I completed my third 3 hour chemo session today. At first, I was told that my latest blood test showed my white blood cell count too low to proceed with today’s chemo. My nurse consulted with my hemo-oncologist, then recalculated the results as borderline, meaning they could proceed with the chemo. My doctor warned me against being around crowds and people who are sick, as my body has temporarily lost the ability to fight off infection. This is due to the chemotherapy, rather than the progress of my cancer. She recommended good, nutritious meals to keep the white cell count at a healthier level.
Taking care to surround myself only with healthy people is a new one for me. Until I was diagnosed with lung cancer, I was used to obscenely robust health, speeding through many a flu season with nary a cold. The idea of wearing medical masks to business meetings sounds strange. I’m afraid that I’d want to draw animal faces on them (they’re kind of plain); and there goes professional decorum right down the drain.
Being alone isn’t difficult for me. Some of the work I do requires the kind of concentration being alone affords. Researching technology, writing class plans, reading and just plain thinking go better tout seul. However, I’ve found that I feel the most alive while surrounded by lively, communicative friends. I was accompanied to today’s radiation and chemo treatments by Laurie, just such a friend. Four hours flew by, filled with sharing of life histories, goals and what we thrive on. That kind of sharing would be hard if one chose to live in a bubble, safe from microbes, but isolated from the warmth of human touch.
While I was pretty much born friendly, so open natured I was almost skinless, I found being so made me susceptible to being frequently hurt. Skinless people can die from exposure, even when surrounded by the most well-meaning friends. By my late thirties, I had constructed a protective emotional bubble around myself. I allowed a very few, chosen lovers and friends into my manufactured bubble, but most were kept out. They may have seen me smiling and waving to them from inside the transparent walls, but they couldn’t touch me. By middle-age, I used copious amounts of alcohol to help maintain my bubble’s contact-blocking power. Luckily, for both my liver and me, I grew tired of this seemingly safe, but numb, mode of operation. I vacated that bubble shortly after my 55th birthday, choosing to live in the sometimes painful, but all-the-way live world.
Now that I’m out here, I hate the idea of even a temporary isolation. For two years I’ve been basking in my friends, finally realizing that perfection isn’t required in order to be loved. Rather than devoting energy to thickening my armor, I’m learning to listen. In listening more closely, I’m learning to relish my friends. Life lived outside the bubble is quite interesting: sometimes pure torture, often marvelously joyful; always interesting. On November 26, after I was diagnosed with lung cancer, life got downright fascinating.
So, this is where the marvel of modern social networking comes in. I’ll be largely relying on FB posts, email and this blog to communicate. For those who are FB-shy, there’s Alexander Graham Bell’s wonderful invention, the telephone. I’ll probably be donning masks, decorated or not, to go to work. I have three more weeks of radiation and chemo to get through. Until they’re completed, I might not be able to reach out and physically touch all of the people I’m fond of, but it won’t be because I’ve gone back to that lonely life in a bubble.