Early this morning I was out in the garden picking swiss chard, lettuce, broccoli, and beans, and I couldn't resist popping a fresh green bean into my mouth--without even washing it first.
I wouldn't have dared to do that last fall after cancer treatment kicked the legs out from under my immune system and made my intestines recoil from anything fresh, green, and crunchy. Chemotherapy and radiation drastically restricted my menu options--no salad, no raw veggies, no screaming-hot peppers, no sushi--and made cheese and other beloved items taste like compost. For weeks it seemed I lived on peanut butter, bananas, toast, and mashed potatoes.
Cancer also cramped my style in other ways: No rec center workouts. No movie theaters. No travel. No money.
Too many doctor visits. Not enough writing. Too much pain. Not enough sex.
From the first I knew I would have to sort my activities into those I could give up and those I could not. I gladly sacrificed the responsibility for cleaning the catbox and bathrooms, but I suffered a few twinges of guilt on hiring a student to help in the garden. I could have taken a full medical leave from my job, but I'm happier when I'm working so I opted to give up half--and there was never any question which half. I get a great sense of accomplishment from administration, but given the choice, I'd rather be teaching.
In the midst of this constricted lifestyle, I tried to find moments of joy. They arrived in surprising forms--in a key lime pie, a phone call, a song, a book, a snuggle--and even when those moments were brief and fleeting, I clutched them the way a toddler clutches a lollipop, as if it's the last remaining drop of sweetness on earth.
Today I'm delighted to be getting my hands dirty in the garden and munching on fresh green beans, which seem sweeter after all those months of absence and blandness. Cancer temporarily restricted my ability to participate in the immense complex drama of life, but cancer also taught me to be grateful for the small moments of sweetness that punctuate the pain.