Precious Cargo

9 Feb


I’m driving to my destination — I have to get there on time — but something is wrong under the hood. The engine’s clacking. At any moment, I’m worried it’ll sputter out, run out of gas, blow a gasket. I’m driving along, wearily, like a trucker on ice.

This is the metaphor that came to mind last week when I was racing to finish an important project as my body started to falter.

Here’s what happened.

February 1st began on a high note: My dream of writing for a major newspaper publication came true (more details to follow soon)! The editor gave me a deadline of Monday morning. For the first time since my diagnosis last May, I had a project. A responsibility. For the first time in more than 8 months, maybe cancer wouldn’t be my sole job.

Just one day later, I woke up with a feeling I know only too well: deep-in-the-bone exhaustion and achy limbs accompanied by mouth sores so painful that talking or taking a sip of water makes me want to cry. The worry starts to set in. But usually no ones says anything yet.

By 10 p.m. that night I was having uncontrollable chills. My mother piled blankets onto me but nothing could stop my teeth from chattering. I was cold from the inside, not outside. She checked my temperature: 99 degrees Fahrenheit. Twenty minutes later it was up to 100 degrees. When it climbed up to 102.5 I knew the dreaded H-bomb was about to drop. “Hospital, now,” my mom said.

Getting read for an emergency hospitalization is similar to going on a very chaotic, last-minute family vacation. My parents scramble to make sure they have a place to stay, we throw our clothing and toiletries into our carry-on luggage and then pile into the minivan for a four hour drive to New York City. By the time we arrived, it was almost 3 a.m. The ground floor of the hospital was completely deserted with the exception of a few patrolling security guards. And I was furious.

I hated my body for failing me now. Hadn’t it put me through enough? The timing seemed beyond unfair. I had two days to write my piece and, up in my hospital room, I could barely keep my eyes open from all the pain medication I was on. I went to bed feeling angry — angry at the white walls of my room, angry at the hospital food, and angry at the nurse who couldn’t find a good vein in my arm for the IV and kept poking me with needles.

My boyfriend woke me up the next morning and said: “You are going to get this piece done, no matter what we have to do.” I didn’t believe him. But he wasn’t kidding around and within half an hour we had begun the slow, tedious process of brainstorming and drafting an outline. I wasn’t the most pleasant collaborator — more times than I can count, I got tired, frustrated, broke into tears, and then had to take a long nap to recover from my outburst. But somehow, we did it. Needless to say I couldn’t have done it without him, but I got the piece done.

Comparing our bodies to vessels — like cars — that carry us through our lives, seems apt up to a point but it only goes so far. In the car metaphor, you can leave your broken vehicle by the road, hitchhike, or buy a new one. But in reality, we only have one “car.” While some people believe the mind can overcome the body, for the majority of us, especially for those of us who are ill, when the body is in crisis, the mind is too. Physical illness infects the mind: when your body ails, your mind, your thoughts, your plans, your identity is changed.

So, what can you do when your mind wants to do one thing and your body is saying another?

These three golden rules are what got me through the weekend: respect your body’s limitations (when you feel too tired to keep going, take a nap), compromise (one hour of work, one hour of rest), and when you need to, ask for help (thank you, Séamus).

*Footnote:  I have no idea what as gasket actually is, though I know of it. I can’t drive — I don’t even have a permit– but I still have my poetic license!

 Follow @suleikajaouad on Twitter and on her Facebook Page.


11 Responses to “Precious Cargo”

  1. Stu Harrison February 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    ….and your sense of humor.

  2. Nicolette & Maurice February 9, 2012 at 8:39 pm #

    Fantastic too.. beautifully put together.. physical elements do drive us to the end of our wits.. and that’s ok.. keep writing when you can.. but give yourself time.. time to heal.. time to feel.. to listen and imagine beyond the now.. Hats to Seamus again.. what a chief!

  3. Ashley Woo February 9, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

    When I was reading your opening paragraph, your metaphor actually made me imagine the point in your past that you must’ve learned to drive (I wasn’t certain if my memory was serving me, but I recalled that you were not a driver when we first met). Many years have passed since that time, of course, and while I couldn’t commit to an imagined scenario wherein you enrolled in driver’s ed., etc., I actually thought to myself, “wow, Suleika’s automotively cultured now on top of it all!” I’m pretty sure that I marveled at this uniquely as a non-driver–still–at the age of twenty-nine, but then I got to your footnote and took admitted delight in overrelating to your confession! Further evidence of that part of you that’s a true New Yorker 😉

  4. sylvie degiez February 9, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

    Thank you Seamus and Suleika.
    I see the Creation as careless but deeply loving, the true original Love.
    At best, we people are like that too: we can only do our best, nothing is perfect.
    Oh dear Suleika, I pray for you to find a way back to physical comfort.

  5. Camille February 10, 2012 at 7:41 am #

    Oh merci –
    voilà une sacrée belle leçon pour nous faire relativiser avec sagesse.
    Merci à toi de partager, merci à Seamus d’être à tes côtés.

  6. Isabelle February 10, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    Suleïka, tu nous donne là un bel exemple de courage..comment à tavers la tempête on arrive tout de même à trouver le chemin, le chemin qui va là où l’on a choisi de se réaliser; mais la tempête est là quand même, et on ne sait pas vraiment quand elle va finir, on est dans ‘instant présent; c’est génial ce que vous avez pu faire à 2 avec Seamus, merci!!!

  7. Jim and Jan Gallagher February 14, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    Suleika and Seamus,
    Hello you two wonderful people. We follow the posts and cheer you on.
    Love, Jan and Jim

  8. michelle lewis February 15, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    Hi Susu … I have just read all of yours blog and have to say that this is just an amazing gift for all the people who will arrive next to take the cancer journey…the Truth. The good, bad and ugly. It almost defies words, what you are doing here…you have always been, and continue to be an amazing young woman.

  9. Kacie March 1, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    Great metaphor…thank you so much for sharing your story.

  10. Alicia June 8, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    Thank you for your blog…My 25 year old boyfriend is recently diagnosed with MDS and will eventually need a bone marrow transplant as well. I’m crying as I read your blog..for everything that you’ve had to go through and all of my pent up fear, anger, and anxiety. I’ve had to maintain a brave face and it feels good to let go of some of all of these feelings and read that you have had something wonderful come out of your cancer experience (NYT column). I wish you the very best and will continue to follow your progress.

    • suleikajaouad June 9, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

      Wishing you and your boyfriend strength and courage. Although the past year has been very difficult, my relationship with my boyfriend and family has grown immeasurably stronger. For that, I am grateful! My advice: make it all count and always try to find the light in moments of darkness.

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