The diagram of health in and out of balance haunts me (see blog entry “Out of Balance”). The misaligned wedges seem to be a metaphor for my eclectic life. During my childhood, my mother’s perpetual quest was that I should not grow up to be like her – in want of a self-defining career. She encouraged me to explore, to try many different things, and I followed her lead.
Her efforts however were to no avail. When grownups asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I responded with no hesitation, “A nothing, just like Mommy.” She was funny, creative, generous. I didn’t care that she wasn’t a “Something.” Secretly, I had my own ideas about the perfect career.
The circus did not sweep me up. Though not a believer in such things, I have felt condemned since first reading my astrological chart: Cancer: Born between June 22 and July 22; creative, nurturing, indecisive. I have changed my focus too frequently to feel accomplished in any one area . Did this inability to set long term goals ultimately lead to frustration and stress, and stress to cancer?
If I had exercised singleness of purpose, would I have fought off the disease? One thing is certain. Getting a cancer diagnosis focuses all one’s energies.
When I get home, there is nothing I can do but heal and think, learn to navigate with severed abdominal muscles, research cancer, and try not to anticipate what the pathologists have found. I feel tender, smaller that the diminished sum of my parts. My belly swells over a ledge of sutures. I sit in a recliner and watch the world spin outside my narrowed boundaries. I read a book called ANTI-CANCER by David Serban-Schreiber, a doctor who survived brain cancer. He suggests that health and well being depend on the balance of our bodies’ various systems: autonomic, hormonal, emotional, and on the communication between these systems. If the communication is good, health emerges. If not, it vanishes. He uses this diagram to illustrate this idea:
The triangle is suggested by the correct positioning of the circles and their missing wedges, but they do not touch – implying that health is delicate, improbable, ineffable, like gravity. The slightest nudge could knock one of those circles out of orbit. Within a few days of being home, something has nudged one of my wedges.
“Don’t worry,” says the advice nurse. “You have a yeast infection. The antibiotics you were on during surgery killed the bacteria that keep those yeast in check. We’ll give you a cream that will knock out the yeast. Start taking acidophilus.” “And what about giving myself the Lovenox where the yeast is? Will this shove them inside and wreck some other havoc?” “I don’t think so, but how about giving yourself the shots in your thigh?” I try this. The skin is tougher there and it hurts, but not a big price to pay as I nudge myself back toward balance. The implication here is that if health is so delicate, then some wispy hair trigger may control cancer.
Before the nurse discharges me, she shows me how to administer shots of Lovenox subcutaneously. “What’s it for?” “To prevent blot clots. Squeeze a small mound of belly flesh, gently insert the needle, slowly depress the syringe. Do it twice a day for the next 10 days.” She hands me the Lovenox kit. It is a box decorated with the faces of people over fifty. They smile against a background of butter yellow and baby blue – peaceful colors, calm colors, colors that say “Your blood will not clot, you will not have a post-surgery stroke.” Inside the box are multiple prefilled syringes and a red plastic container, a “sharps” depository, where I am supposed to put the used syringes. Then what?