Last Thursday I went for a run. I had to. It was such a beautiful day here - 80 degrees and sunny with a breeze. I mean, that's great weather at ANY time but right smack at the end of winter and just a mere 4 days after a big SNOWSTORM and man, that made for a good day.
There is a trail near our house - The Trolley Trail - and I love running on it. It cuts through a nice green grassy swath of land and winds pleasantly past cottage homes and quiet streets. Even though I love the trail, as I left the house I was somewhat reluctant to use it because I assumed there would be quite a few more people on it than usual. But since the trail is so perfect and it was the perfect day, I headed down there anyway and began my run.
And immediately began laughing. EVERYONE was on that trail. Every. One. Anyone who has ever gone for a run, thought about going for a run or knows how to spell the word run was out. And not just runners ... there were walkers power walking and couples casually strolling and moms pushing double strollers and dads carrying kids on their shoulders and kids walking dogs. There were people on mountain bikes and families on cruisers and little kids peddling big wheels. With every person I passed and every one that passed me I got more and more tickled. I could hardly wait to see who was coming up next and half expected to see a guy in a bowler hat sitting way up high on one of those bikes from the 1900s with the giant front wheel and tiny back wheel or a couple of kids pushing a hoop with a stick. It was just the most delightful day. And there I was running and giggling in the midst of it.
When I went through chemo life was difficult - not impossible, but difficult. I would go into treatments feeling pretty good and in a matter of a few hours feel as though I couldn't move without help - and often, I couldn't. When I would leave chemo, I would lean on The Hub and shuffle along slowly, sometimes groaning. There is a bench just outside the automatic sliding glass doors at the Cancer Center and The Hub would lower me gently down to the bench while he'd race off to get the car and bring it around so I wouldn't have to make the trek to the parking garage ... the same trek I bounded through on the way in just a few hours before. Sometimes we would leave chemo and go get a bite to eat ... we could pretty much guarantee that it would be the last meal I would eat for days so we'd make it high calorie goodness like corn chowder and gooey ham and cheese sandwiches and bowls of ice cream with fudge sauce and a brownie on the side. As the months went on and the cumulative effects of chemo caught up with me, those lunches became obsolete but in the beginning they were a bright spot in what was a downright bleak time. By the time we'd get home the steroids that I got with each treatment would kick in and I would want to start a puzzle. Early in treatment we discovered I couldn't concentrate well enough to work a crossword and although an avid reader in non-chemo life, I couldn't seem to make my eyes follow a trail of words on a page, so jigsaw puzzles became popular around here. We went to Target at some point and pretty much bought every puzzle they had ... boat scenes, flowers on a hillside, mountain peaks, the statue of liberty and even a puzzle of Da Vinci's Last Supper (which was fun to put together because my mom kept calling the disciples' robes their "costumes" ... as in "Is this part of Jesus' costume or is this someone else's costume?" Which made me laugh every time. The Hub finally and gently said, "Um, I don't think those are costumes as much as just what they wore." Poor Momme, she was so tired back then). As the steroids wound me up, we'd dump a new puzzle and begin working. Sam and Julie would come by in the evening and join in. The Hub would at regular intervals get up and get me a glass of water. I'd ignore it for a while until he'd threaten to tell my mom and/or my doctor I wasn't hydrating then I'd choke it down. Water tasted just like the chemo they pumped into me and it was all I could do to drink the required 6 - 8 glasses a day. As the night wore on, people would leave or go to bed. I'd sit hunched over for hours hunting for the next piece and the next. Slowly creating something beautiful. Sometimes I'd stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning working a puzzle until either it was done or I was. Eventually, I'd drag myself to bed, curl up and sleep.
By the next morning, every bit of that late night steroid-induced energy was gone. I'd wake up feeling hung over - only without the great memories of a fun night out. The side-effects would have kicked in and every bone in my body would ache. My skin felt thin and paper-fragile. My elbows felt like steel points threatening to rip open my hide and my muscles burned a low, steady pain. Suddenly any strong smell was too much. I'd get sick when my mother brewed coffee or cooked meals. Loud noises sent me to bed. Music actually hurt me. It was painful to listen to anything. My eyes would blur if I looked at the TV too long and even the stream of the shower would be too harsh. I would be so weary and tired but unable to sleep. Nothing helped ... not really. We'd try every remedy, every tip and trick but those days following chemo were endlessly painful. Other symptoms came and went. Sometimes I was sick - padding to the bathroom, or leaning out the car door to vomit. Sometimes my mouth erupted into painful sores. Sometimes I'd have bouts of fatigue so severe I couldn't finish a sentence. My breathing became labored halfway through chemo and the burn with every breath would make it difficult to get the little bits of air I needed. Occasionally pain would rocket through the bones of my arms or legs and I would buckle and cry out. My mouth tasted coppery and awful and my skin smelled burnt and dead. Every so often, my mind would go blank and I had trouble thinking simple thoughts. The bleomycin compromised my lungs and I suddenly was unable to yawn without pain severe enough to bring tears to my eyes and I would grab my chest and sob and gasp for air at the completion of each sneeze.
