Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Body Land

Early last September, after an extensive physical, my family physician pronounced me “an extraordinarily healthy woman of sixty-five.” I’d checked “No” on every single symptom or condition. No, I’d never had surgery. I’d never broken an arm or a leg or even a finger.

I’d always been grateful for my good health, never taken it for granted, but it was hard not to think of good health and boundless energy as a part of my identity. Plus, there's my legendary Aunt Ruth, slowed down considerably at 96, but as smart and funny as she ever was. Why wouldn’t I have those good genes, too?

Looking back, maybe I was a little too pleased with my healthy, energetic persona. Not that it really matters. Though being a little too pleased with yourself about anything does seem to alert the cosmos to the fact that it might just be time for a little challenge.

In any case, September was a great month. I’d just returned from a delicious, restorative few weeks in Italy. I was excited about the upcoming release of my seventh novel, An American Tune, and looking forward to the various book events I’d scheduled to help it make its way into the world. Indiana University Press had made it into a really beautiful book of it and, I confess, I spent a lot of time just looking at it and thinking, nearly ten years of work, the book I felt I’d become a writer to write, and now here it is in my hands.

The publication date was September 24. September 26, Indy Reads Books was packed with friends and family, who’d come to celebrate the book launch and, signing copy after copy, I felt grateful and amazed and even a little hopeful about how the book might fare as it traveled from one reader to another out into the universe. September 27, I received the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Regional Indiana Authors Award at an elegant banquet held in the atrium of the Central Library. John Green, Dan Wakefield, and Christopher Coake—all tremendously gifted Indiana writers—were honored, as well. I was surrounded by my family and friends, many of them writers I deeply admire—and by thousands and thousands of books, some you could see, some living their quiet lives on the dark shelves of the stacks beyond where we sat. Afterwards, my husband, Steve and I, checked into the very nice hotel room the Library Foundation had provided, then went back out into the balmy evening for a walk around downtown and a midnigh. It was one of the happiest evenings of my life.

Monday morning, I received a call informing me that the annual mammogram I’d had the week before showed calcifications at which they wanted to look more closely. “The good news is, the left breast is clear,” the radiologist said about the second mammogram's results. But a biopsy would be required to determine whether the calcified areas in my right were “worrisome or benign.”

Long story short: they were “worrisome,” indeed. In an instant, I went from being an extraordinarily healthy woman of sixty-five to a woman facing breast cancer. Early detection/Excellent prognosis—just four three-week cycles of a relatively low dose of chemo and some radiation would be required. All good news. Still. It wasn’t going to be easy.

I’m a writer: I live in my head. Now I was a writer who would be living very much in my body for a while.

All right, then, I thought. Body Land. What’s that that going to be like?

Early in December I had my first chemo treatment and began to find out.

“I thought you’d blog about this,” a friend said to me, not long ago.

“I thought I would, too,” I said. “I’m not sure why I haven’t.”

Then I had my last chemo treatment Monday and, suddenly, it seemed like the right time. So here goes. Stay tuned for a series of probably fractured scenes and thoughts and moments from life in Body Land over the past few months and who knows what from the future ones.


Scott Atkinson said...

Was thinking about you recently, but didn't want to send any annoying emails. Glad to hear you're well. Looking forward to future posts.


Cathy Day said...

I'm glad you're going to write about this, Barb.

Unknown said...

I have been thinking about you and praying for you. I'm glad you are writing!

Kathy H-C said...

A wonderful woman once told me that sometimes writing about an experience takes time. That we need time to gain the perspective to tell the story well. I think that's why you haven't written about it [yet!--like September was so long ago]. Cancer is becoming an everyday word for more and more people. Writing about it will help. Everyone.

Yanke said...

When one is in the middle of an experience, it is too raw. The emotions are rampant, searching for direction. Taking apart, putting together, it takes time to sort through the spectrum.

Barb, take care... Glad you are writing.... Like your image!

Barbara Shoup said...

Thanks, all. Scott--e-mails from you are never annoying!