Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Kanreki (Second birth)

In May 2005, as I prepared for a major operation to remove the rest of my multitudinous tumors, my girlfriend gave me a birthday card with a clipping of my horoscope from Free Will Astrology:
TAURUS (April 20 - May 20)
On a family member's 60th birthday, the Japanese celebrate a holiday known as
kanreki. It's a time of rebirth, when the celebrant ritually becomes a baby again and enters a second childhood. Among the many gifts given on the occasion is a red kimono, which signifies that in a sense the person is now freed from the responsibilities of adulthood. I recommend that you treat yourself to a similar rite of passage, Taurus. Even though you may not be turning 60, you are at the beginning of an extraordinarily fresh new cycle. You deserve a red kimono and at least a temporary respite from adult burdens.
This seemed incredibly appropriate at this point in my fight with cancer. The diagnosis with a life-threatening disease had already put me through a mid-life crisis: What is important to me? Have I been leading my life as I should? What would I do differently if I had the chance to start over? I had decided that I needed to focus on my own goals in life and worry less about how quirky and eccentric I appeared to others. I needed to be more of an independent man, acting decisively and forcefully rather than deferring to the decisions of others.

Going into the hospital for weeks of treatment and months of recovery meant that I should forget about my other worries and focus on my treatment. I hoped that the surgery would mean rejuvenation for me — freedom from cancer and renewed vigor as I start life again but this time with greater wisdom and experience.

I didn't receive a kimono other than a small paper one on the card, but I was dressed in hospital gowns. I suppose that was my garb of kanreki.

After the surgery (which became a series of four, due to complications) I was nearly helpless. I was fed by a machine since I couldn't take food orally. Every day my mother or my girlfriend helped bathe me since I barely had the energy to stand or the muscles to reach my own head and feet. My brain was wiped clean by the chemotherapy drugs and kidney failure; I lost many memories of treatment and earlier times and my intelligence was reduced to that of a toddler. It really was like a second infancy.

As the surgical wounds healed, my body adapted to its new arrangement and my mental abilities gradually returned. Several months later I went back to work and resumed aspects of a normal life. I tried to conduct myself as I had decided I should, but it was hard not to revert to old habits. I still felt embarrassed and uncomfortable around most people and I felt guilty when I worked on my own creative projects rather than spending 9 to 5 at a regular job.

My second infancy was short-lived. Before I had fully recovered from surgeries there were signs that my cancer was returning. I was just making progress along the chosen path of my new life: producing exciting research, applying for a new job to move toward my goal of becoming a college professor, winning an award for my entry in a Science as Art exhibition. But then I had to stop all that to start another debilitating treatment.

I hope that I shall yet get rid of cancer and enjoy a long second (or third) life.

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