I like to ride my bike. It’s as simple as that. The benefits are that it’s good for me – physically, mentally and emotionally. I always come back from a ride a happier, more peaceful person. I always have. Now that I have incurable cancer, I view this as my therapy, which isn’t really much different than I did before. Now it has a bit more significance. Exercise is an important investment in the lifespan and quality of life of cancer patients…and everyone else. I intend to do as much as I can for as long as I can. But really, that’s no different than I viewed my life before. Riding my bike isn’t the only thing I intend to do but that will be another post.
When I ride, especially by myself, emotions cycle through me. Seemingly out of nowhere, overwhelming sadness and grief will grip me. It convulses my chest and reaches up through my throat and I gasp and yelp and my whole upper body contorts into what I would imagine looks like someone in intense, uncontrollable pain. I shake a bit as it envelopes me, as it has it’s way with me. I keep pedaling. I give it it’s time for as long as it needs. I give it space. And then it’s gone. It’s passed through me. I let it have its way. Then I’m back to absorbing my view and entertaining my random thoughts. Pretty soon, I feel happiness. Quite often I question myself. Should I really be feeling happiness? Am I allowed? Am I crazy? Have I forgotten what I’m dealing with? Nope, everything’s still there. I consciously give myself permission to feel happy, and I do. I smile. I look around. I see the trees and the sky, maybe some critters. I keep pedaling. I’m happy. It’s OK. I feel fortunate. I list to myself why I’m grateful.
Eventually, that passes, too. I’m just sweating, pushing pedals, breathing hard. That’s good; it’s my baseline. Riding a bike gives me a sense of control over myself and my circumstances. It helps me to regain some power, literally. It’s given me some of the strength back in my leg. It’s challenged me to push myself farther and faster with every ride. That doesn’t always happen and that’s alright. Sometimes just being out and moving under my own volition is the gift. I appreciate that I can do it. I know that given enough time, that will not be the case.
I learned when I had cancer the first time to allow my emotions to have their way. Up until that point, I laughed a lot but I did not cry. Ever. One of my best friends was murdered. Not one tear. I lost a boyfriend that I was head-over-heels for in a car crash. Stoic. I felt the pain but had enough strength over my own emotions to shove them down, control them. They probably bubbled up at the wrong time and in the wrong place. I can’t think of a specific instance but I’m guessing a few people close to me could offer some suggestions.
Cancer ten years ago was tough on me in many ways; financially, physically, mentally and emotionally. Emotionally, it cracked me open. I got to the point that I couldn’t control my emotions and I found it absolutely terrifying. Seemingly random times and places, I’d burst into tears. Usually I was by myself but there were a number of times that I was with people. At first I found it mortifying. Then I decided to get over it. I did some reading and research and realized I needed to just let this happen. It felt embarrassing but at that point I was bald, looked and felt sick and what the hell was I feeling embarrassed about anyway? It was just my ego bleeding. Enough. So, the emotions rolled.
I felt like a raw nerve. All of my protective coating was gone and I was completely exposed. I have never felt so vulnerable in my life. Again, terrifying. But I let it come. Not only was I dealing with cancer treatment and a very uncertain future but grieving a relationship that had turned toxic during the course of all this. I felt like I’d been taken out at the knees and every time I tried to get up, I was taken out again. But, I kept attempting to get up and eventually I rebuilt myself, physically and emotionally. I worked out diligently to gain control over my body and in turn, my circumstances. Eventually anger was my fuel and I damn near turned myself into a linebacker for a few years. I was physically strong and that provided me some security and it was a good outlet. The heavy sadness that pushed my shoulders down every minute of every day, awake or asleep, eventually lifted. As I was finishing treatment, I remember hearing that my barely ex-boyfriend was with someone else. It was lunchtime. I sat down and didn’t move until after sunset. I had to go through the middle of all of that darkness. If I wanted to come out the other side, there was no other way, no matter how much I hated it, no matter how painful it was.
There is no other side this time. This is the hand I’m playing for the rest of my life. I realize that but sometimes I have to bring the big picture down into the small picture. I have to just take things day by day and at times, minute by minute or even appointment by appointment. Thinking too far into the future is debilitating and honestly, presumptuous. I understand that given enough time and the right space, my demise will be slow and excruciatingly painful. But again, there are plenty of things that could get me before that happens. I can’t predict the future and I don’t want to live it more than once. So, I’ll take today and feel grateful that I feel good and that’s enough. I don’t want to live it until it happens. So I won’t. Today, I’m happy. I got to ride my bike.