In the movie Groundhog Day, Phil (Bill Murray), a weatherman, travels to Punxsutawney, PA to cover the annual emergence of the groundhog from its hole. He gets caught in a blizzard he didn't predict, finds himself trapped in a time warp, and is doomed to relive the day over and over again until he “gets it right”. Recently, Wes was asked, “how are you doing?” He aptly replied, “Our life feels like we are living Groundhog Day…every week is the same.” This was the case between August 11th and December 15th when I was going through the first phase of Dr. Chue’s cancer protocol. (I’m happy to report my cancer marker dropped by 60% in that time!)
The week started on Thursday, not Sunday or Monday, when I spent the entire day in the clinic receiving chemotherapy. Every Thursday was the same. I got up at the same time and prepared for the day in the same way. I wore the same clothes - yoga tights, cozy socks and a hat for comfort with a button down shirt. The button down shirt was so the port in my chest could be easily accessed. I packed a bag with the same things - my laptop computer for writing posts to my blog which went unwritten, a kindle for reading books that went unread, earbuds, charging cords, and my supplements. Wes and I drove the same route, parked in the same garage, arrived at the same time, greeted the same patients who also had Thursdays as their “day”. (They have since become family.) My vitals were taken by the same wonderful young man, I would meet with Dr. Chue for about 10 minutes and then head to my same chair to receive the same “chemo cocktail”. The only deviation to this plan was if my blood work chose to rebel at all this sameness by being too low to receive the full cocktail. I then received less and occasionally left at a …different, earlier time.
On Thursday evenings I was very talkative and funny when friends were over for dinner, or so I was told. The steroid I received as part of the cocktail gave me a bit of “energy” whose outlet appeared to be “storytelling” on my part. It also made my Thursday nights the same - I got little sleep.
Every Friday was the same. The steroid made Fridays a day to get things done! One Friday, for example, I woke up and decided a trench needed to be dug in our front garden. There is a spot outside our front door, next to the house, that concerns me sometimes with heavy rains, as the drainage isn’t good. A few years ago we had water damage in the house. This particular Friday the Pacific Northwest was experiencing a heavy rainstorm. Upon awakening, the first thing I did was walk downstairs, open the front door, and look to the concerning spot. There was a pond growing where there is normally dirt! “NOOO! THAT WATER IS NOT COMING IN MY HOUSE!” my chemo/steroid laden brain decided. I had not yet had breakfast, my lemon water, or tea. I had about four hours of sleep and was fourteen hours removed from receiving chemotherapy. I threw on a raincoat to cover my oversized sweats, slipped on my garden clogs, and manned with a pick, shovel, and clippers, began digging a trench so the pond of water would have a place to drain. I would stop periodically to catch my breath. I was soaked. The hat covering my bald head was long gone, stolen by the branches of a tree overhead. I didn’t care. I was so happy when I saw the water begin to flow down my trench! You may wonder why I didn’t ask Wes to do it? I would have, but he was volunteering to feed breakfast to the homeless at a shelter in Seattle. Had he been here to dig, I probably would have used the energy elsewhere…I’m sure my attic could have used some decluttering.
Every Saturday was the same. I crashed. As the day progressed I felt more and more tired, weak, flu-like, hungover though no alcohol had been consumed to make me feel that way. A couch potato. I did absolutely nothing but lay on a couch and binge watch some show or another and nap. I often went to bed in the same clothes in which I awoke. Saturday evening was the worst and I found myself wondering if this was sustainable…did I really want to do this over and over again with no guarantee of a desirable outcome? I reminded myself that that kind of thinking was also part of the “sameness”. It occurred every Saturday.
Every Sunday was the same. I began to make my way back to normalcy. I could foretell how the next days would be by what I was able to do on Sundays - did I have the energy to run errands, make dinner, work on my art project? How far could the dogs get walked?
Mondays through Wednesdays were the same, but I labeled them differently. Monday became "Three days out". Tuesday was "Two days out" and Wednesday was "My last day". Errands got done, calls and appointments happened and, other than feeling more tired than normal, I continued on with my life. No one looking at me would know I received chemotherapy particularly when I wore my new “dress-up hat” aka a wig.
No matter what I did or what I wished for, Thursday always showed up after Wednesday. Like Phil in Groundhog Day, I would wake up and, like it or not, the routine would start all over again. In the movie Phil lives everyday over and over until he “gets it right”. Some estimates say it took him over 12,300 days to “get it right”. As I watched the movie I wondered, "Is that what we are here to do...get it right?"
And what does “get it right” mean for each of us? Often our experiences seem to repeat. The content can look different, but the themes remain the same. Maybe our experiences are meant to help us "get it right." For me "getting it right" has come about when I step back from being the victim of my experiences and step into being the master of them.
If I look to the experiences I have had in this life I see the role cancer has played in helping me “get it right” if it means:
- Living without fear and with more love.
- Living with less judgement and more presence and appreciation for what “is” rather than what I wish it were.
- Seeing the beauty within everything.
- Letting life happen with as much curiosity as I can, rather than trying to control everything, knowing that whatever happens is in my highest interest whether I like it or not; whether I can see it or not.
It has taken me about 2,760 days* to get this much right.
Like Phil, I too woke up one day, a Thursday, to find it was finally different than the previous ones. With phase one of Dr. Chue’s protocol over on December 15th and phase two yet to start I woke up on Thursday, December 22nd, didn’t put on yoga tights, pack a bag, or drive over to Seattle. Instead I dressed in “real” clothes, grabbed my purse and drove to Woodinville to have coffee with a friend. The rest of the day I found myself smiling as everything I did that day was different than the previous Thursdays.
I have started phase two which doesn’t involve chemotherapy so, for the next three months, I find myself excited and appreciative for all the “normal,” mundane days ahead - particularly Thursdays! What do I want to do with them all?!
*Number of days since I was first diagnosed in 2009.