In the lottery of life, this is one pronouncement no one wants to hear. Time slows and the world takes on the look of a slow motion, faltering fantasy.
On June 27th, I drew all six numbers in the Cancer lottery.
“Anyone can hide. Facing up to things, working through them, that’s what makes you strong.”
― Sarah Dessen
For the past seven weeks I have lived, day in and out, not knowing if an extensive surgery would remove the dreaded “C”, or if it had seeped into my bloodstream to be taken to parts unknown. Melanoma is my poison. The same that painfully crumbled and claimed a dear friend–six three, athletic and healthy, at the age of twenty seven. The deadliest of skin cancers, often attributed to sun exposure, but also happens in people with genetic predisposition and in locations never exposed to the sun. (Mine in two locations: inner right ankle and middle right back) So doctors don’t know the whole of it, as is the case in so many maladies. Fair, Northern European blonde and redheads are most vulnerable, but even dark-sinned African descendants get it. So best not to court — wear your sunscreen and protective gear. Not a sun over-indulger, this was indeed a surprise.
Would I live or would I die?
The emotional agony of it could well have been shortened. HMO’s, after all, operate within their own time frame and all the stars must align for the proper doctors to be same time- same place to perform the required surgery. In the world of the wealthy elite in which immediate medical intervention can be afforded no matter the cost, the dreaded pronouncement of cancer can be followed by necessary surgery within days. In the world of HMO, not so much.
Metastasize. Has the cancer spread from its original location?
Find the ‘sentinel node’ – that lymph node that is closest to the site of the cancer and determine if cancerous cells reside there. If they do–more ‘treatment’ – the dreaded chemo and/or radiation–the possibility that it has spread to places yet unknown. If they do not – you are well on your way to being a cancer ‘survivor’. Now all that remains is the surgery and recovery. No small feat in and of itself.
I am in recovery. Surgeries are complete and healing, fingers crossed, will go smoothly, not requiring any ‘re-do’s’. As I lay in bed, doctor’s orders to encourage best blood supply to aid the healing of the skin grafting, tears run into my ears. The “Call” finally came and I can breathe the air again with the belief that I will most likely live to see my golden years. The sentinel nodes are clear; the border area around the excisions, also clear.
The exhaustion of weeks of not knowing is setting in. Nights of shallow sleep punctuated with wee hours alone in front of a flickering tv, seeing nothing, have permeated every molecule of my body with a kind of fatigue from which one does not quickly recover. I don’t think I will ever see the world in the same way.
Every day is precious; every moment not a given. Yet I am numb – reeling from weeks of interior negotiations on how to die with grace. Yes, I know this life is precious. I always knew that, so the bright colors of sunlight playing in the garden, the smell of a savory dinner cooking, the heart swelling melody of a perfectly sung aria, the flirty feeling of a briny breeze coming off the sea – they all have held my rapt attention in the everyday. Perhaps in that, I am truly blessed. The life of an author is one immersed in awareness and nuance. I am not seeing, feeling, tasting, hearing everything anew or with increased appreciation. In fact, right now I am so shattered, I am lucky to put thoughts to page. I will continue to look for the ‘lessons’–the change.
Words are cathartic. They carry with them a power beyond the here and now. They have the ability to reach into the reality of anyone who reads them and perhaps, just maybe–make some sense in what is their reality. They might lead to thought, to appreciation, to evaluation, to gratitude.
So, my dear friends and readers, I do not have to do as I had planned, given a more negative outcome to the tests, and begin a series of blogs about the long path of fighting cancer. I have not come to you before this precisely because I wanted to spare you even a shadow of the last seven weeks I have lived wondering how, should it be in the cards, to die with grace.
Would I have had the strength for the further good fight? I’d like to think so, but I am wise enough to know that I will never know until and unless that time arrives. We all hope to pass quietly after a well- lived, long and healthy life, peacefully into the great mystery of death. I once again have a chance at just that, as do we all.
No matter what your path, I wish you grace — and to keep living every day with senses wide awake, steeped in gratitude.
Have you had a life threatening incident or events? What have you learnt? What do you now carry with you? What has changed?
My Milo, ever steadfast, watches over me
May you have as loyal a friend in your hours of need