I'm experiencing what is, for me, an odd consequence of cancer: a deep sense of vulnerability.
I doubt that it's an odd consequence of cancer itself ~ but for me, it's highly unusual to feel this exposed to danger. I think that my mother's death and the resultant series of stepmothers taught me one overarching lesson, beginning with a seven-year-old version: You'd better learn to take care of yourself.
I've come to recognize this new reality, this new sense of fearfulness, over the past couple of weeks, as I've become increasingly reluctant to travel to my new congregation for overnights in the manse next door to the church. Neither the the distance nor the time away from home seemed daunting back in early September as I prepared to accept the call. The situation wasn't ideal, but at an hour-and-one-half's drive, it was an hour closer than seminary had been for three years. After my surgery, however, that trip might as well have been to the west coast 2,500 miles away. Even now that I can do it on my own, the drive is too tiring for a round trip in one day, and the overnights are lonely.
I looked the word up, of course. www.dictionary.com tells me that vulnerable means "capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt . . . open to assault; difficult to defend."
Well, my body has been wounded and hurt, my experience of medical care is always one of assault, and it is difficult to defend oneself against a series of procedures when one's body's response each week is completely unpredictable.
Still, this is a new feeling for me. I am generally an adaptable person; in fact, one of my faults is that I am too much so ~ too willing to accommodate, to make room, to abandon my own positions ~ sometimes at the potential expense of my own integrity. But on the whole, I am adaptable in positive ways: able to move forward in the most impossible of situations; able to tunnel under, around, or through setbacks; resistant to surrender.
But this, this experience of cancer has been different. I was unable to make decisions about my treatment with confidence. I have been in some degree of physical discomfort or, more frequently, genuine pain for three months running (one week off back in early November). I often feel that I am not at all up to the task at hand where my family and work are concerned. My energy is repeatedly sapped; I work up to a mile's walk over the course of a few days and then, without warning, I can't leave the house for the next one.
This is nothing at all like the devastation I felt after Josh died. Then, and for months afterward, I felt as if I weren't even alive, unless you consider the sense of wandering in an endless and empty universe and having been utterly abandoned by God as a form of life.
These days, I am plenty alive. But I am, as it turns out, unable to protect myself from even small, hidden harms.
This feeling of vulnerability is not one that I recommend. I'm not at all confident about how to navigate this one.
I hoping that I will be surprised ~ in good ways ~ by the journey.
Image: Wernersville Jesuit Center (July 2011)