At the Present

I’m beginning to feel anticipatory about my scans. Thursday is Week 11 of taxol, and next Thursday I have a CAT scan before my infusions on Week 12. I’m not nervous (okay maybe I am a little nervous), but I want to get off taxol — really, who wouldn’t — and so I’m starting to anticipate how I can get my life back to normal once that happens. I’m starting to think about what vacations I might go on this summer, starting to go out more, starting to ride a bit more, climb a bit harder — a lot of starting, but without the freeform joy that typically surrounds the activities I love. I’m starting everything I can, but I’m also worried I’ll have to stop or once again scale back these things if we find out my scans are not good.

I don’t know what 12 more weeks of taxol would feel like. Ten is pretty bad.

This past weekend, my urge to pretend to have a normal life (or at least start to pretend I have one) got the better of me. On Sunday, I decided that climbing for four hours on my roughest day was a good idea. My climbing buddy/twin separated at birth brought along her fiancee and we bouldered, top roped, and bouldered all afternoon. Kept saying we were done and then stayed longer. Kept ignoring the searing pain in my back, arms, and hands. Finally gave up when the call of wings at a bar down the road was too strong to ignore.

And then Monday we went back.

If you climb, you know you’re not really supposed to climb two days in a row. Your muscles and tendons can’t quite take it and don’t have the opportunity to recover. There’s almost no way you’ll be competent enough to improve or learn anything on day two. But Climbing Buddy Twin and I couldn’t resist — Sundays we don’t normally climb and we’re both pretty attached to our Monday/Wednesday/Friday climbing schedule. So Monday found us at the gym again, ready to do an “easy day” after our four hour intensity (insanity) on Sunday.

Three hours later…

CBT and I are frighteningly similar and (unsurprisingly, then) egg each other on — so after some bouldering and four climbs, we both started upping the ante. Somehow, climb five for me turned into a crimpy (small, uncomfortable holds) and challenging 5.10 on an arete that was definitely out of my range of ability. After about the first third, I think I fell at every move. Two moves from the top, I looked up to yet another small, impossible hold and thought seriously about giving up. My body felt as if it had been beaten with metal rods (and this was through 800 mg of ibuprofen), I could barely breathe, and I didn’t think my hands could possibly grab another little green piece of plastic to save my life.

Then another version of Kiara kicked in — and out loud. “Fuck this, fuck chemo, fuck cancer, I’m climbing this shit!” And up I went — in two smooth moves, no less. CBT and I cheered as she lowered me to the ground.

I don’t know what kind of adrenalin kicked in at those last moments, but some kind did. Maybe it was the desire to be normal for 5 seconds, maybe it was the fear of Week 12’s scans pushing off that possibility once more, maybe it was the fear of Week 11 somehow being worse than Week 10 already was. Maybe it was the almost insatiable longing I have for my life before cancer and my desire to reconnect with that life on an almost daily basis. Whatever it was, it worked — and more importantly, it reminded me that I can tap into whatever kind of adrenalin or energy or hope it was to start to feel and be normal again. I don’t always need to long or wish for or even miss the past, even if the past was objectively easier. My life is possible in the present.

Yesterday morning, I read in an article about young cancer fighters/survivors a quote from one woman who was diagnosed with stage four cervical cancer at 26: “My life without cancer would have been happy, but it might not have been this happy.” Cancer is not a blessing, but it does open up new opportunities, even as it closes off others. I wanted to be lead climbing by now, and chemo’s impact on my progress prevented that from happening. But maybe, without the frustration of chemo and treatment and my diagnosis, I wouldn’t have sended that 5.10 quite so well or with quite the same determination.

And now I’m wondering: if there’s Normal Kiara, and Chemo Kiara, who’s the Kiara I’m living now? She’s definitely distinct from the other incarnations of myself — she’s a bit more carefully thoughtful, but also more focused and willing to take new risks that my old self (selves?) wouldn’t have entertained. She’s also a bit rougher around the edges — a bit less willing to be patient or wait for things to get better or happen on their own (like I did much of that in the past anyway). She may have never come about if my cancer hadn’t come back, and so in some strange way I have this awful terminal illness to thank for that.

She’s also still developing — testing the waters. Stay tuned. I have a weird feeling she’ll have something fun to contribute.

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