Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The last day I ever walked

Cottonwood
The last day I ever walked was in Spring of this year, in Joshua Tree National Park.

I suppose as far as last things go, I did this one right. I took my children and my camera out to Cottonwood, stopping at the cholla cactus gardens on the way. I showed the kids some of the places that I camped when I was in my nomadic mode and did not have a home. Originally I sought to finish some of my writing projects while living out of my car, but there was always a problem that interrupted my best intentions--that was pain. Back then I had a constant searing, burning sensation in my chest that I would do anything to keep under control. Regardless, I was always drawn to Joshua Tree for inspiration.

Walking around on that final day was not easy, because I was still dealing with nagging back pain. But I was determined to have a good day with the kids and get some great pictures, so I pushed myself. And I did get some beautiful pictures of the kids.

I took some video that day also, but I will have to dig to find the tape. In the chaos that followed in the coming weeks, all of my belongings would be ransacked - by people and even animals - which is a story in itself. One never expects to leave their home for a quick medical check and then not return for months on end. Little did I know that cancer had spread at that point, and it would be the last time I would be able to gaze at some of these views. My whole life would change drastically. Again.

Cholla Cactus Gardens
I know precisely when the first moments of paralysis began. It was at the end of that day. The kids wanted to make more stops, but I could not handle more because my hip was locking up as I climbed back up the hill from Cottonwood. That was not too unusual, but a strange sort of tingling occurred in my feet. It felt like my toes and feet were becoming frostbitten. Yet it was at least 85 degrees outside. I could walk, but it was a plodding sort of walk, as if walking on prosthetic feet that weren't mine.

Later that evening the sensation crawled higher up my left calf and I recall having to pick up my feet with my hands to sort of toss them into bed that night. The frostbite/anesthetic feeling was very uncomfortable, but not incredibly painful. I thought I must have overdone it with the hiking and assumed the numbness would go away by morning. But it didn't.

I'm sure part of me knew that I was in trouble. I wasn't ready to have it made official yet, because I know all too well what happens the moment cancer has metastasized. More than anything, I knew what it would mean for my children. They had just suffered a terrible tragedy in the last year on the other side of their family and I had to swoop in and move them to California to reboot and stabilize our lives. It was like a miracle that we actually pulled it all off, and the kids were settling into school. It was a challenging time, but I was so happy to have my kids with me again. I cooked family dinners, hung their laundry out on the line to dry, tucked my son into bed each night, helped my daughter dye her hair and expand her artistic expression. I would have never imagined that a year later my son would be putting ME to bed at night, using a Hoyer lift.

For me to develop cancer mets and become terminally ill was the worst thing I could do to the children at that juncture. Dying or becoming an invalid would mean I failed my children in their greatest time of need. Could the timing be any worse? What did my poor children ever do to deserve so much tragedy? I HAD to stay strong. I refused to be weak or show fear.

There was momentary hope when the numb feeling in my right leg seemed to recede. I assumed my left leg would improve also, and that perhaps the frostbite effect was just a temporary fluke.  The numbness did not improve though. Instead, I became fully paraplegic by my birthday on April 4th.

The view of Cottonwood below was the very last scene I viewed standing up on two legs. Little did I know that being paraplegic would be the least of problems, in comparison to the other news I was about to receive.

1 comment:

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