My Wobbly Bicycle, 50

Posted by on Nov 19, 2013 | 18 comments

doctorsI could change the name of my blog to Doctors, Ad Seriatim. I’m posting this early because today we’re heading downstate, to Ann Arbor, having a pre-op consultation for Jerry’s very-big-deal back surgery on Dec. 3. He’ll be in the hospital for about a week, rehab after that. About six months’ recovery time. Another winter of hunkering down and getting better.

How will this be for us, after last winter? A friend wrote to say how glad she was to see that I feel like relegating cancer to a much lesser position in my posts. The last two, it’s hardly been there. True. I think about it less. Partly, that’s because it’s an integral part of my system, now. You don’t describe how it is brushing your teeth because you do it every day, and unless you find you have a loose tooth, it’s not worth mentioning.

Coming back from chemo and radiation is not unlike returning to the world after, say, a year in a monastery. The world seems fast and energetic. I didn’t realize how small it had grown last winter. I seemed to still DO things—wrote this blog, wrote commentaries for IPR radio, wrote some poems, had a book launch party, spent time with people as often as I could. Nonetheless, my mind was turned in on itself, the way the sick do, gathering its forces to keep on keeping on. 

These days I tire easily. I get overwhelmed even by being in a big store, shelves and shelves of stuff, mental noise.  It’s an interesting quality of tired. Not the old “I’m bushed” kind, the body feeling a bit deliciously tired, worn out from activity. It feels kind of chemical, I’ll call it that for lack of a better description. It feels like a deep inability in the bones to muster the basic elements of aliveness. Maybe it’ll always be this way. My body had a mega-whammy of abuse. Probably I’ll get some better, maybe a lot. Sometimes I’m discouraged, sometimes not.

And I still have pain and weakness in my left hip from some overuse that must have occurred last summer, still trying to improve this with physical therapy.

U of M Medical CenterSo now we plunge back into the fray, negotiating the giant U. of Michigan Medical Center and all that implies. Jerry worries how this will be for me. What about him? Last year was difficult for him, too, as you can imagine, and now he’s in for it again, though different.  But it’ll all be okay. It’ll be okay even when it’s not. It’s being alive.

 And who can do more than one thing at a time? First this thing, then the next. That’s how it goes. Trouble only feels Huge if I start adding into the mix a bunch of projections and concepts about it. And when I do that, it’s only a problem if I begin blaming myself for doing it!

One-thing-after-the-other is a gift Trouble gives, it looks like. Not as in balancing the scales, not as in “Something good always comes out of it.” There’s not a sunny “side” to illness and pain, period. But I see there’s a recalibration, a slowing down, a reconsideration made possible by the slowing down:  What am I, anyway? And—the old question—What am I doing with my one precious life? which maybe ought to be amended to Am I even noticing my one precious life?


I picked out a poem from No Need of Sympathy that seems to be about noticing, both the tangible and the intangible:    


Remember the year we had bluebirds there?

How they came back the next year, poked their noses

in and changed their minds? After that it was all swallows,

after we knew to clean out the twigs to get the house

ready for renters. Swallows or wrens. Oh, they might

have been wrens, sometimes. They might have been

wrens all along, but I like the word swallow. I think

they were swallows. That tiny slender trilling down

the scale. Wrens sound like their bodies, compact

and insistent. It was good to have either,

and their chicks. Especially their chicks, evident

only by the to-and-fro of the mothers, their fierce

judgments. It was good to have that life greet us

at the corner of the house. Bluebirds, we felt blessed.

They let us know who was in charge: blast, blast, chitter.

Also the color, the royal robes.  But the swallows,

the way they swooped in and out! Who doesn’t love

the word swooped? When they were crossing

to the trees beyond our drive, remember how we’d sit

in our kitchen chairs by the glass doors? It was so

peaceful to watch  that industry, that tiny hope

carrying on, not caring a whit about us.


