To plant our feet
These things they always
Come from nowhere
El Vy, “No Time to Crank the Sun”
“How are you doing?” my housekeeper asks. “You look good!”
I give him a quick update on the details of my hospital stay the week before last. I tell him that my ovarian tumor grew 5 cm in 6 weeks. I tell him that we switched to the second of only two non “last line” chemo cocktails available and that we are trying to sort out what to do next about the ovary tumor, assess any other damage done, and hoping that my cancer will respond to this new line of treatment.
He looks crestfallen. He was hoping for good news. A couple of months ago, he placed his hands on me and prayed out loud that the cancer would go away while I sat frozen like a deer in the headlights.
This had worked for others in his church, or so he had said at the time. “But you have to believe”. I guess that the problem is with my faith.
Juan’s well intentions aside, he isn’t the only one taken aback. Having a metastasis grow so quickly after my surgery, and ending up in the hospital with a tube running out of my back and another bag attached to that tube to carry around served as a jarring wake up call for me as well.
Seemingly overnight, my prognosis changed. Seemingly overnight, a few more simple little joys are taken away from me. No more soaking in baths to relieve cramping or nausea, no more massages, or dangling any more than my legs in a swimming pool. You know that feeling when you turn on the hot water in the shower and let it run over your shoulders and back? I can’t do that either because I have to keep the tube coming out from my kidney from getting wet.
Tomorrow’s PET scan will assess the full damage of the past couple of weeks, and based on the information I have, it’s likely that no good news will come from it.
What if the mets in my small intestines have exploded? I can’t take those out, as they are all that I have left. When they no longer work it will be the beginning of the end and I will get hooked up to be fed through a tube (TPN) for my last days.
That axe- as well as countless others- could fall at any time. How silly of me to think that any path along this cancer journey would be predictable. How silly of me to think that any next step that I take won’t crumble beneath my feet.
All of this has had me thinking even more than usual. I am coming to a slow conclusion that expectations are my enemy. No matter what I expect from here on out, there is a pretty good chance that cancer is not getting the memo. It’s going to do what it’s going to do regardless of what I am so bold as to expect or assume is going to happen.
When you expect that someday you will turn your head to the sound of a child calling for Grandma, you mourn the loss of that expectation as if you had already held it in your hands. And so I’ve been grieving the loss of these expectations of time, of plans, of future versions of my children as adults that I won’t see.
But when I linger here too long, mourning tomorrow, I lose sight of how shaky even TODAY is. In order to make the most of the days I have left, I have to force a change in perspective. I need to begin thinking less about everything that is being taken away. I need to think more about what I have today. All of the joys, the freedoms, the dignities that I am blessed with today are not guaranteed to still be with me tomorrow.
I am sitting on my back deck, watching the trees today. I am not in a dark, cramped hospital room.
I was able to go out to a concert last night, and to experience the communal joy that comes with a couple of thousand people gathered in the shared activity of enjoying a favorite band.
I slept in my own bed, and was able to get up and climb into my daughter’s bed for morning snuggles. I got hugs and kisses from my son and ate a good breakfast.
I catch my husband looking at me, trying to take me in and impress moments to his memory. I am blessed enough to know that love. I will never have to be alone in this.
We have friends and family who support us, and who have dropped everything to make sure that the kids are being taken care of when I have to go to a doctor’s appointment in Cleveland, or go to the emergency room, or have a night out with my husband.
It’s a beautiful day, and I have the luxury, clarity and energy to write this all down.
Today, I am wealthy beyond belief. And for each day left like this that passes by me? I will soak in all of this wealth as best as I can. Because tomorrow, the robber may come and steal it away.
I will eat the cheeseburger. I will have dessert. I will even have the occasional drink when I am not in active treatment. Because tomorrow lunch and dinner may be a tube.
I will take the trip. Because tomorrow I may no longer be able to travel.
I will say the thing out loud and in writing that I’m not supposed to say. Because tomorrow I might not be able to express myself at all.
I will go outside and stay outside when the weather is nice. Because tomorrow I may be confined to a hospital room or bed.
And as I do this, I find that in measures, I am becoming less angry.
In measures, I am coming closer to a place of accepting an early death. In measures, it is registering less as an injustice that I am powerless to bargain my way out of, and becoming more of a fact of my existence.
In measures, I am becoming less afraid of death, and more afraid of pain and suffering.
That doesn’t mean that I am done trying. I am just trying to find a mental loop hole to relieve me from struggling. I will need to be as free as I can from them, if I have to balance myself and continue to walk for as far as I can on this shaky ground.