The fulcrum may be flatter, but here we still are.
I need to blog. I don’t want to. There’s just too much to process. My speech is clear and appropriate, as is my writing when I do it. But I worry sometimes; my brain feels like a sea sponge. I'm always surprised when the writing process still feels like home.
I did go to St. Gregory’s for Easter Vigil, and it was wonderful. (I did myself in, though, walking-wise, by dancing too much. More on that in a minute.) St. Aidan’s on Easter morning was also wonderful. I hadn’t told anyone to expect me, because I didn’t know if I’d have the energy to go. It was so good to see people. I went to the Ranch from there, and stayed until Friday. I couldn’t really hike, because I strained a ligament in my knee sometime in March, coming out of the shower coughing and gagging. I went down as if to throw up (it’s been a long time since I’ve eaten before showering), and hit my knee too hard. Probably more than once. I only last week went to PT for it, and it’s beginning to improve. But I walk everywhere with a hiking stick, because my knee is unstable and any little wobble causes pain. Braces help, but not that much.
But the people there were wonderful, and that’s really why I went. It’s my other home. The staff has been extended family for a long time. Threshold Choir was there that week. I’ve worked their retreats before. It was both good and hard to be there with them. They sing for people while they’re dying. They sang for me, two evenings in the chapel. The first time was pure gift, and I blissed out on it. The second night, they tried to make me cry, because the director told them that I’d tried not to before. It worked. (I’m still a little ambivalent about that. Do tears help? Yes. But it’s up to me to let myself have them, when I want to and feel safe to. I told one of them the next morning, that I felt a little bit played with. She understood.)
I missed most of the Tuesday I was up there, because I had to come back to Sac for my follow-up MRI. I came home on Friday, went to church in Fremont Sunday, and to the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose afterwards. (It was weird for both A and me to be there among all those mummies, with me rather clearly headed in their direction.)
While I was gone, A went nuts researching clinical trials. Good thing, because my doctor told me on Tuesday (a week after the MRI) that my brain mets, along with everything else) are growing.
That only ends one way. You die. And it’s easy to believe it, because my cough has been hideous. I haven’t had any energy. I literally drag myself everywhere. (I saw my last chest X-ray. My lungs are full of clouds.) A got us an appointment with a doctor at UCSF who’s running a clinical trial for a drug that actually works, consistently, on brain mets. We’re seeing him Wednesday. The catch is that I have to have the BRAF mutation. We’ve been asking Kaiser to test me for that since July. (I have a hole in me now from where they biopsied me on Friday. But we don’t have any faith that they’ll do the test.) UCSF will test me when we go there. A and I both love this doctor; A feels that he’ll be able to help even if I don’t have the mutation. I’m rationing hope.
So. I’m wearing a Lifeline button right now. (I hate the thing, but it’s for security.) I've had a Medic Alert bracelet for weeks. Every time I get a headache, I just assume it’s water pressure. I’m planning to drastically reduce driving after I get home from church today, in advance of anything actually happening. (A can’t take me; she’s with her mom in Davis for Mother’s Day weekend.) For the first time in decades, I feel nervous being home alone overnight. We got me a disabled parking placard; partly for my leg and partly in advance of disease progression. I spent last Wednesday with a friend; we get together every week or two, whenever I ask, and soak up time together. This time we talked about intentional dying. And... we might have found the drug that will give me my life back. If I have the mutation. There’s about a 50/50 chance I will.
I’m hardly daring to hope. And one of the things that keeps going through my head is, “What would I do with my life if I had it?” I want to live. I confirmed that when I walked out of my biopsy at Kaiser, checked my e-mail on my phone, found the exchange that A forwarded to me between her and the doctor at UCSF, and was suddenly and uncontrollably crying. I want this. There is so much I can do, if I get it. And I’m also scared. I would need so much support, just to get on any kind of economic feet. (One of my fears is that a loss of or lapse in health insurance would mean certain death. A won’t let that happen, as long as she can prevent it.) I was sure before the cancer came back, that I wanted to be a priest on the streets. Now, that’s one of a garden of possibilities. Whom do I love most, and how do I want to be with/serve them? I’m toying with the idea of hospital chaplaincy—I certainly know it from a patient’s perspective—but I haven’t even done CPE. (I was sick all the summers I might have.)
What would I do if I had a life, and time? What would I do if I had energy, and could freely breathe? What would I do if my brain were fully mine? What would I do if I could manage my melanoma like any other chronic disease, taking a drug for as long as it worked (in this case, about seven months) and then jumping to the next invention? What would I do if death weren’t lurking behind the next tree?
That I might get to find out, both exhilarates and frightens me. Even as death itself holds much less fear. You learn to adapt quickly to medical realities. “Your mets are growing.” “Oh. Well, crap.” When I stopped crying and wanting to cry, I was no longer so scared to let go of being here. It was almost weird, how quickly God was not so much the stranger.
I can’t commit to living with my full heart, and I can’t turn my full being to dying with intention. I have one foot in each possibility. The choice won’t be mine; it will be dictated by biopsy results. I can do either. The waiting is what’s hard.
I need to stop and thank people for writing me, when I so rarely write back. (John Kater, I’m looking at you.) Thank you for being in this with me. Thank you for encouraging me, praying for me, loving me through everything. Thank you for telling your stories. Thank you just for being here.
I mean to write more often than I do. It’s a lack of energy that keeps me from it, and also sometimes the speed at which circumstances change. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have this commitment. But all of you sustain me.
If I disappear, don’t worry. A will write for me, if and when I can’t do it anymore.
Love to all.
Sunday, May 08, 2011
The fulcrum may be flatter, but here we still are.