Monday, December 6, 2010

100 Days of Citizenship

So, Tuesday will be 100 days of cancer. [Not that I am counting]. As Susan Sontag say -
Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well, and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.
So, 100 days of citizenship in that other place. Like standing on the border, feet firmly planted on hostile soil, looking across at the really truthfully greener grass.

But there were probably countless days before, unknown to us. We were hostages then, but unaware. I wonder, truly awed, at how that is even possible. How does your body become host to an invading marauder without you knowing? Like the Gauls and Romans at war without a speck of dirt being moved. What kind of sick feckless cruelty is that? Thank God we cannot see the future.

How does the human body, with its millions of cells, do it? What molecular miracle is happening, when the little dots start to mutate, grow, without the host even knowing they are there? Imagine. Over a period of time, your body stands to be overrun by invaders, but entirely without even a whisper of a sound. Nothing. Not an iota of change apparent, not a hair out of place. How insidious is that? Cancer is a perfect weapon. You don't even know it. It lurks. But no, wrong term, it invades. It insinuates its way into your crevices and vessels, binds itself to them, and then audaciously invites more, more, more to the table. As Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee says in the prologue to his book (p. 6) The Emperor of All Maladies- A Biography of Cancer -
That this seemingly simple mechanism - cell growth without barriers - can lie at the heart of this grotesque and multifaceted illness is a testament to the unfathomable power of cell growth. Cell division allows us as organisms to grow to adapt, to recover, to repair- to live. And distorted and unleashed, it allows cancer cells to grow, to flourish, to adapt, to recover, and to repair - to live at the cost of our living. Cancer cells grow faster, and adapt better. They are more perfect versions of ourselves.
Blissfully ignorant of its existence, we went on trips, ate out, read books in the sun, played with the kids, went to work. Lived our life.

And now, painfully aware, we go on trips, eat out, read [different] books in the sun, play with the kids, go to work. Live our life.

For Michael, that means the office; for me, it varies. Fighting is my job now - I must often retreat to the core of myself to garner what strength is required to regain citizenship in the kingdom of the well. Usually, that means, to bed, or to rest on a soft surface somewhere. Sometimes it means escape in a Swedish series of books about a crazy lady, or writing this blog, lunching with friends, wrapping Christmas presents to Ella's Swingin' Christmas at Volume 11. It also means plugging into machines and swallowing poison, assisting with all manner of broken spirit, and crying. A LOT of crying. Fountains and rivers of liquid salt. It is a job you are not prepared for, in fact, dread. Worse than any mundane task or other related duty as assigned. But life, that unbending and strong coursing river, keeps you moving along. Really, there is no choice. Kind of like blood through your veins.

This citizenship requires no entrance test and there is no pomp, in fact a dearth of any civil ceremony or official acceptance - cancer is a despotic dictator, not a democrat; but I predict fanfare and flourish, pomp and circumstance, pins,certificates, balloons and a band playing when the tide turns and we resume lif in the kingdom of the well. And a cake, of  course.

xo KO


Michael Bryson said...

You are beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely second that!

Bob said...

What a stunning piece of writing. I can only sit here in my office and contemplate what you've written, which is beautiful and raw in equal measure. You are a wonder.

Auntie Cake's Shop said...

hey Bob. was going for shock and awe, but will take beautiful and raw. they rhyme. xo K