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Beginner’s Mindfulness

Posted Mar 18 2010 6:04pm

I’m in the midst of a clearing.

For the second time today, I’ve experienced about an hour when I don’t feel very nauseous from yesterday’s chemotherapy infusion or too fuzzy-headed from the medicines that help control the nausea.

I don’t think I would have discovered these spaces of time if it weren’t for my goal to write five or six times a week for this blog. In the past, I have experienced my post-chemo days as constant nausea and exhaustion, with some vomiting. But once I decided that I wanted to write something—no matter how small—I’ve been finding unexpected treasures, like the nausea-free hour or two.

How could I have spent nearly two years getting this drug every other week and not notice these moments of relief? My guess is that I didn’t truly inhabit the moments in which I dwelt. Chemo makes me feel so awful that it’s easy to get swept away into the awfulness of it. Expecting unending awfulness, I’ve been giving myself over to it.

I’m not saying that these days after my Cytoxan infusion aren’t awful. I simply find it interesting that the process of looking for enough minutes of feeling a little better to string together like beads has made me aware of gradations. I don’t think I can assume I’ll find these strings of time hanging at the same hour each couple of weeks. My body is so pummeled by disease and drugs that I can’t write in my calendar on the next day after I get chemo: “Write from 6:00 to 7:00.” My discovery is just that I rise and fall, ebb and flow, strengthen and weaken on chemo days—just as I and every other human does every day. Even on my worst days, time is not a concrete slab that I must either walk over or be slammed by.

My epiphany seems a bit silly now that I’m writing it. But for me, it has been profound to fully inhabit my body—as best I can—for a full day. Maybe my “chemo days” were the only days I could try this. On my more functional days, I have an internal clock and schedule ticking and pushing me from task to task. It would be much more difficult for me to take stock of myself on a healthier day.

I haven’t relished diving into myself to experience nausea, tooth-grinding, and bones that ache from fatigue. But then I uncovered these clearings of ease. When I live in this body of mine in this moment of mine, I sometimes transcend what I expect.

Tomorrow—the second full day after chemo—is usually my hardest day in the chemo cycle. I have to go to the hospital for intravenous fluids and more intravenous anti-nausea medicine, or else I will barf the whole day. I’m a little scared to face some of those moments with nothing more than books on my ipod and my breath.

But I’m hoping to find clearings in tomorrow’s day, too.

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