I asked my oncologist the other day why I continue to be so weak and tired now that I’m three weeks out from my last chemotherapy treatment. He paused for a moment and then asked, “Do you realize all that you’ve been through for the last seven months? Nothing about this illness has proceeded in a straight line for you. You’ve had quite a few unexpected turns and serious setbacks. Your body has been under attack, suffering many insults and assaults for quite a while,” he noted.
‘Insults’ was the word he used. I know it’s a clinical term, but it’s an emotional one as well, and it affected me that way. This has indeed been an insulting, assaulting disease. “Your body,” the physician continued, “has been on high alert for so long that your metabolism even now is running much faster than most people’s. It will take months for you to feel like your old self again. You owe your body a lot,” he concluded. “It deserves your understanding and needs time — post-chemo time — to really heal.”
The doctor’s brief but impassioned sermon caused this preacher to assess the relationship I’ve had over the years with my body. This is what I’ve concluded: for seven decades I have simply taken my body for granted. All my life I’ve related to it as a ‘given’ — it’s just been there, at my service, to be taken advantage of, as needed. It’s not as if it’s been abused, I’ve taken fairly good care of it. And I’ve liked my body well enough, but always from an emotional distance. This body of mine has served me so well and has remained so remarkably healthy for so long that I’ve never had to give it much thought. I haven’t taken the time to appreciate it. In a word, I haven’t honored my body.
This stalwart constitution of mine deserves more than that. It merits a loyalty that I haven’t been willing or able to give it before now. It’s time I established a deeper, more intimate relationship with my corporeal self. It’s time I became truly thankful for this God-given benefaction. I think of the joy my body has given me through the years: there’s the day-to-day good health I’ve taken so much for granted until recently; there’s also the exhilaration and renewal that sports and exercise have always afforded me, and, of course, there’s the physical pleasure my body has offered to both myself and my beloved. This body has been a precious partner and companion throughout my life. It deserves my loving attention, and it needs it now, more than ever.
It has taken a cancer deep inside me to remind me that my physical self is far more than just a convenient device, a handy tool for carrying me through life — my body is an intimate, fundamental part of who I am. And it’s only now, more than half-way through my battle with this consuming disease, that I’ve begun to appreciate and cherish this body. Only now, as the two of us face the insults and assaults of cancer together — the two of us, body and soul, together.