My Wobbly Bicycle, 11

Posted by on Feb 13, 2013 | 22 comments

Every week an adventure. Monday I met with the radiation team to get “mapped” for radiation, which starts a week after my next chemo. Either I still haven’t gotten used to living in the Midwest, or hospital staff everywhere are preternaturally sweet. The nurse in charge hugs me. The vile dye mixture I must drink goes down with her tender solicitations. Another dye is intravenous.

Then I’m on the CT bed, my feet held slightly apart with a piece of foam and rubber banded together so they won’t move. I’m lying on a mat that, when deflated, holds my midsection in position. My hands grip two handles above my head. I am for sure locked down. I get two CT scans, one before the intravenous dye and one after. Then I’m tattooed (permanently) with three tiny dots to line up the machines each time for radiation. More than you wanted to know? More than I wanted to know, too, but now that I’m in it, I am curious at each stage.

cat1Wally does not know I’m sick. He lies across the back of the chair, a white and gray decorative throw, or sits his heavy self in my lap to be rubbed. He knows about as much about what’s going on with me as I do. Neither of us can see any evidence of illness. I do what I’m told because of the test tubes, CTs, and slides. Wally does what he’s told, more or less, because we are the keepers of the sacred Iams bag. He is a great comfort to me—he lives his life with seeming perfect aplomb within the confines allotted to him. He must stay inside, but what does “inside” mean, when there is only a picture of outside, out the window? Who knows if it exists or not? It is enough to watch it go by, like thoughts.

cat4Wally plays with his food. He lies flat on the floor and scoops one morsel of food from his bowl at a time. He scoots it a little distance so it’s necessary to capture it. He lies with his considerable ruff leaning in his water bowl. He takes a sip, looks away as if he is content never to drink again, then turns to take another sip. He is in possession of his life. He has perfect comic timing.

Wally came to us, a stray, limping and not wanting to take more than a few steps before he sat down. We checked everything and determined he had arthritis.  After only a few days of a potent glucosamine mixture, he started leaping and chasing his mouse. Did he question any of that improvement?  “What improvement?” he might ask. “One day I was one way, now I’m another. So?”

I  imagine this.

Humans get sick. We get well. We don’t, or can’t, look back much. We have a baby—we say we remember the pain, but we don’t really. We have another, and when we’re in labor again, we say, “Oh yes, this is what it’s like. Now I remember.” Same with grief, or love. We have the words, the thoughts, the muscle responses to the thoughts of the experience but we can’t keep the experience. We only had it when we had it.

I’m having this cancer when I’m having it. Here is a picture of me with recent gifts: light sword, fuzzy hat, fuzzy socks, scarf with personally inscribed poems, red prayer shawl. I am in the middle of this, in full regalia.light sword




  1. Dear Fleda:

    I like the light sword! May it serve you well!

    When I was going through radiation — thirty treatments over six weeks — I picked up a pretty stone from our country road each day and set it on the kitchen window sill to mark off the days, and after almost fifteen years I still have all those stones, in a Mason jar. When my wife, Kathy, went through her breast cancer radiation, she wore a different pair of shoes to the hospital each day and before we left I took a snapshot of her feet. The radiation techs didn’t comment on the shoes until almost the end of the treatments and then one of them finally asked about it. They must have been wondering all the while.

    All the best wishes from Nebraska,

    • What really impresses me, Ted, is that she HAS that many pair of shoes. I could do the rock thing, but if I also added in chemo days, I’d have to shore up the foundation of the house. Thanks for your good wishes, for sure.

  2. The light sword is brilliant.

    • Look closely at the photo, Adrian. Do you recognize the mask of Pan (is it?) to the left? You gave me that.

      • Oh, yes! If it’s not Pan, we’ll just say that it is! Well, best person to be looking over these proceedings you could have, right?

