I cannot write this week or go without thinking of the passing of several notables from cancer.
Christopher Hitchens, writer and a right socially argumentative bastard. A loss for us all, the writer, polemicist, and relentless pursuer of troglodytes of any colour, race, creed or persuasion. He hated tyrants. He hated the left as much as he hated the right, for their own self-assuredness.
He died of cancer. As did Vaclev Havel. Poet, dreamer, somewhat right bastard too.
They died of cancer. Both were brilliant. But really, in this world, I cannot help but feel there are so many more out there just like them - brilliant, profound, worthy, creative, literary giants, worldly personages dying of cancer. And then, the rest of us. Schlepping along. Doing our thing. Dying of cancer. It happens. I know for whom the bell tolls - for countless others, millions, myself included. And each is worthy of love and praise, and weeping at their demise. Thank you Mr. Donne.
The fingers of cancer move through the ground [maybe] to touch, reach, sigh upon us. Some are afflicted by it directly, others as collateral damage, others breathed upon vicariously. But it is a scourge. It is not however, a plague. Dr. Buckman was clear, it is not a plague. It is a clever foe. But it cannot be breathed in, or shared by touch. It requires no facial masks, germ barriers, or iron lungs. Some forms will get ya, some will not.
The newest addition to the coterie of doctors I visit with is Dr. X. She is a psycho-social oncologist. Her job, essentially, is to walk me to death's door as painlessly as possible, and learn to greet it face on, providing me with comfort, support, and information along the way. She has made it clear, crystalline, that there are two kinds of breast cancer -
a) the kind you get which will not kill you - hormonal therapy can assist - aka. hormone receptor positive, +++ positives, the kind which is killed by lumpectomies, mastectomies, radiation, chemo, etc - you walk away, and move on with your life.
b) the kind which metastasizes --- ie triple negatives, to other parts your body, and will in due course, take your life- but essentially lives in you. It attacks either the liver, the brain, the bones or lungs, or all. There is no cure.
There is life to live though, and this is the key, this is no small thing. It's not about the dying, it's most definitely about the living left in you. What have you got to bring to it? What will you do with it?
I have b).
There. It is out there. Done and dusted. Now we must deal with it. If you are with me on the journey, it begins now, and we know not the end destination or time of arrival. But you are welcome to join in.
So far, my liver has taken the hit for the team, and the chemo is working to shrink it as fiercely as possible. It has responded fantastically well to chemo. But the rest of me has been dragged through the metaphoric mud - beaten up, blasted, rotted through with dreaded poisons. We will seek second opinion, in the hope of other options. And pursue avenues that will allow me to endure - without too much of a horror show. It is easy to understand emotional polarities, at this juncture.
Kate: I can't wait for the chemo to be over.
Michael: I don't want the chemo to ever end.
But the course thus far is this - once the chemo is done, we then move to the living with it phase. For as long as we can. And as best we can, given the trials and tribulations of the day. Because that is all you have.
Cancer "prognoses" no longer exist in specifics: terms of 6 months, 5 years, 2 days - since the world of research, medical trials, and sheer crazy ass hope has replaced the window of longevity with a series of loose "timeframes"
a) years to months
b) months to weeks
c) weeks to days
d) days to hours
I am currently in a) years to months. This could mean anything. I could be here for Owen's university graduation or not make it till the fun fair in May, who knows. And thank God I don't. Because, really, it does not matter. You should enjoy "every sandwich." It is irrelevant how you reach the end, because, we all will. It is not up to us to know when. We need to leave something to blind faith, in this overly tech-ed out and "results-based planning" oriented world. [A stupid government term, signifying nothing].
Here is where it matters to believe. Have faith, not in miracles, but in life itself as a series of beautiful things, and moments, and each other, and yourself. And know that Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me...Trust that whatever comes will come and you will face it with grace, and love, and be true to yourself. You will find a path. Be at peace with your life. Show the world the outward love you feel inside. Kiss, hug, cuddle. Tell your truths. Love your people. Repeat.
Decorate gingerbread, sing carols, rip presents open with abandon. Don't save the paper. Drink deep of the wine. Don't give a shit about stupid things. Repeat.
And don't tell my kids. We have not walked that path. It is still too far away to contemplate for now. perhaps when we move from years to months, to months to weeks. Who knows. I don't. But I carry within me a deep faith it will be ok.
with love, Kate