After food, and sex, and occasionally, sleep, the deepest and most sustaining pleasure of my life has been reading, reading stories.
For the past few years, since chemotherapy and radiation treatment for Stage 3 endometrial cancer, I have read very little. Oh, I read online, in short bursts of 20 minutes or so, and most days I read the NYTimes in paper form, but my Goodreads page is looking pretty thin these days. I am wrestling with why.
My hands hurt. I have peripheral neuropathy in my hands and feet from chemo. They are tingly all the time, and sometimes I get sharp, shooting pains in my hands that startle me. I also have arthritis in several fingers, and those joints are swollen and often painful. It can be hard to hold a book, and sometimes even holding Teacup, my trusty iPad Mini, hurts my hands. The touch of plastic or metal feels unpleasant against my skin. Teacup has a beautiful leather cover, but that makes it heavy to hold.
My eyes hurt. I have macular edema in one eye, and many floaters like a spiderweb across my vision. I have had cataract surgery and have reading glasses, but my eyes give me a hard time anyway. Sometimes my shoulders ache from the tension that builds up around my eyes from watching or sitting too long. What constitutes too long varies widely.
I have very little concentration. That started with the infamous “chemo brain” and continued with the beta blockers I take for high blood pressure. Since my dosage has been reduced I feel once again like I might be able to focus on a whole story, but while it’s better it isn’t good.
I confess I loathe audiobooks. The sensation of being read to is a sweet one, but I can’t do anything else while I am listening. I get antsy (and uncomfortable) sitting still. It’s hard to concentrate on them, too.
There is so little energy. I have to carefully distribute what I have each day, and reading takes a chunk out of it as does pretty much every single daily activity. I miss the stories. I miss the books I continue to buy but have not started yet, and the books I have started and haven’t gotten past a chapter or two.
I don’t feel cozy anywhere. The easiest place to read a print book is at the dining room table, which is not where I want to be unless I am eating. My rocking chairs are as comfy as I can get sitting down, but it’s hard to hold a book in any format for a sustained period.
Then, sometimes I think it’s just wrestling with the idea of it. I have been reading and teaching and reviewing all of my adult life. Books were my jam, as the younger folk say. The person who did all of that, who had long hair and could walk for miles and navigated her city as if it were her private domain no longer exists. The person who is now, who moves with a cane and has a cloud of short silver hair, that person misses stories. I have not yet wrestled my way back to them.