Reconnecting with Life after Self-Exile in the Streets
Perhaps there is something to those 72 Houris promised in the Koran. Not the whole virgins in paradise, milk and honey thing but more of a touching of souls thing. I have been pondering on things like this more and more lately. Over the past year or so there have been so many changes in my life. I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers.
I will never forget the day I was “ Recalled to Life." This was delivered to me by a sawed off, over caffeinated, punk rocker who I have come to love. She was the first person in many years to see something in me. To this day, I wonder what it was and why we seemed to “click” with so little effort. She brought me back from a self imposed exile. I had all but quit on life.
Since that day I have been trying to re-learn life in a more open and involved world. This has not always been easy. I had spent my years on the Street building up this armor of indifference. Not caring had been the method I used to avoid the pain of life. Caring, whether about people or ideals, leaves you vulnerable. It is so much easier just to wall yourself off from the world. Vulnerability, out on the Street, is like a drop of blood in the water, it will bring the sharks down on you.
“Without treatment, a year, perhaps a bit more”
Opening yourself up again goes against all of the old survival instincts. I would like to think that it had to be Kismet that brought us together, the first of my Houris.
At the time of my greatest challenges, a beautiful, compassionate soul entered into my life. She has been with me through Heart Attack and Lung Cancer, Chemo, Radiation and Recovery, always as my friend. Yet, her greatest gift to me has been the shepherding of me, gently back into a society that I had abandoned.
Over the past year, circumstances beyond my control have forced me into a world full of Doctors, Nurses, Social Workers and Therapists. My life had been changed by a few simple words ... “Without treatment, a year, perhaps a bit more”.
Those words, oddly enough, provided a new sense of clarity in my life. I was in a bit of shock, obviously, as we left the doctor's office that afternoon. The decision for treatment was a no brainer. I now had a very real goal, literally, in my life, surviving Stage III B Adenocarcinoma. Having so recently re-joined the Human Race, I made up my mind that I wasn’t quite ready to give up on it.
The world of Doctors and treatments is complicated, sometimes mind-bendingly so. You need a lot of friends. I was bred with some manners and over the years I developed a bit of charm. I used them both shamelessly, it was the only thing I had to work with. Little things like remembering names and being polite became important. I built up my connections at St. Mary’s and around town.
Accompanied with Honesty and Respect
All through this journey, my Houris have accompanied me. Sometimes for the long haul and sometimes just long enough to get me over the next hill.
Some inspired, some counseled, others brought nothing but smiles and laughter. Each gave a little of themselves. I cannot find the words to describe what I have felt. Magic is as close as I can get.
These souls have managed to touch my heart. My Houris -- their efforts have made it so much easier to maintain a positive attitude. Shared compassion, moral support, unasked for and freely given. I have never read Hillary Clinton’s book It takes a Village, yet I have embraced the concept in the title.
No matter what the crisis, having friends, people who care, will make a major difference in your recovery. Houris you meet along the way provide access to new sources and help to build your support family. All that is required is honesty and respect for each other. Meeting my Houris, becoming friends, has been the best part of my illness.
I could do pages on the joys of Radiation Therapy, the fun of Chemo. I’ll skip over most of it.
Each morning as I was positioned to go under the Cyber Knife, I followed the advice of one of my Houris. “Think of it as a Time Machine” and so I did.
For all 32 sessions after the Nurses had left and closed the six inch thick, lead-lined door I would envision some sunrise or vista from my past.
My body lay still as the Cyber Knife whirred, buzzed and hummed around me. I watched sunrises in my mind. After five minutes or so I would hear the words “Relax we’re done,” and I would slowly return.
Chemo was harder, there are a lot of needles involved and I really hate needles.
The Houris of the Infusion Center were gentle and missed only rarely.
An Excruciating Recovery
Sitting quietly while a witches brew of toxins is pumped into your body is hard. Meditation and the knowledge that there would be a little steroid bump the next day made it easier.
I was lucky I missed most of the side effects people had so gleefully told me about. I lost some hair. After seven long weeks my treatment was done and the real fun part of chemotherapy began.
To celebrate my freedom from treatment, I took in a baseball game with friends. This would be one of my last good days. Throat swollen shut by radiation, I couldn’t enjoy a hot dog, drinking a beer was hard.
Over the next couple of weeks, everything I was told about chemo came true. I was sick as a dog, so sick that as I lay in a fetal ball on my bed, I wished for death.
Watched Over and Starting a New Phase
Through all of this, my Houris watched over me, some in person, others by phone, one from across the country. I had reached out in fear and need and she had responded. During this last phase, I was miserable. I couldn’t eat. I lost 25 pounds I couldn’t spare. Weak as a kitten, my body trying to purge the accumulated poison from itself. The worst weeks of my life, I doubt I could have made it through this by myself.
At first my recovery was slow, it took months to gain six pounds and go over 130 pounds again ... 20 more to go. Regaining my strength is an ongoing challenge requiring constant work.
Through all of this I’ve had half a dozen of my Houris trying to fatten me up both physically and mentally. Keeping my spirits up. This oddball crew of friends: Therapists, Social Workers, Nurses and Bartenders is the core of my support group. A family of like-minded souls who with their compassion, have made me a better person. I feel honored to call these people my Friends.
Next month, I start a new phase in my recovery. This one should be easier, I have the benefit of past experience and a more positive attitude towards life. I have built a community of kindred spirits, my Houris, in whom I have complete trust.
With these people and others I meet as I go through surgery and treatment at UC Davis, I will get through this. I hope that I’m not limited to just 72 Houris. Each of these kind souls, in their own way has made me a better person... given me a sense of belonging, of being a part of something bigger and the desire to make it better. Having a purpose makes life worth living.