The Oncology Lesson….

Rohini Reflections, Stories and Occasions, Uncategorized 1 Comment

I have always approached my yearly meeting with my oncologist with great trepidation. It means returning to the scene where I played the part of the patient. Dr. Fetting has always engaged willingly and graciously with my dialogue of facing my fear, of wanting to conquer both fear and my desire to remain in this body. Looking back, as the chemo proceeded and my body disintegrated, I would openly say I wanted to remain in the world. And yet I did look for a back door out in case it all got too much for me.

Even after the powerful experience I had in Ganeshpuri while stricken with malaria, when I left my body and was no longer “Rohini” and everything was perfect just the way it was and is, there was fear, pain and of course terrible nausea.

It was not until today, at an annual check-up twelve years out from my diagnosis, that I finally got something I had been unable and unwilling to face. My body had had cancer; I had not, nor could I ever have cancer in truth. It was never personal. I had taken it so personally, which then did not allow me to fully get the lesson I was to learn from all of this and move beyond it.

When I walked into the waiting room today, as with any time I have gone to the Oncology Center, my blood pressure went through the roof, and I felt a tremendous sadness and fear permeate the area. No one is acting inappropriately or even giving away that this vibration is just under the surface. But the vibration is still there. No tool, technique, or approach has been able to lower my blood pressure. It has been just so personal. My body remembers the place and goes into flight mode. The seat where my blood pressure is taken looks directly at the doorway to the room where the chemo is given. Sitting in that seat, I would try not to care about what happens there, and intellectually I did not—but deep within there was always something, whether I felt it or not, that would send my blood pressure soaring.

Actually, maybe today was a little worse, fraught with the fear of something. Each year I have been fine and my MRI was in November, so there should not have been any surprises. And yet why not? Why not a surprise that would signal the return of the cancer? Why not? Intellectually I knew better, but in the spot where the unknown is unknown, why not? Of course the cancer could come back.

So when I was called to have my vitals taken, I was surprised to be escorted down a hall and into a side room that does not look at the chemo room. A change. But no change with my blood pressure. No change internally facing death, and more importantly facing the fear of death.

Back at my seat in the waiting room, I saw a man whose body was having a difficult time, and yet inside him there was strength. People were speaking about their different kinds of cancer and treatment. Sitting there, after twelve years, I felt the same feeling inside and out. My name was called and I went into the exam room I have been in so many times. I waited for Dr. Fetting. I closed my eyes and worked to let go. And then finally, for the first time ever, it was not personal. Never, after the intense experience I had been through, would I have allowed “it is not personal” to come forward. But it is not about me, and it never was. It is not personal. A relief.

It is always good to see Dr. Fetting, an intelligent and kind man without the slightest insincerity, always direct yet gentle, softspoken in a really difficult job. Sitting down in the examination room, he asked the usual questions as to my health which, has been fine. The exam, fine. I brought up the sadness and fear that fill the Oncology Center: how does he handle them? Empathy, he said. Yes, he has empathy.

Then I brought up the one piece that I had failed to see and therefore failed to detach from: that it is not personal. It was hard to get clean of this one, hard to see that it was not about me when I believed I suffered so. But how attached am I to my vehicles, how much more do I have to clean out? Dr. Fetting and I agreed that in order not to take it personally, one has to get to the essential self. My body had cancer; I did not have cancer.

This is what I was meant to learn. Now I could and would take the time and learn it. Then Dr. Fetting said we could suspend the regular visits and come only as needed. Really, is it true? Are you sure? Twelve years. My doctor visits are safety nets. No net now. Really? I graduated? Tears well up, and I feel deep gratitude for Dr. Fetting’s commitment to his work. He was a big part of saving my life, as were the other people there—especially Kelly and Linda, the oncology nurses. The team of doctors who saved my life: Michael Schultz, who caught the disease early and cut it out of me; John Fetting, who shepherded me through the dark night of chemo; Mark Brenner, who figured out how to attack nothing but the diseased area with radiation. Along with all the other nurses, technicians, and administrators. Thank you all. And I now know it was not personal. We were together in an intense drama that came to a happy ending. Many such stories do and many do not. It is not personal. And yet here I am tonight, sitting in this body and not some other one. The family I love dearly, people who worked so hard to keep me here. It is not personal; it is Love that is universal.

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