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An old memory popped into my head. My husband and I loved going to flea markets and loved buying the strangest items. We were at an Indian powwow once, and he bought a turtle-shell bag with a furry tail attached. It was eye-catching and irresistible and we laughed about it for a long time. So much time has passed and so much has been lost since those fun flea market days.

Now our tiny apartment is crowded with stuff and we’ve been home looking at it for about as long as I’ve been on chemotherapy. 100 Days!  I no longer work, or go to restaurants with my friends, and I can’t even have a glass of wine or visit with my family. I  read, talk, sleep, and watch the world go by on TV. I order things only to have them delayed or back-ordered, and if something is delivered, it either doesn’t work or it’s the wrong size. The days just go by and it is only now, when I am hurting so much physically, that I realize those 100 days went by with me being in a fog, neither happy or sad, just passing time.

My chemotherapy has so far been manageable, up until 100 days. Suddenly my voice is raspy and wobbles, my body is weak, and all my joints hurt, from ankles to neck. My strength and perseverance feel depleted with the onset of the pain. It brings me out of my fog and now I grieve for all that I have lost, and it makes my heart ache with sadness.

Pain, or any kind of weakness, scares me because I am a self-sufficient person. The pain devastates me because it feels like my body is broken and I worry that so is my spirit. The pain is all-encompassing and I can think of nothing else. It strips away everything that I am and I am left with nothing. I am sad for the loss of me and my spunk. I’m alive but my life has been taken away from me. When I was a social-work intern at an agency for senior citizens, I visited a woman who was a retired psychologist. She had the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. One day she asked me, “So how does it feel to talk to a living corpse?” I think that she, too, was aware of all that had been stripped away and was left with the remains. 

I am afraid of being “nothing,” but then again there is the remote possibility that “nothing” is something to achieve, because if we are stripped of our identities, the masks we wear in life, then we can have a better chance at being our true authentic selves. Then I realize there is the ego part of me that demands to know the next step! What do I do about this? I could call my medical team and ask what I can take for the pain, but I am reluctant because I also want to feel what I feel fully, rather than coping with life by ignoring negative tendencies. I don’t like pain but I do like that it is making me feel vulnerable, as it’s pushing pent-up emotions to the surface, making me feel sad and angry. That could be a good thing if I weren’t also so scared. Then I remember what I know about grief. It is to be felt and expressed. Once we “let it all out,” we can soften the edges of hurt and continue to move forward in life. I guess I will take my sadness with me for a while.

There are guided meditations I enjoy listening to that begin with several suggestions. They start with relaxing breaths and as they progress we are asked to imagine a table where we are to place our worries, concerns, and the many roles we play: our jobs, our role in family, and in society. What are we left with? Who are we without all those roles? So much of who I think I am is stripped away from me and I am left with this feeling of rawness that is hard to face but also impossible to avoid. I am afraid of the depths of my pain, both physical and emotional. The fear is paralyzing. It’s hard to just let it be and experience it because I know there is a part of me that just wants to experience the good things in life. I don’t want to experience what I’m experiencing. I’m tired of not feeling well.

But when I allow myself to witness the pain, I realize that witnessing, or just observing the pain, is like the relaxation techniques in those meditations. It brings me a sense of peace and acceptance with my current state of being. I am not resisting or worrying; I’m just feeling what I feel.

I think I am learning on my 100th day to feel everything as fully as I can because beyond the fear there is the knowledge that nothing is permanent and “this too shall pass.” If I continue to bury the pain and only look at one facet of my life, I will miss the possibility of recognizing the lessons that exist in life.