Relax Into It

I’ve been having trouble with the cold, my Floridian blood is too thin to bear this unrelenting freeze. A friend of mine who is all too aware of my plight, a fragrant and fetching Mississippi magnolia who was transplanted many years ago to an icy Nordic climate, offered me a piece of advice.

Relax into the cold, Christine.

My strategy up until this point has been to tighten and clench, brace myself for the shock. Clutch the collar of my coat with a furious fist and try to fight the invasion of air. Close my eyes and clamp my jaw shut. Squeeze every muscle in my body to ward off the attack. It never works and yet I repeat it still.

Over this past summer I received the news of my second recurrence. Both tumors are growing again, even the long dead little one I affectionately refer to as the golf ball. I am one of the lucky ones with this odd, rare disease. The location of my tumors, on my left hip and thigh, makes it relatively easy to observe their growth without need for constant imaging.

So I was sent home to wait and watch. Watch to see how quickly they grow. Wait for the day I have to begin chemo again. My return appointment was set for the coming summer. The more I watch, the more I know I won’t be waiting as long as we’d planned for. Every day I see the contours of my leg slowly change. Every day the pain increases.

Like the cold, my disease is unrelenting. This being my second recurrence, I imagined I’d be better at relaxing into it, but I find myself repeating patterns that never worked before. I clench my jaw to fight the invasion of fear. I set arbitrary deadlines thinking my tumors will abide. I’ll go back when I’ve made 6 months of homeschool plans. After we’ve settled into the new house. When more people are vaccinated. And like the cold, reality seeps in no matter how tight I clutch my coat to my chest.

I don’t tell my tumors when. They tell me. So I may as well relax into it.

We recently bought a house and, like me, her body is a bit broken. We’ve had a lot of work done so far, but our to-do list is at least a few years long. We’re waiting on a backordered dryer and a few more minor projects to be completed before we move in, so most days she sits empty and alone.

This home will be the one we grow out of rather than into. This will likely be the last home our youngest lives in with us. This will be the one we leave when we’re ready to downsize, when our knees are too old to handle all those stairs. But in the meantime, this home will be the one that nurtures me during another course of chemo. A mother for a long motherless child.

I decided to take a break from this year of constant togetherness by escaping to our new empty home for a night. I brought books, music, and little else. With no wifi to distract my busy mind, I introduced myself to my home and allowed myself to relax into it. All of it.

My home now knows I still have my 90’s CD collection and some of it is embarrassing, but I’ll play it too loud anyway. My home knows I sometimes eat Starburst for dinner and no matter how wild my night gets I’m rarely awake past 9:30. And my home now knows that I’m sad and I’m scared. She told me it’s okay. So finally I let go and cried. I wept in her arms and felt safe. I faced all those fears I’ve tried to shut out. I felt the frigid air and let it into my bones.

I saw the hair I will lose with chemo, the words that will be so excruciatingly out of reach. I remembered the pain and the hopeless days. I saw everything including the other side, the day when it’s over and the hair grows back, the day the words return. I saw it all and I survived. Then, I relaxed into it.

This season will change, as they always do. Winter will give way to spring. Chemo will not last forever. Even my dear mother home will eventually love another family after we have packed our boxes again and gone away.

I don’t know if I will ever stop repeating the pattern of bracing for the shock instead of embracing it. I do know the cold will get in regardless of my degree of acceptance. I also know I’ll be able to weather it, no matter the season. This body, this structure, this motherless child got through it before. And this time, at least for now, I’ve faced the cold and finally relaxed into it.