Wednesday, December 1, 2010

#283: Redeeming the Parts Cancer Took

Recovering from cancer means finding new ways to do old things. You can't lift as much or walk as far as you used to. You can't stand up as long or eat as much. It's tempting to look at the things you can't do in the old way and conclude that you can't do them at all. It's tempting to give up on activities you enjoyed before you were sick, because your way of doing them doesn't work anymore.

Tonight, Mrs P asked me to take out the garbage. This is bigger than it sounds. It's been about 8 months since she asked me to take out the trash. I think we both assumed I was too weak, too frail to lift and carry and drag the cans out to the curb. That sounds pretty pathetic, but it hasn't been too long ago that it was true. I would no more have tried to walk through the yard in the dark than scale the side of the house. Some days, I would barely have made it to the cans, let alone haul them to the curb. Before I was sick, I would fill my arms with recycling, trash, even old cat litter and haul them out to the cans in one big nasty-smelling load. .  When I tried to pick up the trash from my office and the recycle bin full of newspapers, I realized that I could not lift them both at once. In spite of lifting weights in the gym, I still wasn't strong enough to perform this simple household chore. for a moment, I considered giving up. I'm still too weak. I can't do it yet. My arms and legs won't do what I want them to do. But my bride is home sick today and she is in no shape to be hauling trash cans. She is not the kind of person who calls in sick casually. It would have been so selfish of me to expect her to do all that without help. Her head was aching and spinning at the same time. She needed me to help, and I was determined to do it.

It took me about 15 trips. A handful at a time. When everything was out in the big cans, I opened the gate and rolled them out slowly, one by one. Then I closed the gate and made my way back to the house. It wasn't particularly heroic. All I did was put the trash on the curb. But I had to do a couple of things that are going to pretty important to my ongoing recovery.

I had to admit that I couldn't do things the way I wanted to do them. I had to decide that the goal, (helping Mrs P) was more important than the obstacles. And then I had to come up with a new way to do this old, simple chore. That's the way things are going to be for a while. I can choose to give up on the things I want, or I can find new strategies for getting them. I can't put aside three hours to clean house, but I can work fifteen minutes at a time. I can't haul two armloads of groceries, but I can carry a bag, rest, then carry some more.

I couldn't go to the gym today. I'm still pretty sore from Sunday and Monday. I was determined to to go anyway, then I remembered not being able to finish my upper body exercises on my last trip. I had rushed things, and I can't push myself the way I used to. I was afraid I would get hurt if I tried to lift today. I decided to take another day to recover.

It felt like giving up.

Tomorrow is going to be a pretty big test for me. Will I get off my duff and go to the gym, or will I give up completely? After all, I can't lift the weight I used to. I can't run the way I used to. It's embarassing to be passed on the track by old ladies or to take all the plates off a machine before I use it. I wonder what all the young dudes who are doing 200 lb shoulder shrugs think about a fat old man who can't lift a 25 lb dumbbell over his head. I wonder if I'll ever be able to lift more than my own weight again.

I am determined not to give up. I will be strong and fit again. I will run farther and faster than I ever could before, and I will do it if it takes me two years just to get back to where I was. I'm going to do it because it's important to me. But to get there, I have to admit that I'm not going to be able to work as hard or as fast I used to. I won't be beating any personal bests anytime soon, maybe not even in a year. Recovering myself, redeeming the parts of me that the cancer took is going to take time. It's going to be embarassing sometimes. But I'm walking so I can run. I'm running so I can live. The goal is worth finding new ways to get there.

My teeth fall out when I sing sometimes. I won't say it's embarassing. I'm not performing for strangers yet. Everyone in the rehearsal hall knows my story and it's something we can all laugh about. But it is frustrating. I'm still learning how to make words with my mouth. Believe me, that has never been a challenge for me. Now it is. Now I have to practice. But if I want to act, I'm going to have to be able to speak with clarity and energy. I'll need to be able to project sound while retaining my upper plate. The doc will help me. I'll get lots of good advice and coaching. But at the end of the day, I'm going to have to find my own new way. And I'll have to be willing to take the time to get it done, no matter how frustrating it is.

Look, I know this isn't a particularly profound life lesson. The thing is, I've always been the kind of person who doesn't want to work hard at things I'm not already good at. This isn't a very admirable personality trait, and it has cost me a lot over the years. I think my life would have been a lot different if I had been willing to improve my weaknesses more. Now, I have so many of them that there isn't much choice.

It's challenging. Humbling.

And the prospect of doing things better this time? It kind of turns me on. I'm going to be a better husband and actor than I was before I ever heard of Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

Who knows? Tomorrow I may even volunteer to bring the cans back in from the curb...


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