body while it moves, and work those movements into thoughts. That is to say, do something physical, and then let my mind wander. Well, physical for me is tricky - not impossible - but tricky. Does walking up the stairs count? It does to me, as the heart races, and I have to sit down. Low red blood cells means poorly oxygenated blood, ergo ...tired. Now this can and often does lead to new levels of concentration on the physical side, and places me  deep within myself to consciously slow my heart down. But I suspect this is not the point of the exercise (pardon the pun). And I also know, rather than suspect, this will pass, and the blood cells will regenerate and bloom in me like big fat red poppies in June. I might even burst from their volume. 
When I was a little girl, I loved dancing. I took ballet classes, and "jazz" dance through high school. Thriller by Michael Jackson still makes me stand up and shake it, since we "the gang" created a spectacularly similar to the original version of our own for the VC Jubilee, Spring 1984. I marvel still at his genius footwork. When Owen was a wee toddler, we three (yes Lawrence, the beans are spilling) would gallop around the couch in circles, to various songs from ABBA, Dancing Queen, being the obvious one. It was fun, liberating, and a lot of laughs. 

And now, I can on the odd day, find myself doing pirhouettes and plies, and lifting the leg to the kitchen counter (aka the barre), and bend to its will when a good song comes on the radio.[Of course, there are no windows that face any neighbours, so it is a guilty pleasure without fear of obvious embarrassment.] Nothing short of miraculous, given the bone degeneration in my lower spine, and the stringy tendons which are pulled taut like rubber bands down my left arm - shrunken in fact, from lying in a fetal position for weeks on end as the chemo works its magic. Tingling when stretched my ironically broken nerves - it's called flossing, the loosening motion of unwrapping caught nerves.  

But limber I appear to be, and will remain with the help of my team - Caitlin, my physiotherapist, who is coolly insistent on pushing me to wellness through sheer blinding pain, and Amanda my  massage therapist, who is familiar with the capillary issues of  the immuno-suppressed. A massage can cause bruises, it's true. 

Susan Sontag elucidates poetically on the relationship of cancer and metaphor, and shines a BIG-ASS uncomfortable spotlight on the ridiculous but ubiquitous language surrounding cancer (she's pissed!)  - cancer only as necritizing, a long downward painful and horrific spiral to inevitable death; a sickly pallor and wasting away; or as the physical manifestation of some earlier deeply-anchored spiritual wrong, or slight, or anger bottled up. 

That, frankly, is all bullshit, and I humbly concur with the lady - while temporarily put out of commission physically, I appear not to be wasting away. I am in fact, perhaps at my best precisely because I have cancer. I now know the value of this body. No, I am not running alongside Kristine in the next NYC marathon, and I doubt I will make it down the toboggan hill this winter, but I am fit in ways unusual to the typical cancer myth-typology. I am not a bald grey-skinned hollow-eyed zombie. No offense intended to bald grey-skinned hollow-eyed zombies everywhere. Sometimes, it is true, I resemble this. I tire easily, but this will pass. I have short hair, but this will grow. I am cranky and sarcastic... ok, well, that probably won't change. As Owen said to me at dinner last night - "Mummy, you're very unorthodox." And planning on staying thus!! Chris doesn't call me TKO for nuthin. I am in fact, more engaged in my physical life now, that ever before. I get it. I feel every knot in my muscles. I know my  G/I tract with a level of intuition which could be considered extra-sensory. People tell me I don't look sick, or as sick as last time. I attribute this to the fact that I still have hair, and my nails are glossy and firm - thank you Ellen for the OPI colour - nice. I also wear a lot of red, and pink. [I said to some girlfriends today, before "pink" meant breast cancer, it meant, you know, PINK, and was my favourite colour. Now I call it salmon or fuschia. No offense to Pink BC campaign supporters everywhere.] 

If I were a dog, people would say I have a shiny coat and a pink wet nose. My tendons, sinews, veins, and this old liver of mine are all pliable enough to regenerate and become my new body. I just have to learn to not lie in a fetal position this time around. 

So this difficult friendship is moving to the next level. Cancerous body parts aside, I work towards achieving a clearer version of myself. Kate 3.0. It is scarred, battered and tired. But it's pink and it floats.  

xo KO

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hallelujah! Actually just heard KDL singing it on the radio and thought of you :-) Love Ya loads xoxoxo