A New Day! But Can I Feel Better?

8 Nov



Last weekend a friend shared with me her story of cancer survival.  People have been doing that a lot, lately, and I really appreciate it.  What stands out about this particular story was not the traditional recitation of numbers—“cancer free for 19 years;” “I had X cancer in 1999,” etc.—but rather her sense of healing.  She told me that her doctor had explained that her tumor(s) had likely been growing for decades, and she simply couldn’t tell. “But when I completed my therapy,” she said, “I felt cured.  I felt better.”  Cured…better, how wonderful.  Faced with, what I was told to be, a large cancerous tumor in my chest, I wondered if I could ever be cured, feel better than I do.  I think that my new and uncertain diagnosis places a lot of the onus on me to work that one out.

As some of you may know, this whole experience began with a kidney stone, which may have come about because of poor hydration, which probably came to pass because I had just joined a gym and had gotten dehydrated after one of my workouts.   When I met with the salesperson at the gym he asked me what I had hoped to achieve by joining.  I told him that I wanted to avoid dying of a heart attack at a young age.  While my glib response was grounded in a certain surface truth, in all honesty my sarcasm masked a deeper, more troubling truth about me, my sense of aging, and my rocky relationship with my body and body image.  Over the past five years, or so, I have begun to feel a little achy, a little run down, far too sedentary, and just…old, or at least older than a 49 year old should feel.  I attributed much of this to my weight, my lifestyle, the passage of time.  All of that is surely true, and I know there are things I can do to improve my state.  Despite, or perhaps because of, my uncertain diagnosis, I continue to go to the gym.  It makes me feel younger, calmer, better.  Since taking up some of the food tips from Katz’s book, The Cancer Fighting Kitchen, my eating has gotten better and my energy is quite good.  Still there are the dull aches, the occasional twinges, the unexpected pain that lasts for less than a second—all things I have attributed to the pull of gravity and the ravages of time.  I wonder, though, have I, perhaps, been feeling the effects of a large, benign tumor, an enlarged spleen, or some oversized lymph nodes and was just too dense to know it? I really don’t know. 

The reality is that I have spent many, MANY years of my life feeling bad in and about my body.  These feelings have, for the most part, centered on my weight and body shape.  I have been scolded about my weight. I have been told that it will kill me.  I have gone on diets, gone to the gym, given up and overindulged, and then—eventually—gotten on the weight loss bandwagon again.   I have been frustrated, angry, and ashamed.  And lately, I have just felt bad—bad because I perceive myself as less vital, less fully engaged with life, and yes, less attractive, but frankly I just feel…diminished.  I have attributed this to my ongoing battle with weight and the passage of time, but now I wonder if some portion of my malaise has been an unbeknownst, ongoing battle with other unseen developments inside my body.  I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that to turn this recent experience into something transformative, to recognize that every day is an opportunity to change and actually feel better than I do now (both mentally and physically) would be an extraordinary thing, a wonder, really, an unimagined miracle!

 And in some sense, I believe in miracles.  In keeping with Jewish tradition, every morning I thank God for the miracle of putting my soul back in my body.  In my own spin on the prayer, I acknowledge the miracles of life and creation, of family and friends, of earth, water, and sky.  But the miracle of health has not been part of my worship agenda…until now, of course.  I think that, going forward, I will pray not only to not have cancer, but to feel better than I do, to not merely settle for not being sick, but instead to actively seek health and good feeling.  As my people often say, keyn ya hi ratzon (may it be so).



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