Like I said, life was difficult.
However, it wasn't continuous. Those awful symptoms that plagued me each treatment would only last for a few days - longer as treatment went on - but for the first ½ dozen or so treatments, those post-treatment symptoms would only last a week or so. And since my treatments were 2 weeks apart and since I didn't have to start taking nupogen shots to boost my white blood cell count (side effect: horrible bone pain) until a couple days prior to treatment, that meant I had at least 3 and maybe as many as 5 really good days before I had to submit to the poisoning again.
At least 3 really good days.
The oddest part of it was as quickly as the symptoms would come after treatment, they would seem to go a week or so later. Sometimes I would go to bed feeling the heat and pain and heaviness of those awful side effects and wake up feeling light and calm ... as if the symptoms stole away in the dark of night. They all got together hitched a ride out of town. Stow-aways. They snuck in then slipped away. I'd wake up and wow ... I'd feel like myself again. At least for the time being.
One of these renewal days, a few treatments in, I felt good enough to make lunch plans. I can remember driving downtown to pick The Hub up for lunch. I can remember having a normal conversation at lunch. I can remember seeing a few people on the way back and actually enjoying talking with them. After I dropped The Hub off at the office I started home. The day was nice and I rolled down the windows on the car so I could feel the warm air. As I drove the song "Unwritten" by Natasha Bedingfield came on the radio and I freakin' blasted it. The song sounded great. The sun looked great. My lunch tasted great. And I felt ... GREAT. I felt SO GOOD. Nothing hurt. I could think. My body wasn't rebelling against me. I might go for a walk later. I wanted to talk to people. My bones didn't hurt. I'd eaten spaghetti and meatballs for lunch. I didn't need a nap. And I LOVED THAT SONG. And it was at that moment, as I was flying down the highway feeling the wind whip over my bald head that I began weeping. Big, fat, wet tears slid down my cheeks and I did nothing to stop them. I wasn't crying because I was broken or because I hurt ... I was crying because it was all so good. Life was so very good. And I felt ...good.
That was the most dramatic example of renewal, but it happened every time. Every treatment I would have a moment - after the side effects subsided and I started to feel normal again where I would just marvel at how good it felt to feel good. More than once I would turn to The Hub or my mom or a friend and say "I can't believe you people feel like this all the time!" It was a wonder, a miracle that anyone - let alone most of us - could feel this good and this was NORMAL.
And then ... just a few days later ... the normal was gone. And I was back in the quagmire.
26 months ago, I had my last treatment and felt those horrible side effects for the last time. That means 7 - 10 days after that treatment I felt good again. But for the life of me, I can't remember that feeling of feeling good. The amazement I felt that day in the car and all the other times is only a memory for me. Just like I can't remember the bone pain, only that I had bone pain; I can't remember the feeling good. I only know this feeling that I now feel every day once made me cry with happiness.
I went for a run last week when the weather was perfect. When I went, there were so many others out with me - enjoying it, loving it, drinking it in. And it was no wonder. Weather like that is not to be taken for granted. That was Thursday.
Saturday it was just as beautiful. The sun was shining, the breeze was light and lovely, the temperature was perfect. Trees were budding and my tulips had poked through the ground. It felt like spring was here to stay. It seemed the snow and ice was a memory. At 3:30 in the afternoon, on this perfect spring day, I drove by the Trolley Trail.
It was empty.
And maybe that emptiness should have made me sad. Made me angry that people weren't taking advantage of the beautiful day. Made me upset that people were just taking the nice day for granted when just a few days before it was so special they just had to be out in it. Maybe it should have bothered me. But it didn't. Because part of life is taking it for granted. There is beauty in that. Beauty in the hope and confidence that I can let a gorgeous day slide by without notice because there will be others just as gorgeous that follow.
And as much as I wish I could remember the feeling of feeling good enough to cry ... I'm grateful that I don't. Grateful that I take it for granted.
There is more than beauty in that. There is mercy.