Just Breathe

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

I woke up feeling distraught. Keo has never left an uncomfortable discussion, but, today he felt the need to take a drive. It’s my fourth day of chemo week, my last day with steroids and the chemo drugs are starting to wear off. But, it’s my most frustrating day and even though I expect the emotions it gets worse with every chemo. I am tired of the cycles. Tired of this test. I am not myself and the truth is I’m happy Keo left. A chemo patient hurt his feelings and being around me is difficult.

I started the morning on a positive note, telling my self, Today, anger will not win Janine. Keo is witness to my anger reaching its climax. The lack of sleep brings about an OCD that is relieved through micromanaging. My mind races and I struggle to make my body parallel to my thoughts. My body doesn’t move fast enough and my mind is on a constant trampoline. My appetite is low leading to an empty gas tank. I need laxative assistance just to use the bathroom in peace. Days of these side effects lead me to a state of desperation. This anger is a bad spirit that tries to seduce me into feeling hate. I don’t want to hate, but it feels good to release anger. It feels evil and I struggle to understand.

When I speak to friends and family it seems common to release frustration with those we care for most. By doing so we take advantage of an unconditional love. When I do this I try to make myself aware because ill or not ill it doesn’t make it right. Cancer brings a roller coaster of emotions. Every ride is frightening, but we learn and try to predict the next ride to gain confidence. Being with a chemo patient requires patience and love. My friendship with Keo has blossomed from a dark place and our appreciation for one another grows every day.

When he left, my thoughts weren’t focused and I couldn’t grasp how to explain what I was feeling. Everything felt wrong…upside down. Even our cat’s meow made my head throb. I stepped out to the balcony and lay in the hammock. I turned on Headspace and listened to a pre-recorded voice guide my breathing. The cat jumped from his bed at the sound of keys unlocking our front door, Keo was back. I finished my meditation session and needed to apologize because I know I can do better.

I say a sentence that I hope will fix chemo week, “I’m sorry. Can we start over?”

Keo is always first to forgive and forget. I don’t think he can hold a grudge, it’s simply the way he loves.
 I sit at our glass table, pondering on what to say next. I know I need to be as transparent as the glass I’m staring into for answers.

He speaks first, “It’s going to be okay, Janine. A few more days and you will start to feel strong again.”

I hold his hand tight and cry from rage and ask, “Why, do I feel these emotions? This ache in my heart that I am different.”

I continue to unload my anxiety and concerns for the future. I am in disbelief that this sickness will soon pass. Keo is my anchor and I trust the honesty of his words. I need him to be my mirror, to tell me who I was before I got sick because I can’t remember.

“Janine, you are still you and we will get through this, we have to be strong for each other, we have to understand each other,” he said.

For months my only goal was to beat cancer and reach remission. I have arrived and am ready to walk the stage. Ready to accept my award for beating cancer, but like a graduate student, I am lost. I’m scared to face the new Janine. Will she be fierce? Will she be mellow? Will she take more chances because she was given a second chance? Will her goals and aspirations change?

Keo knows that the best medicine for me is to leave the house and says,”Janine, let’s go see flamingoes!”

I rolled my eyes, “flamingoes in the desert?”

I accept Keo’s invitation to see flamingoes and God has his way of showing signs of kindness when we least expect. We drove to a hidden gem in Dubai, Ras Al Khor Bird Sanctuary. I walked down a wooden path that led us to a lookout. The beauty of nature was at our fingertips. White herons catching fish for dinner were in the horizon and their long white wings had a glow of pink reflecting the sunset. We chose two stools that look through a window highlighting the Dubai skyline.

I start to smile and tears form in my eyes. I feel happiness, peace, and a sense of exhaustion. I was done fighting with negative feelings. I stared at the herons’ majestic wings, wanting to be lifted and cradled.

As we stared speechless at the sunset we were approached by a woman with a warm smile and soft eyes. She instantly makes me feel safe. She, like us, has passed Ras al Khor Sanctuary many times and today she decided to stop and investigate the viewpoints. She has been in Dubai for twenty-seven years and has seen every change the country has made. She tells us that the sanctuary was once so full of flamingoes that all you saw were dancing shades of pink. But, as usual, humans have interrupted a natural habitat. We take pictures and sit together until the lookout closes. I tell her I have cancer and she touches my hand encouraging me to speak. She tells me her son, also around my age, is in remission at the moment. She understands and tells me everything will be okay. We walk to our cars together and hug like we have known one another for years.

I feel such peace with her and we promise to keep in touch. Before we say our goodbyes she hands me a bag from Ikea, and says: “You need to eat, this is a healthy salad I picked up from Ikea”.

She then continued to care for us and handed Keo a box of crystallized ginger covered in dark chocolate.

This was an unexpected act of kindness that overwhelmed us all with joy. Today, I needed my mother. I needed her warmth, her strength. A bond a mother has with her offspring is sacred, but a mothers touch is something every mother can share.

Thank you spirits of kindness for taking away those negative emotions and bringing me a mother’s warmth when I felt shattered.


Originally published at walkwithluna.com on November 29, 2018.