Reflections by Jerry Webber

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Halfway Home?: Measuring Steps I Cannot See

The weekend before a new cycle of chemotherapy I tend to have some anxiety about the new round of treatments. I've been through the routine enough to know how the treatments and accompanying medications change my body and thus how I feel through those days of therapy. My body does weird things and I feel out-of-sorts emotionally. My sleep patterns and eating patterns are disjointed. I gain at least 10 pounds over the span of a few days. I have to stay isolated as much as possible for the first 17 days or so of the cycle while my immune system is low.

I get what I've come to call "wounded-cat-syndrome" . . . I want to crawl behind a sofa and hide, keeping other people away from my discomfort and out of my line-of-fire. If I'm going to feel out-of-whack, there's no use in others feeling that way, too, so I tend to curl up in a corner, out-of-sight, out-of-mind. (I know, I know, I hear all the arguments to the contrary . . . but right or wrong, that's how I feel!)

Last Sunday I knew that the next morning I would start the chemo cycle again. I began to brace myself for what the next few days would bring, including the changes and altered routines I've mentioned above. The Monday treatment would begin the fourth cycle of this particular chemotherapy regimen. My oncologist says that the protocol calls for six cycles.

So it occurred to me Sunday that I was halfway through the process. Three down, three to go. And honestly, that was little encouragement. It feels like I've been doing this forever. Some days it is difficult for me to remember life before these treatments. In some respects this therapy schedule has become my life. I live in the rhythms of each 4-week cycle, knowing which days are likely to be days when I feel like the pits and which days I'll probably have energy. In many ways, my life right now is shaped by these rhythms.

The kicker? I wanted to believe that I was farther along than halfway. I was tired of this routine, weary of the seemingly endless cycles. I wanted to be at the end, not at the midway point. It was sobering to appraise where I actually was.

As I sat with that realization, I noticed my interior system of measuring the days. I had measured where I was by the length of time from the beginning of the treatments . . . and by the time yet projected in front of me. I had accepted that particular system of measurement as the template for my life without questioning whether there were other ways of thinking about my life.

Are there other ways of thinking about life? Is my essence more than the steps I've taken and the steps that are still in front of me?

What else defines me? What else speaks into my personhood? I had to ask myself those questions.

In reality, measuring the days past and projecting the days to come is an easy way for me to manage the days, to control my expectations. It fits life into a schematic that is trite and predictable and becomes a template that I can easily manage. It occurred to me that "trite," "predictable," and "manageable" were not words I wanted to use in describing my life.

So I moved toward other questions that had to do with the meaning of the days . . . questions that asked about forming and shaping and growing . . . questions that asked not about control and manipulation, but about exploration and wildness. How might those things measure the days?

I realized immediately my need for God's grace if I were to move toward the untamed parts of life. I need the grace to let life be what it is. I need grace to live with the tension inherent in this time of my life.

This is the poem I wrote out of my reflection.

Till now you've measured the journey
by the number of steps taken
and the distance ahead stretching long
into cloud and darkness;
days morph into a long, weary trudge.
The wind does not blow
nor do the wild geese fly.

But the person who lives inside you
knows there is no map for this way;
your measured steps mean
nothing to this one
who wrestles for your freedom
and will not give in to
the siege that would make
this journey a mere
passing of time.


Pete the Brit said...

Wow Jerry, thanks for sharing your inner work and pointing us all to other ways of measuring the days. I feel honored to read your posts.

Anonymous said...

Well said. I can identify with the feeling of living "chemo to chemo." I just completed my 6 cycles of chemo journey. On those days I wanted to crawl in a hole, I holed up with my I Love Lucy DVDs and let her the Lord minister to me through Lucy's zany antics ...laughter is an excellent medicine!

Trusting in God,

Network Geek said...

I understand entirely. The halfway point was the hardest point for me, too, the ONE time I had a series of chemo treatments. I can only imagine what it must be like to be halfway through that journey for the third time.
I still remember the day, after family had returned home to Illinois, watching, of all things, Kingdom of Heaven and wondering about a people who could pray five times a day when I seemed hard-pressed to make a connection just once a day.

I admire your spirituality and your connection to that even, or perhaps, especially, in the midst of your difficult fight. I don't know that I could manage it in the face of so much chemo.