With God we will do valiant deeds, and he shall tread our enemies under foot.
Psalm 108:13, Book of Common Prayer
When the psalmist wrote of valiant deeds, no doubt the allusion was to courageous deeds during battle—after an initial call to praise God, the psalm turns in verse 7 to beating the war drums. But there are many kinds of valor, most of them not considered worthy of medals. Even those of us who, like the Wizard of Oz’s Cowardly Lion, display “conspicuous bravery” against our own wicked witches, will seldom be recognized for doing so.
At one point during chemo, I remember telling a friend I was considering going under the bed and staying there. “Just take your journal with you,” she advised, knowing that I process my life on the page or the computer screen, equally white and blank. So here I am, trying to muster up the courage to get on with my life.
It’s been much, much worse than facing several medical procedures over the next few weeks. Now that barium tastes like water instead of powdered chalk, a CATscan is almost nothing, if you don’t mind being radioactive for a while. (At least it doesn’t hurt.) Outpatient surgery is better than inpatient surgery. I have not one but two friends who’ve offered transportation, and a third with a spare room I can occupy during the 24-hour window after surgery. I have no reason to suspect my gynecologic oncologist will give me bad news at next month’s follow-up visit. But somehow the cumulative effect of all these events on the horizon have me feeling as if my head is going to explode.
I suppose a large part of the problem is that I’m not clear about how I want others to handle all this. If outpatient surgery once a year to deal with the “nuisance cancer” that keeps cropping up is my new normal, then it should fall into the category of no big deal. I don’t need to broadcast it at church, get my name on the prayer list, or expect flowers to be delivered after the procedure. “Twenty minutes tops,” my doctor says it will take him, a far cry from the projected four-hour surgery that became six hours to remove the first cancer cells. Or even the cystoscopy that became surgery and an overnight stay in the hospital. On the other hand, it is surgery, with anesthesia, neither of which, as an education nurse told me before the first one, is supposed to happen to a body. If this one is typical, I’ll feel off for a week—not exactly ill or in pain, just not quite right and not terribly excited about food. This is hardly grounds for taking up residence among the dust bunnies under the bed, or a desire to keen, but I’m experiencing both.
This ambivalence can create tension in my relationships. Yesterday when a friend—who hasn’t been told about these forthcoming medical events—asked me how I was, I said, “Overwhelmed,” and kept walking. He, of course, was supposed to follow me and ascertain the nature of my difficulty, but I’d erected the force field to repel others. He could probably sense he’d have his nose bitten off for his trouble, and let it drop. It took much of the day to shake it off, and apparently I’ve not yet done so.
I don’t like being this way. I’ve yet to figure out, five years after my first symptoms, how to do cancer. Just getting up in the morning and making it through the day, without doing emotional harm to myself or anyone else, is the only valiant deed I can manage.