When I was a little girl, we had a set of World Book encyclopedias. Whenever I needed to do a report in school or when I wanted to know something that taxed the brains of both my mother and my father, I was sent to the World Book to look it up. Often, I would lie on the carpet in the den in front of the stereo and flip through the books just for fun. Just to see what I could learn. I was sort of like Ione Skye in that movie with John Cusack where she marked all the words she looked up in her dictionary. Sort of, except my boyfriend wasn’t a kick boxer and my father didn’t embezzle money from old people. At least not that I know of … maybe my boyfriend WAS a kick boxer.
My favorite letter to flip through was always the letter M. M because it contained “Man” and the World Book had this really cool picture of a man with cellophane pages that layered over each other so you could see each system within the body … the nerves, the bloodstream, the muscles … they all layered one on the next to build up to a complete MAN with skin and everything. It was so incredibly cool and frankly I think it was one of the reasons I graduated from college with a degree in biology. Back then, (and later on when I needed a good grade on a exam), I was fascinated with the human body. I would read and look and study and become engrossed with what the body can do and what the body is. The body amazed me. And even more amazing, every one of us has one. Every one got one … it was the reward for being born. Congratulations! You win! You get … a BODY! This thing you won – just by being conceived – functions and hums efficiently without ever being asked to. It does a million, a billion, a trillion functions an hour … all without you knowing. It works. It functions. It lives.
And yet, as amazing as it is, not many of us think about our bodies. Even those people you assume would think about their bodies don’t. Not really. Bodybuilders, for example ..they don’t really think about their body, and it is right there in their name. I know you may THINK they think about their bodies, but they really don’t. They think about how their body looks and what other people think about their body. They think about what they need to do to make their body different, bigger, tighter, sleeker. They think about what goes into their body and what goes on their body and in some cases, what sized needle is needed to pierce the skin of their body. They think about what they need to make their bodies do, what they need to lift, pull, haul, drink, push, balance, listen to, in order to make their body perform. But they most likely don’t think about their bodies. They think about their IMAGE not necessarily their body.
Beauty contestants are the same.
At best, they think about aspects of their bodies. The reflection of their bodies in the mirrors. The effects of their bodies on the opposite – or same – sex. The speed of their bodies. They think about the strength of their bodies, the curve of their bodies, the look, the feel of their bodies. Side note: Not enough think about the smell of their bodies but that’s another post altogether.
I was the same way. After the World Books were gone and the biology degree was in hand, I rarely, if ever, thought about my body. I did think about the reflection of my body in my mirror. I thought about the size of my body in my jeans. I thought about the imprint my body left in the cushions on the couch (Seriously? My butt spreads from there to there?). But I never really thought about my body as a living thing. I, like the body builders and prom queens, thought about my image – not my body. I thought about my reflection, not the 600 or so breaths per hour I take. I thought about my looks, not the 86,000 times my heart beats a day or the function of my internal organs or the way my lymphatic system works to filter out infection.
Or doesn’t work as the case may be.
I thought about my image, my looks, my figure. I never thought about my body.
Until the day I received the news my body was going to kill me.
Of all the amazing things I’ve been through during these past few months, the realization that my body was now deadly was one of the most profound. Up until that point, the worst thing my body could do to me was expand into the next size up. Not that that wasn’t upsetting. But in the grand scheme of things … well, it was rather pointless. Because now, this body, the body I’ve taken care of, the body I’ve taken to the gym and feed ice cream and lathered with body butter in the winter months and sunscreen in the summer, this body was on a course to put an end to me. It was actively growing a killer. It was feeding a monster. And unless I went to war against it, it would kill me.
How’s that for gratitude?
Suddenly, out of nowhere, The Body became my main focus. Suddenly, The Body was top priority. I no longer cared what The Body looked like or felt like, I only cared what The Body could do. The Body was lethal.
It’s hard to explain what that was like, what that shift was like. It was like walking around with a cocked and loaded gun to my head, like carrying 12 sticks of dynamite strapped to my chest and holding the trigger. To suddenly be so very aware of my body was shocking. I would have been no less aware of my body if I walked naked into Chief’s stadium and saw myself on the jumbotron.
