Written On the Body, #28, November 24, 2020: November Highs and Lows

As Thomas Hood wrote in an often-quoted poem,

No sun — no moon!
No morn — no noon —
No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day.

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member —
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! —

This year, in particular, November has been a strange month, with a sense of waiting for something to happen. The U.S. election took place — but the final results weren’t known for several days, and then, despite the relief that many of us (in Canada as well as the U.S.) felt at Biden and Harris’s win, we’ve had the spectacle of Trump and other Republicans — both elected officials and ordinary voters — trying to sabotage the legitimate results, alleging fraud when none existed and trying to sway election officials. I am glad that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have begun making and announcing plans, nominating people for major positions, and continuing with the transition as best they can. Let’s hope this leads to a more sane and humane government in the U.S. — which will affect both that country and the rest of the world — for the next four years and beyond, and that he and his administration can deal effectively with the pandemic, climate change, racial and social justice. (if anyone reading this disagrees with me, please feel free to comment).

Then there is the second wave of COVID-19, with appalling numbers in the U.S. and an equally alarming rise in cases in Canada (though the actual numbers are lower). We waited each day to hear the news: will Toronto go into lock-down? What about other cities and provinces? Now Toronto and Peel are in lock-down until Dec. 21. What about U.S. Thankgiving? people ask. What about Christmas? (and Chanukah).

I appreciate several U.S. friends reading about this and writing to ask if the lockdown affects my cancer treatments. Fortunately, no — like last spring, health-care treatments are not affected, and my chemotherapy and tests are going on as usual. Of course, the rise in Covid-19 cases is making me more anxious about getting the virus, and I have been taking more precautions as a result — although we were already staying home except for essential appointments and occasional shopping (and we are getting many things, like meat and coffee, delivered in quantity to the house). We’ve had no patio dining, walks in parks, museum trips, even when these places were open. We wait (and wait) for the vaccine.

But the cancer treatment itself is going well. I had a CT scan on Nov. 16 — and, as always, worried about what the results would show. I am thankful the scan showed further improvement in reducing the cancer lesions. They thought they saw a shadow that might have been a blood clot in a vein in my leg — but within 2 days of the CT scan, I had another, more accurate test — a Doppler ultra-sound — that showed everything is working normally. I am so pleased at both the thoroughness and the quickness of the care I am getting; I thought I might have to wait weeks for the ultra-sound. (The quickness does show that the doctors considered the problem serious — so I am especially relieved things are okay.) And I had another IV treatment on Nov. 19, which went smoothly. I am now used to the routine of these treatments, which happen every 3 weeks. I want to talk about some details of this treatment, which might help demystify it.

As I have said to some friends, it is like sitting in an airplane for a long flight — though without the offer of drinks or movies. (I can bring snacks and books, and use my phone). There are variations — which room will I be in? which nurse will be my special attendant? will I be in a section with one other person or several (all more than six feet apart and all masked, of course). The nurses (both female and male) are all good, but have different personalities. The one I just had last week had a voice like an actor or singer and moved like a dancer, and he spoke in metaphors: the chemotherapy drug is like “the main character appearing onstage,” after the pre-meds; the side-effect of a burning sensation on one’s feet is like “walking on fire;” COVID-19, for people who haven’t experienced it, is like “a unicorn — you know about it but can’t believe it’s real.” Maybe, being a poet, I took special notice of these things.

And at the previous session, the technician taking my blood noticed the book I was reading — a science fiction tale — and asked if it was good; he’s into sci-fi and had seen this author recommended on a book list.

Writing this, I can see that all these procedures have a sci-fi element, but they are also scientific and personal. The conversations with staff provide a more human, personal touch for both me and the health-care workers, and show their interest in people as well as their highly-skilled professionalism.

I have taken to wearing a “Where the Wild Things Are” t-shirt to treatments; it has a low neckline providing easier access to the port in my chest, to which the IV line is attached, and it feels good to have a kind of “uniform” for the treatments. The shirt, too, sometimes elicits comments from the nurses.

Speaking of science-fiction, I have been reading novels by Patricia Briggs, which give a very human look at werewolves, vampires, shape-shifters, and other creatures (one of the principal characters, who shape-shifts into a coyote, also bakes chocolate-chip cookies and fixes cars!). And I have been very impressed with the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, The Stone Sky): a mythic story about the end — and new beginning — of a strange, alternate world that has the ring of deep truth.

My son celebrated his 40th birthday on Nov. 5, with a zoom birthday party, and he and his family are doing well in their corner of Vancouver Island. As I said, Roger and I continue to “shelter at home” most of the time, and keep in touch with family on friends by zoom, phone, and email.

Wishing you all well as the days shorten and then — just a month from now — begin, slowly, to regain the light. (Thanks to my friend Twyla for sending me a box of Chanukah candles, a holiday which celebrates both light and miracles). Stay safe and find some “healthful ease.”

About Ellen

I am a member of The Writers Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets, and CANSCAIP. I have received grants from the Ontario Arts Council for both writing and teaching. I currently work with Learning Through the Arts and Living through the Arts, programmes run by the Royal Conservatory of Music that enable artists to work in schools and community organizations. I have also taught in many other school and community programs, and have been a judge for various writing contests for both young people and adults.
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