Friday, September 9, 2011

A Deep Clean

For nearly five years, cancer has been a persistent backseat driver dictating the twists and turns of my ride even as I have tried to maintain control of the wheel; gripping it tightly, shoulders clenched. These days, I feel like I am finally driving alone, windows down, music playing, with my destination in my hands alone. It feels good - euphoric sometimes - and no doubt is an interesting adjustment.

As I conclude my recovery time here in Chicago, and plan to return to Washington on September 15(!), I have found my time divided between two main efforts. The first has been an on-going alchemy challenge with my doctor to maintain the right combination of medications - especially the three that do the job of striking the ideal balance between the donor graft and my own immune system. I have had some tougher days: some flare-ups of graft versus host disease that leave me tired and nauseous, followed by dosage changes that can be hard on my body. I've also begun to face the follow-up and fall-out from all these different toxins I have been necessarily exposed to. Seeing specialists to deal with permanent damage, and doing tests to compare baselines, is going to continue to occupy attention and time in my life, but it feels good to finally address some things that have had to wait to deal with until after treatment was finished. Mostly I have had good days, and feel like I have had the luxury of some time to organize and think ahead in a way that I haven't in many many months.

One of the manifestations of this new energy has been the second effort occupying my time and attention: a massive house-cleaning project that I've dragged my whole family into. While I was never destined to star on
Hoarders, those who've been in my room in Chicago or my apartment in DC might characterize it as clean but cluttered. Piles, full shelves and sometimes brimming closets are my standard. If only you could see me now.

I've sorted through every drawer, every bin, and each piece of clothing; every book, button, and piece of paper in my childhood bedroom. I have cleared out each college box stashed in the basement and sifted through childhood projects, old paperwork, toys, games and books. Everything has been sent off for donation, recycled or thrown out, and in rare cases, saved. The effect is very satisfying.

This instinct to purge makes some cancer-related sense. The desire to start fresh, to step up to all those things I'd been putting off when treatment had left me so exhausted and overwhelmed, and the urge to control my environment after years where control felt so lost, all seem like a natural reaction.
But another byproduct of this mass cleaning effort has been a prolonged and sweet episode of "elissa froman, this is your life."

I've found items ranging from the hilarious (my 3rd grade school paper article polling the class on the ’93 Bush-Clinton election, a lot of pictures from my bowl-haircut days) to the telling (a VHS tape recorded off the TV that contained both Judgment at Nuremberg and Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird!) to the reflective (my first lesson plan as a religious school teacher, 14 years of hand-written cards from one close friend) to the once-thought-lost (favorite earrings from eighth grade, my first oil painting) and about everything else in between.

There's something surprising and poignant about how this cleansing expedition has turned out. As I feel a renewed opportunity to let myself look forward to my future, significantly less encumbered (though not completely free) by the "what-ifs" that have been present for so long now, I feel that this little protected period of time between the good news and rushing back to life in Washington, is an oasis. And having the opportunity to look back so deeply and thoroughly: reading birthday cards and book inscriptions; seeing toys, art projects and stories that bring back great memories; holding little landmarks of my past in my hands; has prepared me well for continuing to contemplate my future.


Anonymous said...

A beautiful, inspirational piece, Elissa. Wishing you continued grace and courage as your journey continues.

All the best, diane grigg

Sammie said...

what a joy to see you back at your lively desk!