Thursday, July 06, 2006

Chemo Honeymoon

This entry was first published in "The Leap Years: Women Reflect on Change, Loss and Love." Edited by Mary Anne Maier and Joqan Shaddox Isom (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999.)

July 2, 1994: One week after our wedding, three months before the bone marrow transplant. My first chemotherapy, after a nine-month remission, at Midwestern Regional Medical Center (MRMC), Zion, Illinois. My fourteenth chemotherapy treatment.

I think I'm better at surviving than living--real living, real joy. Maybe that's why I've done all right with all my months, years of chemo. It's necessary, and I'm a survivor. My husband, John, says he's the opposite. I could see him wigging out in here--the enclosed room and the building you can't leave. (He's claustrophobic. Even when he has the whole world to roam in, he still feels closed in.) The image of those evil cells eating up his body would destroy John. But John knows how to live. He is the most violently alive person I have ever known.

At living, I have so often failed, caught up in the insignificant microdramas: grading school papers, straightening the dirty house, taking care of the mechanics of it all. I got mad at myself the other day in our honeymoon cabin. I was addressing thank you notes while John was scrawling down the beauty of our Upper Peninsula cottage on Lake Michigamme. Now here, in a hospital room, on drugs, addressing envelopes makes sense. Trapped in a white room for five days, it's a good use for the long hazy hours.

Today I walked fifty minutes with my rolling IV around the hospital's circular halls. The IV ran out of juice and started beeping. I pushed my freedom to the limit, because normally the IV (and thus me) must be connected to the plug by my bed. I walked to Fred and Ginger's "Shall We Dance?" and "Swingtime" soundtracks. A glorious Radiola tape. I felt so happy. So alive. I was in the trenches. I was a woman of power. A newlywed. I was not going to let the evil cells get me.

And besides, I am convinced of the curative powers of Fred Astaire. This time round Fred will heal me. It's part the singing. It's part Fred and Ginger's slyness. It's part the dancing. They are tap dancing on the tape. You can see them, feel them crossing art deco floors under spotlights, feel them twirling inside your body.

I think of Galway Kinnell's "Last Songs," the closest I've ever come to having a creed: "Whatever it is that keeps us from heaven--sloth, wrath, greed, fear--could we only reinvent it on earth as song." And dance. For Fred and Ginger, I must add dance.


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