And so now the body has to be handled, managed, taken care of. Nothing else matters. What goes on the body is inconsequential. Only what is inside The Body matters. Hair comes off The Body. Personality drains from The Body. The laughter, the energy, the joy … it all is spirited away and The Body remains. Only The Body. The Body has to be fed. The Body has to be given medicine. The Body has to ingest poison and tolerate chemical warfare. The Body has to be taken to the bathroom and driven to the hospital. The Body has to be tested to see what it can tolerate and special pumps and ports are installed under The Body’s skin to deliver the poison.
It is all about The Body. It has to be. Because The Body can kill.
And somewhere along the way, because I have to focus on The Body, I feel like I lose The Person. That makes sense right? I mean you can really only give that kind of intense focus to one thing at a time. I can’t really focus on The Body and The Person all at once. One is going to win. I’m not saying this is right or wrong … it just is.
In the few days after chemo, The Body takes over. It demands attention and care. It fights for the number one position. It insists on being top dog - a snarling, mangy, rabid dog with no loyalty and no love.
Feed The Body
Care for The Body
Medicate The Body
The Body needs
The Body demands
There is no room in those days for The Person. The Person leaves. The Body remains.
This is difficult to say the least. It is difficult because I really like The Person. And unlike I’ve ever missed anything in my life, I miss The Person.
It’s The Person who returns phone calls
It’s The Person who sends encouraging emails to friends
It’s The Person who listens to people and solves problems
It’s The Person who has a business helping people get better
It’s The Person who has a killer sense of humor and a rich cackle at inappropriate times
It’s The Person who smiles at children in the grocery and thanks the waitress more than necessary
It’s The Person who has insight and wisdom and a love for life
I cannot express to you in words how hard it is to watch The Person pack her bags and go bye-bye every other week. I want to hang on to her so tightly and I try … oh gosh how I try .. but The Body pries her loose e v e r y t i m e and just like that <poof> she is gone.
And there is nothing I can do about it.
This morning we went to church. The message was about gratitude. It was one of those hit you between the eyes messages. I loved it. I loved it because I needed to hear it and I loved it because I feel it. I am grateful. Despite its current course, I'm grateful for The Body and I’m grateful for The Person and the unique mix of humanity she is.
And most of all, as I type through tears, I am grateful for you. That’s what I’m trying, in my awkward, wordy way to say. I’m grateful for you.
For you who loves me through this.
For you who continues to come here and check on me, even when I don’t post for days.
For you who hires me to come help you with your business.
For you who sends me emails in the middle of the night that carry me through my next day.
For you who smiles at me in the store even when I look ugly and bald.
For you who sends me music and bread and flowers and cards.
For you who comes over – even when I say don’t come – and lays in bed with me.
For you who meets me for lunch and listens to me and hugs me and damn near pushes your love into me in the strength of that hug.
For you who makes me laugh. And laugh. And laugh.
For every one of you. The Person is grateful.
And I believe in my soul that because of you, The Body will soon submit. You have come alongside The Person in ways that are too massive for me to express. You have joined the fight. You have supported and cheered and loved ... even when The Person is gone. You have remained. Because of you, The Body will once again become an ally. No Body can withstand that kind of army.
Someday, when this is in my memory only, someday when I can speak about all of this in past tense, someone will ask me what the hardest thing was. They will stand in front of me and ask me, what was the most difficult aspect of cancer? And I will try to explain it. This split between the part of me that lives and the part of me that can kill. The division between The Person who is grateful and The Body that carries a killer. But I won’t do it justice. And I’ll watch them glaze over because they won’t understand. And that’s okay because hopefully by that time it won't make much sense to me either. By that time, The Person will be back in the driver’s seat and the body will be the silent partner. By that time, the body will have stopped the friendly fire and gotten back in line. By that time, if all goes well, I won't think much about the body. The body will be forgotten.
But The Person will remain. And The Person will be better for it.