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A Season of Healing

by Rachel VinciguerraPatient, Hodgkin's LymphomaAugust 16, 2022View more posts from Rachel Vinciguerra

They said it would get harder as I go, and it’s getting harder.

The side effects from my sixth chemo treatment were the worst I’ve had so far. The fatigue over the weekend was intense and left me feeling too weak to move. Talking and breathing were a big effort.

Instead of going away and leaving me with some light nausea into the week, the fatigue lightened but hasn’t lifted. It’s really hard to effectively explain the feeling of being so weak. I shared with a coworker about mid-week that I couldn’t have made it for a walk down my block and back. I feel winded after Zoom meetings. Even if I wasn’t experiencing the side effects, I would still be here at home. My immune system remains low and with Omicron spreading so quickly, it’s the most scared I’ve been for my life in my 29 years.

One of the things that has been keeping me motivated and positive is the idea of a trip to Paris for my 30th birthday in the Spring. I’ve been practicing French daily and planning the trip since almost a year before my diagnosis. But this morning, as I rounded the halfway point, I started reading about what recovery from chemo will be like. I haven’t allowed myself to read or think about that until now.

I think there was some part of me that thought that, come the final treatment, I would be back to relative normal. It wouldn’t be overnight, but my hair would start growing back and my energy would return within a couple of weeks, maybe a month. Of course, that’s not the case. For most people, I now understand that for every month of chemo it is one to two months of recovery before the fatigue, memory challenges, low-level nausea, and brain fog lift.

One of the last books I read was “Wintering” by Catherine May. It was exactly what I needed. And as I noticed my disappointment this morning to learn that I wouldn’t magically be thirty, flirty, and cancer-free by my birthday, I realized I was mentally trying to fast forward through this winter season in my life by imaging and planning for a spring trip. When that expectation started to fracture, a little hope slipped away. I might have known that it isn’t possible to skip spaces on the board. We weather the snow and the cold by resting inside, bundling up, and waiting. There’s no fast forwarding of the seasons or healing, and we’d be missing what wisdom or pain or peace are in them if we did.

So while I will continue to celebrate the victories and milestones on this journey, I’m also coming to terms with the fact that my winter may actually last two, three, or four earth seasons. I can’t rush the spring or my plans for it; they’ll happen when they do or they won’t.

Of course, I remain hopeful most days. And there are plenty of quiet pleasures to go around, more than my little human eyes even see.

I see things like the snow today, which has finally covered the ground, and sun-facing branches of the trees in white. I see warm congo bean sauce and cookies from my mom with a log in the fire. I experience spending evening hours in books and podcasts or taking a nap with Zèb. I caught myself smiling to no one this morning while Patrick took care of the chickens outside and I made breakfast for us. Doing life with him here is so much lighter and more enjoyable, even on the bad days.

So I’m doing alright. Taking it easy on myself and my fickle and blissfully unaware expectations, even as the days get colder.

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