I am making a commitment to me. The past three years, I lost that focus. My commitment was shifted to caring for others and my own self care slid by the wayside. I need to get back to taking better care of myself and making time for my health. I’m putting this out there so that I can be reminded that is my goal.
Jan was a flight attendant. She had a funny riff on the preflight briefings that are done each take off – something about all carry on children should be securely stowed in the overhead bins and in case of emergency put your head down and kiss your you know what goodbye. I remember her doing it once for me and laughing my head off. It made me smile on just about every flight after that, thinking of her routine. One of the important messages, however, is that in case of a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop. You are to put your own mask on first before helping others. There’s a good reason for that – it’s hard to be useful when you’re passed out, at least in my experience.
One aspect of pancreatic cancer (and cancer treatments in general) is that food becomes a challenge. You need to stay fed to keep your strength up but it’s hard to keep food down. I used my cooking to try to care for my family and rejoiced when something I made tasted good and made them full. Losing weight was a bad thing in this paradigm. I remember seeing dad in July of 2009 and was shocked at how thin he was. His doctor had told him to lose some weight earlier that year, and he said it came off easily. Then it kept coming off. I told him he needed to stop – he looked gaunt. He said he just didn’t have much of an appetite. In pictures, it really showed how frail he’d become. I experienced that same shock when I picked mom up at the airport right before Thanksgiving in 2010. I’d seen her in August and now, only 3 months later, she had lost 20 pounds. She looked like a shadow of herself. I connected the dots in my head on a very primal level: losing weight means you might die. When I reach for something to eat, I think it’s my subconscious telling me to do it so I don’t waste away and die. I know that’s twisted, but it’s true.
My last visit with Jan, I drove down as soon as I got George’s call. I arrived in Lake Oswego about 2:30 and hadn’t eaten since 7 that morning. I stopped at Starbuck’s to get something, but then didn’t want to wait any longer, so I took the sandwich with me to Jan’s house. Walking out on the patio to see her, I saw how thin she’d gotten since I’d seen her 6 weeks before. I felt guilty having a sandwich, I felt guilty for being hungry, I felt guilty for being able to eat. She had some ice tea and would take tiny sips of it, then struggle to keep it down. There were cookies on a plate, for her visitors to have, but they seemed to be sort of mocking her. In her gauntness, she looked scrubbed clean, sort of like an ascetic monk – pure and lit from within. I ate my sandwich, but tried to do so discretely, and it felt like sawdust in my mouth, like my own body resented being able to do this when she couldn’t.
I know I’ve mixed up the messages in my head. Eating now won’t protect me from cancer, but part of me thinks I might as well enjoy whatever I want because there will come a time when, perhaps, I cannot. So I make food I enjoy, I buy full fat cheese and delicious bread to go with a great bottle of wine, and I tell myself that this is what it feels like to be alive.
I have to find the right balance here. I can’t keep following this path, as it means I will eventually be a grounded blimp. I need to enjoy food but balance it with more exercise. In a major breakthrough, I showed up at the gym on Sunday. I was there for 45 minutes and I survived. I will make it a goal to get there three times a week, and to keep walking on the other days.
In some respects, I’ve been oxygen deprived lately. I have let a lot of good habits slide and I am done with that. I want to feel like myself again. It’s been complicated by a lot of issues, most of which I’m clear about – I have to start small and then get up to speed, but I am starting. I am going to trade in the comfort food I have been making for better choices. Like Paula Deen, I guess I need to push the butter away a little further and a little more often. That in itself is a one form of exercise.