Saturday, October 02, 2010


My doctor in Riverside wouldn’t tell me my statistics. All he would say was that there was no way of predicting, and they have people living twelve years after treatment. (We did discuss options, should the tumors start growing again.) I went online and looked later. I think I Googled “melanoma biochemotherapy” or somesuch.

CPMC (California Pacific Medical Center, in San Francisco) does a similar program to Kaiser. I couldn’t find the exact drugs online; it’s a safe assumption that they’re the same or very similar. (They list interferon, interleukin-2, and “three chemotherapy drugs.” I’m on both the immunotherapies, vinblastine, cisplatin, and temozolamide.) They report a 15% long-term survival rate.

That’s opposed to 5%, with standard treatments. Long-term survival is defined as five years.

It sobered me the first time I read it. Now? I’m used to this. I know my own history. I’ve been on the wrong side of 60% and the right side of 30. I know what I don’t control. The numbers focus for me: You don’t know how long you’ll be here. Live in now, and love while you can.

They don’t leave me cold, but they don’t freak me out either. And I think that’s why I’m sharing this. The difference between most of my friends and me is that I know exactly what I’m facing. I was told I had cancer two and a half years ago. I’ve had time to process what all of this means.

I know what most sane people would never choose to know. And I know I wouldn’t give it back. The knowledge of how finite my own time might be, makes me love my own life more.

I’m going to the Ranch next week, as per my usual pre-chemo routine. I’ll help host, I’ll walk, and I’ll write. I have a writing project that I’ve been kind of putting off, because I have no idea how to do it. I have to write a spiritual autobiography; it’s a process thing. God and me over my whole life, in five pages. The link to this blog doesn’t count.

Where am I stuck? Continuity between before cancer, and now. I felt a call before then, and it was enough to send me to school, but I’ll be damned if I knew what I was talking about. I found homeless ministry when I was in treatment the first time. I knew that documenting my life as a cancer patient was a ministry in itself. One is a passion; the other I do because it’s the way I’ve processed this illness and what it has taught me. There’s so much about both of these, that’s wrapped up in living on the outside. I've made my home where I am.  I was shocked, but not surprised, when I was diagnosed again. I can’t really imagine life after cancer. I know I’ll never be “normal,” at least as long as I remember. And I know I don’t want to forget.

Meanwhile, I still feel damn well, except from chemo.

I feel like John the Baptist out here. Can you hear me? I was as healthy as you, before I was told that I wasn’t. You don’t know the time you have. Love your own life. Live in now, and love while you can.


David said...

Before anything else- know that the love and the prayers continue daily here in Montreal. Several times a day you come to heart- often ambushing me, moving me to tears is some of the strangest circumstances.
Kirstin, two things come to mind, sitting with this post after having read it. You speak of struggling in the autobiography; expressing the shift pre/post diagnosis and new sense or impact this had had on your vocation to priesthood.
And the word which came was 'larger'. Cancer effectively threw out outside the illusory bubble of all extraordinarily normals folks cruise through life on. My sense is that this is not only reflected in your progress from the classroom to working on the street, but in a larger openess, an articulate clarity and your passionate determination not to miss a moment of grace.

As to your comment about never being normal- I never understood 'normal' to be part of the Christian vocation.
Extra-ordinary sounds like our Kirstin for more reasons than you'd want me to name.

As to the struggle to get that biography into five pages, how about considering alternatives to straight text. Someone I know who had to do something similar for a position outside the Church did it in 31 Haiku: she got the job- not that they understood each one of the poems; but they were convinced she was someone they wanted to know a lot better.
Just a thought

love you


Caminante said...

Thinking about how this past week in Santo Domingo, we invited the clergy from the Episcopal Church of Haiti to think about the 'new normal,' one that has been thrust upon them, making it impossible to go back to what as before. How do they move forward? And what really is 'normal'?

I think of you, too, as you find yourself in this newness.

You are ever in my prayers. Glad as always to find you here.

it's margaret said...

Yes. I hear you. Love you.

Kirstin said...

Thank you all so very much. Love to everyone.