And I miss the summer/ but didn’t care
There will always be another/ if I make it to next year
Mastersystem, “A Waste of Daylight”
January through March in Ohio are the longest months. Christmas is over. Vacation time is spent. It’s time to get back to the business of productivity. Time to lose the weight. Time to make up for December’s schedule delays. January begins with a bang of promises and vigor only to end, inevitably, with a whimper. What’s worse is that by then, the season is still only halfway through. There are two-and-a-half months of snow, freezing rain and grey skies yet to plow through.
Most of the time, when the snow comes it isn’t even big and satisfying. It’s just enoughto cause a wreck on the highway in time to double your daily commute. Most of the time, the cold rain isn’t even freezing. It’s just cold enough to cut to the bone and soak your shoes through to your socks.
Offices and schools are a cacophony of hacks and sniffles. By the end of January, we are already longing for spring. We are mentally fast-forwarding through the days, weeks and months until the sun comes out to thaw everything out again. To bring new life to everything that has become dormant and stuck.
We waste these days away, longing for them to be done. We pine for the next season. We take for granted that it will always be there. Have you ever seen the daffodils pop up and wonder if it will be your last Spring? Have you ever sat in a hammock in your back yard, stared at the clouds, and feared that next summer that hammock will lie empty? Have you sent your kids off on the first day of school and wondered if it’s the last grade that you get to see your kids enter? I’m about to find out what it is like to know that feeling. It’s a feeling that I need to make friends with, because it’s not going to go away for as long as I am still here.
I listen to my daily 10-minute meditations. I hear the lessons on the nature of impermanence. I see the Facebook memes. Nothing bad or scary is permanent, they say. Things are always changing. Better times will come. While most of the time, this is an excellent mantra for life, it’s not so great when facing death. It’s clear to me that the people who write and share these sayings have never been told that they have a 5-10% chance of making it through the next 5 years. Of course, nobody knows how much time I really have left. I don’t get to know the answer to that. Until I do. So I am in no rush to find the answer.
For the first dreary Ohio winter I can remember, I made conscious efforts to NOT fast-forward through the days, the weeks and the months. Three dreary months constitutes just a small fraction of most people’s remaining lifespans. It might have been a third, a quarter or a tenth of what’s left of mine.
In the blog post titled, “365 days” I said that I felt comfortable that I would make it through 2019, and would hopefully- aside from chemo side effects and surgery recovery- be in a position where I could still be free enough from sickness to enjoy it. I still feel that way. Most of the time. But there have been moments that I have worried that that won’t happen.
For about 36 hours after I woke up in Cleveland, I felt, for the first time, that I wouldn’t make it through the year; that things would begin declining rapidly. Before we left the hospital, checked out of the hotel (well, Abe did. I was in a seat in the lobby sobbing uncontrollably), and headed home, we felt as if we had been given an implied prognosis of “get your affairs in order, your cancer is spreading everywhere. It’s over.” When the surgeon walked back his statements on the peritoneal mets being inoperable the next day, that feeling eased a little. But the scars are still there.
The news that my liver mets have been growing while I continue to be out of systemic treatment waiting to see if I get surgery was not terribly surprising, at least for me. That doesn’t make it any less terrifying. The scan caught the base of my lungs and they are still clear- but what about my lymph nodes? There haven’t been any scans of that area since January 9th. And how quickly are my peri mets spreading?
I tell myself that there are still enough treatment options to string out that surely I will still be here to ring in 2020. Hopefully cancer gets the memo. But cancer is an asshole. It’s going to do what it’s going to do despite my self-assurances.
So my brain picks over and analyses every “off” feeling in my body. The slightly congested feeling in my chest for the past two months. The doctors have put a stethoscope to my back every visit since and asked me to breathe, and haven’t noted any concerns. That’s good, right? The twinge in my right ribcage near where a large group of my peri mets are hanging out, or possibly one of my liver tumors…. is this the beginning of the pain? Or am I just freaking out because the idea has been planted, and it’s late at night and I have nothing left to distract me?
The median survival for a newly diagnosed stage IV colon cancer patient is 26 months. That means half of them will die before that time and half of them will die afterwards. Nine out of ten will be gone at the 5-year mark. If I had gotten a resection on the 8th… if they hadn’t found peritoneal disease, MY chances would have averaged to around a 40% shot at five years. And I was determined to be one of the lucky slight minority.
Today, I’m just determined to live up to my declarations at the start of the year. I’m going to stay as healthy as I can for as long as I can.
I am going on that trip to Hawaii that my husband and I always planned for our 20th anniversary. We moved it up 8 months, and it will now be to celebrate my first cancerversary instead. At the age of 18, on a school geology trip to Hawaii, whilst camping on a beach in Kauai, my then high school sweetheart decided that he wanted to marry me. So I have decided that I will stay healthy enough to fly there to see that beach. I have decided I will be here to enjoy another Christmas with my children. I will do whatever I can to stay healthy enough to make it to a family resort in Florida. To watch them play in the pool and the ocean and enjoy being kids.
And if I make it through this year as promised? I will set a new goal, which will be to live to the median survival date of my initial prognosis. I have a lot of things going against me, but things could still be far worse. So, who is to say that I won’t hit that median? Who is to say that I won’t make it to next summer? That this one won’t be my last? That I won’t get to see more than one more first day of school? If I made it to 26 months, I would get see my oldest daughter start high school. I would see her 15th birthday.
And I would not take another second, moment, month or season of it for granted.