Let me hear of your loving-kindness in the morning, for I put my trust in you; show me the road that I must walk, for I lift up my soul to you.
Psalm 143: 8
Doctors map out the road we must walk for months or years on our way to renewed health. During my four months of chemo, I had little to do besides show up for my infusion or blood work. My gynecologic oncologist, a model of tact, began outlining his treatment recommendations by saying, “I need your permission to do this . . . ” Still, as he went on to make clear, my signature on a form, while legally required, didn’t give me much choice. I asked him—after being prepped for surgery to insert a port that would deliver chemo directly to my abdomen—to change the protocol so that I wouldn’t lose my hair.
He was quiet for a moment, then called my bluff, saying, “Cisplatin is the most effective drug for your cancer. If we’re not using it, there’s no point in putting you through this.” I wondered if I could do it—demand my clothes and walk out, for the sake of my beautiful hair, which I had just gotten into the length, color and cut I wanted. Of course, being raised to be a good girl, not wanting to have unnecessarily bothered the hospital staff or the surgeon, I allowed the surgery and the treatment.
We began chemo on Groundhog Day; I wanted to burrow underground myself. Forget about shadows—I did not want to see the bald woman I would become after two infusions. My last treatment was in May; in June, after a final CATscan, I was free of the regimen that had filled the previous weeks.
“What do I do now?” I asked my doctor.
He smiled. “The first time I heard that question, it puzzled me,” he said. “Go live your life. Go to The Winds [a great local restaurant in my village], have some wine with your friends. You might want to try less toxic cleaning products.”
I thought my doctor had been a bit simplistic. My new prescription—Go live your life—wasn’t as easy to fill as the one for anti-nausea medicine I could pick up at the pharmacy. I wasn’t sure what that life was now. I was on the other side of a great chasm that had split my life into two time periods: BC, before cancer, and AD, after diagnosis.
Show me the way I must walk. I began reading about how others had survived this disease. I switched not only my cleaning products, but also my beauty care products and my food, opting for more organics in every area of my life. I looked at the activities in which I was involved and dropped the ones that were no longer life-giving. I added one that was, went for counseling, joined a support group. Most of my life still looks outwardly the same. I didn’t move to Costa Rica or take up square dancing, didn’t give up going to church. More than ever, I need the guidance of a spiritual practice, need the fellowship of others to help me see the road I must walk.