One of the wisest things my mother ever said to me was, “Everything goes in cycles.”

I’m cycling right now, in fact, looking at the mug of coffee I made myself after breakfast.

I’m not supposed to be drinking coffee. It’s right up there on the list of stuff I’ve been actively banned from having, along with red meat, alcohol, and grains. All those things cause inflammation, and inflammation is not your friend if you’re a cancer patient…especially one with a pre-existing autoimmune disease, and taking an adjuvant chemotherapy that’s known to be hard on the heart (I have another echo on Monday, in fact).

But there it is on my desk next to me: coffee. Even in summer, I love the feel of a hot mug in my hands. I breathe in that wonderful, burning aroma, thick enough to roll around on my tongue before I’ve even taken a sip.

As a friend said, “I drink tea, because it’s good for me and I’m supposed to. But it’s just…just…” He shrugged in frustration, looking for a word he couldn’t find.

I smiled. “Not coffee.”

His face lit, and he laughed. “That’s it!”

In all seriousness, he meant it, and so did I. I once wrote that “my creativity is a burning thing,” and my morning mug should match that. It should light up my mind and my hands, open my eyes, and loosen my tongue. My drink should be gasoline on the fire that is me.

(Have I mentioned many writers are alcoholics? Thank God, I’m not one of them. Boy howdy, can I see there from here with my food addictions).

But a cup of tea is about as enjoyable as a phone call from an ex. I pick up the phone, see the caller ID, and my lip lifts in an involuntary snarl of “I should do this but I really don’t want to.” My lip has that same snarl in it every morning when I nuke a mug of water for my daily helping of green tea.

In short, I’m on the far end of the cycle.

I begin the cycle liking my breakfast and my tea. I take my chemo with a smile and gratitude and a little prayer, saying, “Please God, let this work. Thank you for giving me the chance.” I meditate, I pray, I do my taekwondo, I write, I clean house, I plan good menus. I even manage to be a decent parent.

Then, slowly, I feel that despair creep in at the edges.

I forget to meditate. Instead of praying, I get snarky. I phone it in at the dojang, skip writing altogether, take a miss on cleaning, and pick up bag dinners at the grocery store whether the week’s schedule requires them or not. And I get progressively shorter with my kid–I spend too much time looking up news stories and not enough time actually listening to a word she’s saying.

I’d like to blame this on my other (ahem) cycle, but it often doesn’t coincide.

It’s simply fatigue.

This mode I live in isn’t going to go away. Cancer isn’t a project I can ever be finished with, or a test I can pass and walk away from. I will always have to watch my weight, my sugar, my intake of carcinogens. I will always have to meditate, pray, exercise, write, clean, and plan. I’ll always have to be a mother.

I’ve already written a post about this. I called it “Marathon.” But even the word “marathon” can only describe the treatment phase. I’m beginning to realize that yes, there is life after the treatment phase. But I’m also beginning to realize that it can never be truly “over.” Even a marathon has an end.

But Life does not…not until it’s really, really over.

And cancer does not….not until life itself is over.

So, as the Buddha said, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” The work will be there whether I’m ready to do it or not. I have to recognize that my ability to face it all will come and go in cycles. There are many days I’ll have it in me to drink my tea, and…every so often…there will be some days where I simply won’t. The trick is not to beat myself up over my perceived failure.

So I’m enjoying my coffee.

Mmmm… Coffee… 🙂