Saturday, November 26, 2016

GIVE ME BETTER SIDE-EFFECTS!

I've just started a new med for my shaky legs and neuropathy called "gabapentin." It is often used to treat seizures, bipolar illness, and neuropathy. What many don't know is that neuropathy isn't always about the nerves; it can indicate muscle weakness and fatigue, which is what I have in my legs as a lively after-effect of months of chemo. At least I am not howling at the moon, or have suddenly grown a thick moustache. For all these things, we give thanks.

But, here's what happens with side-effects: By the time you read the papers the pharmacy sends home, you feel as if you might as well give up and jump off the deck. Or take a healthy slug of Jack Daniels at 9 in the morning. I put the pharmacy papers aside and applied my reason, figuring out that they have to list ALL possible side-effects (including a sudden desire to have a pet pig or run for political office), and I might only get one or two.  Sadly, I didn't get the grand side-effects: I got flatulence and seriously boring dreams.

REALLY? Out of all of the possibilities I got those? Here is what I wish I had gotten:

--enough brain power to memorize Shakespearean sonnets and quote them at opportune times.

--the ability to say just the right thing when I have hurt someone's feelings, as in: "I am so sorry, I wasn't listening to you very well, was I. Let's try again."

--a skill in applying eye-liner so it doesn't glop up my eyelashes and smear under my eyes.

--some great erotic dreams that take place in a sparkling hotel room overlooking the Adriatic sea, instead of dreams about finding my shoes in the closet and shopping for underwear. (I am not kidding.)

--the spiritual resources to not worry and be anxious about our current president-elect and his band of merry, corrupt fellows.

--the ability to understand football and actually care about it, so I could join in my husband's jubilant shouts and happy mood when the Patriots win.

--the strength to power through my days as I used to without dropping like a used handkerchief unto the couch at 4:00, murmuring weakly, "Tea, please, then a large glass of wine."

--better thighs. Why don't they have that as a side-effect of these drugs? I would love this, especially if it meant no effort at all on my part.

--the grace to speak to people of other political opinions, without spitting or making caustic, semi-profane comments.

Ok, those are just a few of the benefits I wish for in taking gabapentin
instead of flatulence. My only consolation is that probably makes me somewhat like Falstaff, whom I adore. I will take comfort where it is offered, as always.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

THAT DRATTED THING WITH FEATHERS

I've been thinking a lot about hope today--what it is, what it means, if it is time-bound, and how it can shape our thoughts.

This started when I read a FB post from a friend, a wonderful writer and retreat leader. This election has affected her profoundly (as it has so many of us), bringing her down and raising the worst fears about our country lurching towards fascism. I share these fears. This election is a complete catastrophe, a world-sized truck accident, and I don't know how we are going to manage both our feelings about it and the consequences which shall ensue.

My friend's posted that she wished she could share the hope some of her friends had. I answered, "Maybe it's catching?" Then I added that I thought hope was significantly different from optimism. Someone--R. Rohr or C.S.Lewis--said it is not given to Christians to be optimistic. We simply cannot be sure that things will turn out the way we want. There are always those lions prowling about the Coliseum
, and things did not end well. But hope is different for me. Here's why:

--Yes, hope is that thing which perches in the tree and sings to depressed, amazing Emily Dickinson. But this is a small image, and it is a thin song.

--My brother, a practicing Buddhist, believes hope is an illusion, that it is time-based--sending us towards the future--when all we have is the Now. I get that and I respect it.  But...

--Why is the word "hope" mentioned so many times in the Bible? At least 129 times. (Thanks, Google.) St. Paul writes, "...we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." (Romans 5: 3-5) These verses literally saved my life when I was in deep despair. I never rejoice over my sufferings, but I'm down with hope in our hearts. And it is not something I build through my own efforts; it is a gift from God.

--I believe hope is a form of trust, that it is a direction of the heart which connects us to God and to each other.  It doesn't say--"Everything will turn out right; God has a plan; and nothing happens by accident."  Those statements actually make me want to tear out my miniscule 1" of hair and run screaming down the driveway searching for Death Cap mushrooms.  Those are cruel, deceptive statements, as well as bad theology.

--Hope says: "My story is bigger than this story." (That's God speaking about the election; got it from Her mouth to my ear.)  We and our miseries, worries, fears, and despair, are held in the lavish, enormous love of God, which is far bigger than anything we could imagine. Evil does not have the last word. Ever. Giuliani, Bannon, Trump, Newt, and all the howling hyenas from "The Lion King" will not have the final word. They can and will make life ENORMOUSLY miserable for the most vulnerable of us.  I hate that. But they will not last forever; we will come back; we will revive what can be revived. We will bring water to the thirsty deserts and do whatever we can to contain and limit the damage of this vile presidency.

Of course we should organize, protest, march, fight back, and throw the suckers out as soon as we can. But in the meantime--remember the dratted thing with feathers; hope is alive in our hearts even when things look bleak and impossible.




Friday, November 11, 2016

WHAT'S NEXT?

Ok, The unimaginable has happened. Trump has won. The Donald and his thong-wearing, gun-toting wife and rather dim children who go big-game hunting will grace the hallowed halls where Jefferson once walked, Lincoln paced, FDR wheeled his chair, and President Obama, Michelle, and their two daughters cheered our hearts. Not to mention Hilary and Bill.

