After hearing the three most terrifying words imaginable, 'you have cancer' I was immobilized. Cocking my head side ways like a cockerspaniel that's just heard a whistle, I waited for him to say it again. He didn't. He knew the look. The 'stepping out of the shower into outer space' look a woman gets when she is told tomorrow will be her last day with a uterus.
Although surreal and terrifying come close to describing this experience, there is also a moment of clarity that comes with the disorientation. Involuntary primal utterings gush forth as the mind spits out 'I want to live, I want to live' followed by 'I can't afford this' and 'but what if I die'.
Flattened by an emergency radical hysterectomy-- in which all female parts 'south of georgia' are removed--it is 4-6 weeks of recovery before the chemical assault begins. Already the world has shifted in hues and tone. Pain medication distorts and softens the reality that while some friends and family hover like angels in this personal nightmare, others disappear into the shadows for reasons unexplained.
Sometimes the pain of those who vacate the scene of the cancer crime obscures the love being showered and competes with the physical agony. Over time, the memories of love and tenderness dominate and there is forgiveness for the violence of the drugs that ironically answer the cry, 'I want to Live". And gradually, but long after the physical scars heal, there is acceptance and perhaps forgiveness of those who abandoned.
And so what do I 'miss' about chemo? I miss the vulnerability of being rocked in arms of something greater than myself. I miss gazing into the eyes of loved ones and strangers who mirror the tenuous nature of existence--where ones politics, religion or profession have no relevance.
And I miss the look of vulnerability in those who stare at my bald head, searching for clues, not just for me or who I am, but of themselves. For 10 months I soften. And so does the world. And that is what I miss about chemo.