  1. Fleda–here it’s the hummingbirds, and they DO care a whit about us, even dive-bombing with their distinctive whirr when we come out with their sugar-water. I sometimes comment that they would miss me most. Tired? I’ve decided that I need to build a nap into my regime, but that would mean that I’d need a regime! Monastery? Now that sounds like a good idea, for someone I know.

    • A monastery has a lot to recommend it, doesn’t it? If they’d leave me alone so I can get my writing done! I don’t see how you get by without a nap. I am absolutely unable to keep going without it.

  2. “Funny” how life echoes all over, albeit in a different order. I broke my back and had surgery and then my wife had cancer. We both worried about how it would be on our little girl. I love your attitude, it took me much longer to get to an accepting place.

    • It’s interesting, isn’t it, when we have to deal with more than one major “issue”? We really, really learn to take what’s in front of us and work with it. I don’t know if we ever learn it perfectly. We just do the best we can.

  3. Oh Dearest Fleda! I love the comment: “It’ll all be okay even when it’s not. It’s being alive.” Your next paragraph reminds me of what my mother always said about just getting up each day and putting one foot in front of the other to keep going. We called it “trudging” in the Westie family. We grew up with a handicapped father always present, but it didn’t take precedence, even for him, the teacher, scholar, poet and the wittiest man alive. Let us all “look to this day.” Our best to you and Jerry on this new journey. Judy

    • One foot in front of the other seems to be the truth even when we don’t realize it. It’s when there’s trouble that we recognize it. How wonderful to have your father as a model.

  4. You WILL get better, Fleda dear. It takes (I hate to say this) a few years, but you can look forward to having more energy, as well as hair,and feeling more like your old self. Of course, the old self is not the new self, but aren’t we always “becoming”? The chemo brain, that constant fog, goes away too. I’m amazed you were able to write at all. I love “Birdhouse,” that swooping. I’m knocked out by all the poems in your splendid new book.

    All good and healing wishes to Jerry as he goes through his ordeal and to you as you become the caretaker. Life requires so much of us, but as you say, it is being alive, and being alive is wonderful.

    Love, Annie

    • Oh my Fleda, what a poem. Stay strong. liz

    • Thank you, Annie. Yes, the old self and the new self are perhaps not the same self. And as you say, when are we ever the same?

  5. Well, this one, poem and all, is a beauty. Even more important, it is a monument to sanity. As you know, I’m the prayin’ kind. You’re in those prayers daily, and now Jerry is too.

    Love you,


    • Thank you dear one. A monument to sanity. I like that. I am always grateful for whatever we call prayers, of course. Yours, I’m sure, have a great deal of ooomph.

  6. Fleda, Blog 50! You are amazing. All good wishes to Jerry, I will be thinking of you both. I love your poem and of course swoop! I have always loved your poems that watch birds. You stay outta those big stores.

    • I will do all I can to stay outta the big stores. I like the little ones. Love to you.

  7. Fleda: Best of wishes to Jerry and thanks, as always, for your good thoughts and words on this process of growing older.


    • Oh, is that what it is? Growing older? Interesting that the details of growing older seem like accidents. I would still be young except for x, and y. etc.

  8. How eloquently you describe the fatigue of a chronic illness. How powerful your poem. Thank you.

  9. I appreciate your posts. I had stage III breast cancer diagnosed April 2012. I selected neoadjuvant chemotherapy, followed by surgery and radiation. I’m getting my life back but at times it seems surreal. Sometimes I can’t tell if it is mental or physical fatigue or both. Cancer cells are like zombies; mindless, destructive to healthy bodies, and lurking in the dark. I feel like I’m being resurrected. My cancer is in remission; although, once the land mine has gone off, you know, ad seriatim.

    • Thanks for writing, Susie. Yes, surreal seems like a good word. I also feel that I’m being resurrected. Especially as the hair begins to grow back. Love, Fleda

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