  3. Wow, Fleda, you look like you could take on the world! Your regalia is empowering. Radiation is time-consuming and tiring, but it’s almost like a break from chemo. I still have my tattoos–a reminder that I survived. Mindfulness is your gift. Be like your cat.
    Peace, Light, and Love, Annie

  4. Warrior triumphant – with humor!!

  5. There’s nothing like a sense of humor to get you through the rough spots, and your sense of humor is a glowing beacon, Fleda! Congratulations for that, and for your determination to document evry stage of your journey.

    God bless you,


  6. Nice look – the only other thing you need is a wonder woman cape. Let’s hope that you don’t join Wally on the floor, scooping your food one morsel at a time from your plate. Chin up, girl.

    • I would be neater than Wally with my food. I would actually want to EAT it. Hard to keep your chin up and your face in the bowl at the same time, but I’ll try.

  7. I for one really appreciate the “too much detail”–that kind of observation conduces to a tender recognition of the body as a physical object, meaning able to be looked at objectively, and how dear and fragile it is.
    And I love “…but what does “inside” mean, when there is only a picture of outside…” liberation from Plato’s Cave or what? Also Eckhart Tolle, who said he had known many Zen masters who were cats.

    Thanks also for your humor, as always.

  8. The regalia is perfect! I see you’ve mastered the light saber by now. What a woman! Love the picture.

    • Fleda brought a similar looking light saber to my comp exams and dissertation defense. I have the scars to prove it! Brilliant photo.

      • I needed no light sabre. Your brilliance was enough.

  9. Comment

  10. Thank you for this beautiful post. I hope you get well. I truly hope so.

  11. Happy Valentines Day my dear friend. May your light sabor also light up the heart–that pic sure lights up ours. Thanks for another set of insights about being in the world.

  12. Fleda,
    Hang in there, keep getting better. Don’t be surprised if at some point Wally doesn’t want to sit on your lap. My brother underwent chemo for prostate cancer and his cat avoided him during the treatment and for about six weeks after it stopped. He figures that his cat knew of the radiation building,then knew when it was safe to snuggle again.
    My best thoughts and prayers are with you, as your body–a temple for your spirt–heals and makes you ready for your next adventure in life.

    • I’m glad to have this information, Bill. Now I won’t have my feeling hurt if Wally ignores me for a while. Thanks for your thoughts and prayeres.

  13. Hi Fleda,
    Sitting in your Poetry class at Interlochen the summer of 2011, who could
    have imagined that we’d both be ‘having our cancer’ at the same time?
    I was diagnosed in October. Finished radiation three weeks ago, surgery
    is coming up in March. I get the robot, too! I wouldn’t have known what my
    surgeon was talking about if I hadn’t read your blog and seen the robot pix.

    The words of John O’Donohue have been a comfort to me . In his book,
    “To Bless The Space Between Us,” is a poem called “For A Friend on the Arrival of Illness.” I find myself reading and re-reading it often. Here are some excerpts.
    “Now is the time of dark invitation
    Beyond a frontier you did not expect;
    Abruptly, your old life seems distant.

    …Now this dark companion has come..
    distances have opened in your eyes.
    You feel that against your will
    A stranger has married your heart.

    May you find in yourself
    A courageous hospitality
    Toward what is difficult,
    Painful and unknown.

    May you learn to use this illness
    As a lantern to illuminate
    The new qualities that will emerge in you.

    May the fragile harvesting of this slow light
    Help to release whatever has become false in you.
    May you trust this light to clear a path
    Through all the fog of old unease and anxiety
    Until you feel arising within you a tranquillity
    Profound enough to call the storm to stillness.

    May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness:
    Ask it where it wants to take you.
    What it wants you to know.
    What quality of space it wants to create in you.
    What you need to learn to become more fully
    That your presence may shine in the world…”
    …To see the beauty you can harvest
    From the riches of this dark invitation.”

    Peace out,

    • Thank you, Margaret, for writing and for the poem. “Fragile harvesting of this slow light.”Very nice.

  14. May the force be with you.

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