The Yellow Rose of Texas is not doing so well. When I first met her, she would marvel at the ease of her treatments “this time around.” No side effects, just a little tired. Unbelievable how good she was feeling. Those supplements must really be working — and did I know how good grapeseed oil is for your hair?
The Yellow Rose looked ten years younger than I do, even though she is five years older. She smiled often, showing one pointed snaggle tooth. Her skin was clear and soft. Then somewhere along the way she got a bad scan result. Progression of disease concerning enough that she paused her chemo to have radiation treatments.
Now, the Yellow Rose is fading. Her grapeseed-oil soft hair is straw-dry, gathered back into a ponytail thinner than her pinky finger. She is in constant pain on one side of her body. Nothing helps. She can’t even get some respite through sleep. (Although today she pulls down into the deepest wells of her endless optimism to tell me she slept last night — four hours.)
I learned today the pain is cancer. Cancer and more cancer, findng the weak spots in her body to live. An insttructor once told me cancer is just aberrant life, not a cause for war. The instructor was trying to express that our violent metaphors for cancer treatment often do not allow us to treat the body and the person with the necessary tenderness and attention.
But the Yellow Rose is sitting up on my table (because lying down is too painful) gasping in pain, squinting in pain, telling me my hand on her shoulder feels good. I can’t breathe because I feel useless, punched in gut by her suffering. I want to punch back, violently.
It won’t do for both of us to be overwhelmed. Like my instructor knew, any small measure of peace can’t happen that way. I tighten my core and take the punches, absorb the violence and try to give back to her only tenderness and care. Later, in my car on the way home, I will sort out the damage.