It feels like the minute I turned 50, my life became a story of giving things up. Some because we moved from Alaska to Chicago. Some because of aging. Some because of cancer.
Skiing. Anchorage has more than 100 miles of groomed ski trails in the city. All free. Most lighted. I miss those cold nights in Russian Jack, learning to ski, slowly rounding track. I miss gliding into the woods and around the turns, seeing the stars and feeling the cold on my cheeks but feeling the sweat under my jacket.
Sewing. When I was in Anchorage I took a class to learn to sew. I wanted to sew clothes for my daughter. The women at my class tried to talk me into quilting. No, I wouldn’t be able to do that, I said. Sewing was hard. I’m not a visual person or a spatial person. But the fabric, the plans, the notions.
The woman who taught our class was amazing. She had about five machines and helped us through every step of our projects. After a year, with her help, I started quilting and giving the quilts to my students and friends. But, alas, I can’t do it alone. I miss Loretta and sewing nights and the lovely women who sewed alongside me so much.
Remembering things. I remember the good old days, back in pre-menopause days when I could walk into a room and know why I was there. I could teach class without notes. I knew my phone number. My students’ names. I’m learning how to keep track of my life differently now. I write things down and sometimes remember where I wrote them. I also have my students put name cards on their desks, and I just about have their names down now.
Reading novels. It’s not that I don’t read novels anymore. I do. But ever since cancer, it’s been very hard to lose myself in a narrative. I don’t know quite what it is, but I’ve started so many books and abandoned them.
I’ve been working on finishing Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series, Book VII for months now. I can only read a few pages at a time. It’s slow going. It’s hard to lose something that provided so much joy, but I’m determined to lose myself in these other worlds.
Playing the piano. I had gone back to taking lessons in Anchorage, but didn’t find a teacher when we moved to Chicago. When cancer hit, I just couldn’t think about trying to solve that problem. When I play the piano, when I’m in the music, I’m in a better place. I work hard on my scales and fall into the sounds of new pieces. There’s a peace in music that I miss.
Running. Only a few months after being diagnosed I went to the doc because of knee pain. Every pain is terrifying once the “C” word is spoken. The orthopedic specialist said, quite simply, “It’s arthritis. You’ll never run again.” It was the only time that I broke down sobbing in a doctor’s office.
And, it’s not because I’d been a good runner or a long time runner. Quite the opposite. I had just taken a couch-to-5K class in Anchorage a year before we left and am among the slowest runners ever to complete a triathlon. But I did complete a triathlon.
I don’t know what it is about running that is so important to me, but there’s something there. When I run, there’s a point not too many minutes in where I think there’s no way I can go on. The beauty is pushing past that point, further and further. When I realized that I could run for 30 minutes without stopping, my view of myself changed. It might have been the most empowering moment of my life.
Being in remission allows me the chance to bounce back and to choose what I want back in my life. I’m working steadily on re-learning to fall into my books. I’m trying to play a few scales when I can. And, I’m pretty damned determined to find a way to run again.
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