Breathe in – breathe out

September 3, 2023 

Breathe in….. a little bit more…now hold….breathe out…  

 Just like that, the long-dreaded radiation treatment has started amidst a mixed bag of side effects from the new chemo drug or possibly remnants of the previous sessions.  I’ve been looking forward to being done with the radiation before it even started. Anxious as I was, I wanted it to start so it could end.

So here we are  on yet another floor of the now very familiar hospital.  We arrived fortified with random hope – hope that it will all go well and that I’d have no long-term side effects. Well, there isn’t much else we can do except hope. The stark and cold room equipped with high-tech X-ray and radiation machines received me and contrasted immediately with the warm and comforting smiles of the ladies in white gowns. It’s hard to over-estimate how much it means to have a warm gentle hand on ones shoulder even for a brief moment when we feel so vulnerable. In front of this powerful machine, that is exactly how I felt. Humanity by her gentle touch lifted me up a little. 

 I also marveled at the fact that we submit ourselves to this harmful stuff willingly in order to be ‘cured’.  I settled down on the bed under the radiation machine feeling the full effect of the irony. I also felt the familiar knot in the middle of my chest where dread resides.    

 Precision is everything it seems with radiation. The exact positioning of the body is critical so that the radiation beams go to the precise targets and avoid any unintended consequences like lung and/or heart damage. After some fidgeting for the precise positioning, the white gowns leave the room to operate the machines from afar. After all, this is harmful stuff. I’m informed that they will communicate via intercom. After lots of X-rays to confirm the positioning again, everything looks good to start the treatment. The breathing prompts start.

“Ok, Linda, when you are ready, take a deep breath in…….…. Some more………. Okay, now hold it……………………. (20 seconds later)………..  and breathe outtttttt. Well done! Now again, breathe in………. some more, let out a bit and hold……………………………….. Breathe out.”

A few minutes later, it was all done for the day – until the next day.  And although the breathing and filling the lungs are meant to open up the chest and help deliver the beams to the exact locations, it did something else too — calming my nerves.   The paradox of near-meditation like instructions and the deadly radiation rays is quite stunning. 

Someone in Håkan’s circle told him that 2022 was the worst year of his life. Instantly, my mind offered the options for me, “Then mine was this year – the year 2023. Or maybe it was 2022 when I was first diagnosed with cancer.” Just as quickly I saw the futility of this exercise. What’s the point of that? Every challenge comes with its innate opportunity: learning, growing and even possibly rewards and fulfillment when overcoming them.  So, was 2023 really the worst year of my life so far?  Seemingly so on the surface. And I will have to say that it has been the year of reckoning when it comes to my changing appearance.  My identity as a ‘healthy and fit person’ has been challenged. And the prospect of living a long healthy life has inevitably been called into question.  I had many moments and hours of ‘hurt’, and disappointment, then finding resilience and strength, and finally expansion of myself.  With my physical being diminished, I search for beauty and strength within instead. After all, I do have control over what’s within. Dwelling on what I don’t have control over has no rewards.  

 I pause more in my days, initially because I had less energy. But I also learnt that it is not about how much we do, but how we appreciate what we do. The smallest details carry their heavy weight in teachings.  

 Not being the strongest person in the room, I’ve learnt to receive compassion. In receiving, I become more familiar with humility – not a quality that I most frequented in my life before.   

All the connections with friends and families have become more meaningful. In the face of death, we get real.  We are less wasteful with time. We become brave enough to tell the truth and confess our love.  

 This has been a great year, not despite the cancer but because of it.  The Yoruba people have a saying:  “The same rain that falls on the bitter leaves also falls on the sugarcane.”   Life is full of contradictions.  What if the worst year of my life is my best?  😉 

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