Today is recycling day. I toss into the bin a large cache, more than the usual fundraising appeals and advertising circulars. Chemotherapy and You lands on top of the pile, along with notes from consultations with surgeons and my oncologist, diaries tracking food intake, medications, and neuropathy ratings on a scale of 1-5, Look Good, Feel Better brochures, Radiation and You. It’s a good day for a purge—the one-year anniversary of my last round of chemo for a rare and aggressive form of uterine cancer.
I’d let go of a lot of things already: the sense of having an uninterrupted life; the veil separating me from mortality; my “lady parts,” as my friend Deb calls the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and cervix removed by the surgeon. Then my hair. Sometimes, though less than you might think, my energy, appetite, and spirits.
It was a long winter. But then it was the first day of spring, as it is today.
A year ago, at the end of my last chemotherapy session, the staff presented me with a Certificate of Achievement, with accolades about my courage and perseverance. Such praise felt unwarranted, as it wasn’t so much a matter of bravery as complying with the recommended treatment in order to regain my health. But I did leave feeling grateful. And so relieved to be done.
Today I hesitate to add my certificate to the recycling bin. It’s strange moving away from active treatment. Along with the sense of relief comes the fear of moving beyond chemo’s protective bubble. Anxiety about cancer recurring simultaneously recedes and grows as time passes. Will throwing out my Certificate of Achievement jinx me? But I toss it anyway, along with magical thinking. I’m happy to be done with cancer’s clutter.
My cancer treatment included some Chinese medicine, and my practitioner, Michael, prescribed for Days 5 through 10 of each chemo cycle anything that would help my body cleanse itself of dead cells. “Cleansing can also be figurative as well; anything that you do during this part that helps you get rid of things is useful—cleaning out closets and the garage, completing projects, and resolving personal and business issues and relationships.” My garage is still a mess. But today’s purge feels very cleansing.
I’m hanging onto my wig, though. Maybe it’s like Fat Clothes, the oversized garments in the back of the closet you can’t get rid of after you lose weight just in case it comes back. You never know.
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