The other day I was running on the treadmill at the gym and listening to a podcast of a recent episode of This American Life. This is not an easy thing for me as I have to hold onto the treadmill’s rails to keep my bobblehead from bobbing and sending sheets of pain down my right arm.
And because my arms are otherwise engaged I’m constantly dropping things like towels, my IPhone and my glasses.
I often wonder what the line of treadmill runners at the Y make of this cranky old guy with the really stiff neck who, about twice a run, breaks out in a blistering bout of swearing when his IPhone goes skittering across the gym having fallen onto the fast moving rubber track. Oh well. C’est la vie.
I digress. The title of the podcast episode was “Slow to React” and it was about people who took their own sweet time to get around to fairly important things, like love for instance.
And that’s what the first episode was about – a New Jersey cop who took twenty plus years to fall in love and court a Korean student he fell for during a tour of duty in the sixties.
It was pleasant enough and helped me get most of the way through my run.
It wasn’t until the last story that I really paid attention to the podcast. It wasn’t so much about someone who was slow to react as it was about someone who was quickly reacting to something slow to develop. The woman in the story has had on-going stage four breast cancer for over twenty years, easily outliving her 2 years to live diagnosis from two decades ago.
The first words the reporter spoke were “just looking at the numbers Catherine Russell Rich should be dead.” I leapt up off the revolving belt and sat down on the floor to listen.
By the numbers I too should be dead – five to eight years dead. Like Catherine Rich my cancer has probably never been in remission. It’s just slow growing and has, each of the six times I’ve had it hacked out of my head, taken its time growing back.
You’d think I’d be counting my lucky stars about that. And, for the most part I do. But this past week I heard myself muttering to myself that I wished the cancer would goddamned well hurry up. And I think I was half serious.
I get tired of fighting, tired of pain, tired of being constantly distracted and forgetting things, tired of wondering what next and when.
This is not me normally – okay maybe the being constantly distracted and forgetting things is. But I do get in these foul black moods when I’m extra worried about what’s happening upstairs – before an MRI, when I’m feeling the pain, when I think I have a new symptom, when I can’t sleep through the night. Lately, it’s been all the above plus some additional stresses.
What do I do about this? It’s been a struggle trying to do anything because, of course, when you’re in a black place you’re usually too down to do anything about it.
Today I went back and listened to the podcast.
And I heard something simple I missed the first time around. Describing her own periods of depression, Ms. Rich said, “you realize you haven’t died yet and you have to adjust.”
I like that. When people tell me take one day at a time, I turn the internal volume control way down. One day at a time doesn’t make much sense to me when I’m trying to figure out if I can book a vacation with the husband six months in the future. Worse, for me the contradiction between the two just leads to despair.
But “adjust”, that I can get behind. You’re not dead yet so adjust to it. When I tweak things along those lines I tend to rediscover what it is I really love about life. Like the daily calls with the husband, like cooking, like a really rich novel. Like writing a blog post.
Those are today’s adjustments. Tomorrow I might try not getting mad at the computer and another yoga class even if I’m the only one in class screaming with the pain of trying a routine back bend.
I can just about feel the happiness flooding back in.