Monday, January 17, 2011

Cancer Cures

            “Have you had a massage lately?” Ellen asked me. “It’s very good for the immune system.”
            “I haven’t had one recently. It will have to wait; I’ve got a cashflow crunch.”
            “Let me know when you’re coming to town; I won’t charge you.”
            And instead of demurring as usual, or saying I was fine, I spoke my new reply to such offers: “That’s so kind; thank you.”
            Cancer has almost completely cured me of at least one thing—my very severe case of what I call Single Woman Syndrome. My response to being never-married was to develop the ability in nearly all situations to be able to say, however untruthfully, “No, thanks, I’ve got it. I can manage.”
            I’d read my Bible faithfully from adolescence. I knew that Saint Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) Somehow, I never got the reciprocity in that verse, which, to be fair, I usually did hear preached as my call to bear someone else’s burdens. Except in times of deep crisis, such as the death of a parent, I tried to be self-sufficient, or at least not clingy-dependent.
            But cancer changed that. Although I did really well with my chemo regimen, I finally became three-naps-a-day tired. I was too tired to protest my friends’ floods of kindness, too tired to assure them I was fine. What little energy I had was needed to get through the day’s tasks, not to be wasted in lying convincingly.
            Cancer taught me that I’m connected to others, curing me of the notion of Self-Reliance that I’d absorbed from the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the music of Paul Simon. I was not a rock or an island; I felt pain and I cried. There is still aloneness and sometimes loneliness in the solitude of my chosen life, but there is no longer the sense that I can make it alone. I’ve discovered that people are willing to help, even though I’ve moved out of the active treatment phase into the remission-for-now phase. After trying to prove to everyone that I could do it alone, I’m willing to let others be kind to me.
            So on Saturday I will go to Ellen’s and let her hands smooth out the soreness from working and beginning my spring walking regimen. I will help her fulfill the law of Christ, which is love, by being open to receive that love.

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