I encountered a young deer, a buck, on a trail. I tried to let him pass, stood very still, but he reared back and placed his front legs against me. I tried to make myself seem even more still. He placed his cool, black nose against mine. I realized he wasn’t threatening me or threatened by me.
I woke with a vivid memory of the deer.
So I did what I do when I have interesting encounters with animals, I looked up its meaning in the Animal-Wise Tarot book. Mythologies are ripe, it says, with tales of heroes being lured into new, transforming adventures by chasing the deer. Lured from civilization back into the wilderness by the hunt.
The new “normal” is setting in for Tom and me. Tessa Dog continues to be an absence that is a presence. But her absence is part of the new normal as we prepare for his next course of treatment—radiation.
Radiation disrupts both cancer cells and healthy cells. Cancer cells, the invaders, are not as good at repairing themselves as are healthy cells, the legitimate residents in our bodies. Antioxidants are good for us because they help repair our cells—but apparently help cancer cells as well. And so antioxidants aren’t recommended during the 9 weeks of radiation therapy.
Whatever that means. Antioxidants are part of the food we eat as well as supplements like vitamins C, D, and E. Are all antioxidants created equal?
Though I appreciate the radiation oncologist’s knowledge about the physics of radiation, he wasn’t really very helpful when it came to information about antioxidants. He also didn’t seem interested in learning anything about them. I was left with the feeling that we are at the mercy of cancer and radiation—neither of which is known for merciful behavior.
This is a limitation to the science of medicine. I highly respect the science, but the art needs to come in as well. That means engaging the patient. I’m sure we will find a way to work through this, as Tom is working with a naturopath as well.
So maybe that is the wilderness we are being lured into—a forced engagement with ourselves—each in our own way. A deep plunge into life, what it means to us, and our agency over our own lives.
The wilderness for me, the fears it evokes, are of having my head chopped off if I rise above. Or being the nail that gets banged down because it sticks up. Or being a flower that is taller than the others.
Being that which makes me one of a kind.
In my heart of hearts, I believe that we are all one of a kind, creating the story that comes out of our experience of life. The joys and the sorrows. The triumphs and the failures. The loves and the losses.
Compassion for being human is at the core of it. Especially compassion for ourselves.
We are reaching the two-year anniversary of moving to the Northwest. I often think I’m still in California because we are still on the left coast. But it has been a significant change. One sees evidence up here, for example, of the original inhabitants. Tribal centers. Towns with native names. Totem poles carved for civic centers.
There is a feral quality that transcends here.
I’m not even sure where I’m going with this except to come back to my title: Now what?
Tom has said that he thinks cancer is outnumbered. I think that’s true. But as much a part of this that I am, when it comes down to it, this is Tom’s battle to wage. I am on the sidelines.
I feel like that candle in the wind Elton John wrote of.
I’ve been searching for my armor, my protection from the fears evoked in my wilderness. I think the deer in my dream was telling me that armor isn’t the answer. Protection isn’t the answer.
Valuing my experience of life is.
It occurred to me recently that no one has the right to survive. We are all at the mercy of life’s randomness. We can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the right place. Over that we have little, if any control.
But we do have a right to our life, to embrace its story, to dive into the experience of it.
So, I guess the answer to my title, “Now What?”, is to follow the deer into the wilderness and see where he leads me.