I HAVE no expiration date.
And I know more clearly than ever, that each day is a treasure gift to be lived to the fullest—till tomorrow comes.
Having cancer invites the permanent temptation to be self-centered and even solipsistic as the population of Tumorville and Wellville continue to swell and interact, there is a growing need for ground rule that prevents us from inflicting ourselves upon one another.
“I just wanted you to know that I perfectly understand what you are going through…” an understatement.
“How are you?” It is normally agreed that question, does not put one on oath to give a full or honest answer. When asked recently, I’m inclined to say something cryptic like, “Oh, a bit early to say…” and sometimes, when the good nurses on staff at my oncology clinic, I go far to respond “I seem to have cancer today!”
To the Heart Companion, the heart surgeon who listens to my heart with his stethoscope and spends several minutes fearful of hearing split ISI—a third heart sound or perhaps the murmur of an atheroscleric valve—while I hung there and took huge doses of chemotherapy and radiation and scan treatments…. the “Good Morning” would be answered “that remains to be seen!”
Nobody wants to be told about the countless minor horrors and humiliations that become facts of life, when your body turns from being a friend to foe. That nasty double cross of feeling so acutely hungry while fearing even the scent of food and the absolute misery of grit—winging nausea on an utterly empty stomach and this into that childish and irritating phenomenon of a permanently running nose.
Sorry, but you did ask.
It might be an offense to be excruciating and unfunny in circumstances, to appreciate the full the truth of the materialists proportion that when the good cells are killed with the bad cells, I don’t have a body. I am a body. Neither is the possibility of adopting the stance (please) “don’t ask, don’t tell” because this smacks of a prescription of hypocrisy and double standards.
Friends and relations especially loved ones, obviously don’t really have the option of not making kind inquiries. I try to put them at ease by being as candid as possible, and not to adopt any sort of euphemisms or denial. By getting to the point and say what the odds are, the swiftest way of this is to tell that the thing about those in Stage IV, is that there is no such thing as Stage V.
And quite rightly, some people take me up when I say with deliberate realism that a few more scans and prayers and the remission become a reality. I had to accept the blessing that everyday is a day of progress…although it could always come back in full force. This depressed me, more than one reason, and especially when close friends inquire “Is that what you are afraid of?”
As it happens, they were exactly right to ask , and it had been precisely that which had been bothering me, still I was unreasonably shocked by such bluntness, no matter how true. I’ll do the facing of hard facts. Thanks. “A time comes when you have to consider letting go,” that had the winds knocked out of you, no matter how true. And how crisp a summary of what I have always said to myself, but again applied to sufferers and sympathizers what was actually sayable?
If there ever was a cancer etiquette, might there be imposed duties on me, as upon those who say too much, or too little whether it is intended to uplift and convey optimism, or intensely depressing or lowering of the spirit.
There was a soft know on the door and the oncologist entered. She greeted me and then spent a few minutes sitting quietly and reading the lab results and x-rays I had brought with me and said “Tell me, why you’ve come.” My heart jumped to my throat.
I looked into her face and saw a genuine concern. I began telling her all the things I was experiencing from the most common place and finally to that strange feelings, that often wakes me from my sleep. My voice shook as I started to tell her that in my illness I discovered a basic truth. There are only two kinds of people in this whole world, those who are alive and those who are afraid. And one of the attending doctors had ordered that I cannot be afraid but to think of a second response to fear.
How can you re-think when you’re filled with resentment, self pity and a sense of being a victim. The loneliness I felt when my colleagues can socialize in gay abandon, while I conserve my energy – the stories and the unchaste novel I have to write. The grandchildren.
She continued to listen as I began to review my life, looking at the many important relations, experiences as I could remember, thinking of the people I loved one at a time realizing that while I was certain that I had disappointed and even hurt people in the course of my life, I could not remember deliberately causing pain or harm to anyone or resenting anyone else good fortune or hating anyone or even telling a significant lie. I didn’t forget to mention that I had that special blessing of someone to love…that is life’s elegance that far exceeds anything we might device…and all the sickness, pain, love, loss and triumph only deepened my capacity for compassion and loving kindness, I have even learned to forgive, even if it lowered my standards.
Eventually, I said: “but why doctor, I suffer and unseen and alone?” And then I just cried, my eyes are stung with tears. I felt profoundly diminished, different and even ashamed. It took me nine to ten minutes to tell my whole story. The doctor said nothing to interrupt and just listened closely. When I finished, she asked a few questions that showed me that she had heard and fully understood. Then she reached for my hand and told me that she realizes how hard things were. She validated my concerns.
She reminded me that my last lab studies have ruled out the truly life threatening possibilities. She assured me that whatever was there had already declared itself more clearly when they did a surgical solution, radiation and chemotherapy.
As I related the story to the in house doctor, he looked at me and smiled, “We will wait together.” He had no diagnosis, unlike the others. He simply offered his caring, hope and his unflinching faith. The belief that no doctor can ever improve on God: his willingness to face the unknown with me, lifting the loneliness that separated me from the rest and from my own strength, as I continue to live one day at a time.
Tomorrow is another day, and I’ll be alive to greet it.
E-mail Mylah at firstname.lastname@example.org