Ack, as my second-born would say. When I first heard the election news, I felt the depression wheel going into high gear. I could literally hear it humming within as despair, craziness, incomprehension, anger, and a host of other things I am not supposed to do as a Catholic whirred around the wheel. Ack.

Then, after an hour or so of over-eating, looking at every bit of news and Twitter feeds that I could find, I yanked one small prayer out of my churning insides. This is Annie Lamott's favorite prayer, one of two;  helphelphelphelp.  I can't get to the thankyouthankyou part yet.

Something settled inside, probably as a result of calling on the Holy Spirit who comes to visit when I am in unstable mode. It said, "Go forth and do something. Do not sit in despair. Be proactive, babe." It could have been "dame," as the Holy spirit seems to channel 1940s films in my mind.

I levered off the couch, exercised, showered, put on makeup, dressed, put in earrings, sprayed perfume, and sallied forth to our local market in town. I collected: tuna fish, peanut butter, jelly, pasta, tomato sauce, pineapple chunks, and a host of other goodies which filled two brown bags. Then I drove to the HBA to buy disposable diapers and wipies, for we know that when poor women try to get into the work force, they have to provide diapers for their little ones in Day Care. Off I went to the Survival Center, not exactly humming, but at least not swearing.

As I delivered the packages, I said to the man behind the desk, "I am returning good for evil." He laughed. "I have to pick up my game and do more, 'cause Donald ain't gonna do it!" A lady came around the corner and chimed in, "Yes, we've got to do more!" Pretty soon we were practically swaying and praying together as we formed a small group that refused to be downhearted. We were committed to reaching out to the poorest of us. This felt good.

Returning home, I needed to nap and pray. As I was lifting up the election results and whining, "WHY???", this insight came winging in: "My story is bigger than this story."  Ok, God. That sounds right to me. We are held in your universe, in your light and love. It's still up to us to make things right, but wrong-doing does not have the last word. Hope has the last word.

As Christians, we are pretty sure that optimism is not what is given to us. You have to hide your eyes if you want to hold onto optimism. But hope is different. Here's what St. Paul said, Romans 5:5:

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

We are not alone. We have community, faith, friends, church and political activism, and my favorite NY Times Opinion writer, Frank Bruni, who said: "The one thing we know about Trump is that he is inconsistent. He says one thing and does another."

He can promise a wall--unlikely and expensive. He may promise exiling all Muslims--unconstitutional, we still operate under the rule of law here. I'm not saying I'm not worried: I am, deeply, especially about climate change. I'm not saying everything will turn out all right. It may not. But I am saying that by being proactive, keeping faith, showing up, reading biblical prophets who shouted about justice (Isaiah, Micah, and Amos), and reaching out to the marginalized--we might, just might make it through the next four years with our reason intact. I will make no promises about the shape of our country in four years.




Thursday, November 3, 2016

MY SHADOW SELF

"Recovery" has such a lovely, somnolent sound, like a lazy kitten stretching out its paws to the sun. Something one can revel in, reach out one's hands to, and hold loosely, reverently.

"Survivorship" is another spectacular word, and on dark days I wrap it around my throat like a multi-colored scarf, hoping it will reassure me and take away some of the demons jumping in my head.

Here they are:  Last night at the glamorous hour of 3:00 a.m. the cancer panic wheel lurched into motion.  What if the ovarian cancer I had metastasized, hidden behind some organ?  I had months of chemo to deal with that possibility, but what if? And there's my good friend's daughter, whose breast cancer did metastasize to her brain, and now she has to have radiation! Maybe my cancer's hiding in my brain? Maybe I can find a drive-by CAT scan truck which will check out my cranium for not too much money?

I think of myself as basically optimistic, strong, and hopeful, a person of faith. While I didn't exactly sail through two surgeries and months of chemo, I survived pretty well and kept up a somewhat normal life. (That includes lots of cooking.) But sometimes I feel as if I had a dark shadow attached to the back of my body; I can't see it, though I whip my head around to catch a glimpse.  But it is there--the self with dark thoughts, no trust, poor faith, and weird predictions--you will die by 74.

Other times I think of my second self as a flayed skin--as if some part of me had been stripped away by cancer and now was attached, fluttering mutely on my back.  This has the capacity to bring me down, to eat too much, drink too much wine, buy too many items on Amazon, and search frantically through newspapers for good news about promising cancer cures. Found one today on the NY Times, about "checkpoint inhibitors," which rev up the body's T cells to fight cancer. Sounds promising, all except for the few people whose T cells attacked their heart....

In the 6th month out from the cessation of chemo, this is what's happening:  Having walked through my hospital stays and treatment without sobbing
under the covers and snorting unnamed substances, I now find myself on the other side of cancer. If such a thing exists. All of the courage and perseverance I mustered during treatment has a cost; I feel hollowed out, at least for today. I told a good friend, recovering from several courses of chemo, that, "We need a Viagra pill for courage, something to jack it up and make it stand tall."

That's where I am today, with a fistful of mixed metaphors:  Cancer Panic Wheel, Viagra for Courage, and Flayed Skin.  But when something as life-altering and scary as cancer happens, you need a lot of metaphors to build a container to hold it.  I am looking for one, and haven't found it yet. But I'm working on it.