Gently, though. It’s really okay.
I’m going to say something that might disturb some people. I don’t know. People tell me to fight like hell, and they’re right, and I do things that fit that description. I ask everyone who’s breathing to pray for me. (Community support is really, really big.) I’m going down to Riverside tomorrow so I can be admitted on Thursday, to get my body pumped full of chemicals that will make me feel unprintable so I can have a shot at getting rid of cancer. I’d rather not have to do that, but I’m going willingly.
I know what the odds of it working are. This treatment works very well for a very small percentage of people. And I’d rather be happily surprised if it works, than crushed if it doesn’t. So I’m not holding on to anything, even hope.
Do I hope it works? Of course. But I’m not investing my emotional energy in that possibility. A friend who’s an oncology nurse was telling me something to the effect that the mind and the emotions have an effect on the body’s ability to fight cancer. What she said makes sense. But I’m not in that rah-rah-warrior place. I have my sword out. But I’m curiously calm about it.
I already was more than hopeful, once. I was sure that interferon was working, and had worked. We had every reason to think I was clean. And I so wasn’t—I had this crap growing in me, even as we were attempting to prevent the possibility of it ever coming back. It didn’t spread through my palpable, detectable lymph nodes. It snuck in through my bloodstream.
I already didn’t respond to one treatment, which I fervently hoped and wanted to respond to. I know I have no control over my body’s (or the cancer cells’) response to this round either. A is hopeful, because that’s her way of coping. I’d rather be happy than devastated. So I’m more reserved, emotionally, than I ever am. That’s probably part of why I’m still so much in my head about everything.
All I did at the Ranch was walk and write. I am so grateful for that time. I never had to look at my watch—I just responded to mealtime bells when I heard them. And I spent most evenings with the Swifts, just hanging out. It was so amazingly restorative. By the time I left, I was genuinely happy, back in my own skin, and I’d come to some measure of peace.
I had breakfast Sunday morning with Caroline, the director’s wife. She gave me a rock on my way out. It’s a triangular piece of serpentine, about as tall as the palm of my hand. It’s shaped like a mountain. She found it, hiking in the Sierras. And she wrote a blessing on it for me.
I will have a little altar of spiritual homes, when I’m 400 miles from mine. And even that can be holy. One of my priests is calling my hospital room a hermitage. She’s right, really. I am going places spiritually that I never would if I were well. There is life here, and water, and I will not be truly alone.
I had a dream Sunday morning. (I usually wake really early, am up for a couple hours, and go back to sleep.) I was having some kind of medical test to see if the treatment was working. I could see my organs on a TV monitor, with red dots that needed to be measured—those were the tumors. I woke up before I knew what the results were. And it was really okay.
I left the Ranch on Sunday so I could go to church in Sacramento. I always watch the procession going by. I looked up from my hymnal, and caught my priest’s eye. She gave me a look of such absolute love. Her eyes said, “You can do this.” I locked my eyes on hers as long as I could, just drinking it in.
Her metaphor in her sermon was “scary field trips.” I got up at the time people usually go forward with birthdays and thanksgivings, and said, “If this is a thanksgiving, it’s for my community and my health care team.” I told them all what was up, and asked them to come with me in prayer. I know they are. She did the summation prayer that they always do, thanking God for all of us, the gifts we bring, and the gifts given to us. And she prayed especially for me, that I would feel the community’s prayers with me. I already do.
I went back and sat down. My friend held me for awhile.
I put my faith in love and modern medicine. I know what’s in the medical toolbox to fight the cancer I have. I am trusting medical science because I have no choice. I don’t do the faith-healer thing. But the only thing that heals my soul is love. And I’m being bathed in that right now.
I went home after church. A and I hadn’t seen each other in several days. We ate lunch. I reached around and touched my right shoulder—I don’t remember why; I must have had an itch. And I found another tumor.
Here was the thought process: “Oh. I bet I know what that is. Wait, is there a bump on the other side? No, the left side feels normal. Hmm, definitely not a knotted muscle. Damn. It’s real, then.”
The tumor I found is not a friend—it’s an enemy alien. Its presence signals disease that can kill me. But the tumor is also part of me. Finding it was almost a reassurance: you’re not living in a dream world, your body really does throw these.
I know that whatever happens to my body, the intrinsic me will be really okay. I know that like I have never known it before. And so I am genuinely not afraid. This second tumor is just a confirmation: this is life now. I am living where many people don’t go. And I have time now, while I feel well, to stand here with my eyes open.
Two years and two months ago? Not on your life. I was so afraid of everything, before cancer put it all in perspective. I don’t like having cancer that’s resistant to treatment. I don’t want to watch myself get progressively sicker. I don’t want to die. But these clear eyes are a gift of the disease.
UPDATE: A read this over my shoulder. She was holding me, and found another tumor, on my rib. I touched it and it's definitely there. (It can explain why my bra has felt tight.) We both just said, "Damn." I wonder why these are all showing up now?
I'm really not angry with my body anymore. That prayer has been answered. Mostly I feel sad for it--I know my body really tried.
I still feel so ridiculously well. I'll start feeling sick probably Friday morning. (I'll be admitted Thursday afternoon.) I wonder if it's reasonable to ask... can I please have more time to feel healthy? If this doesn't work, can we stop it before the disease itself makes me miserable?
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Gently, though. It’s really okay.