Most nights I sleep quite soundly anymore since being so tired has been my complaint for more than a year now. Some night are like tonight where I was asleep for a few hours but am now awake and thoughts are swirling.
I meet with my oncologist on Wednesday. He’s going to tell me this was all a mistake, that the counts I read in my records were someone else’s, that there was an entry error and my results were within normal range. He’s going to tell me that the three scans I’ve already had were misinterpreted and there is nothing abnormal. He’s going to tell me the previous three weeks were just a bad dream and now I can go back to my usual life.
It was my imagination that I started feeling sick over a year ago, my mind was exaggerating something quite minor. It was just the TBI that was making me tired; I was trying too hard to get back to my normal life rather than giving my brain more time to heal. The weird lesions on my abdomen that never healed completely in over a year, just some strange infection, nothing serious that won’t heal eventually. Life goes on as always.
Because I can’t have cancer. In my family we have heart disease and diabetes. I know those diseases and I expected that one day they would be my fate. In the meantime, however, I was finally taking steps to avoid that fate. I worked hard to lower my cholesterol and A1C. My doctor was so pleased. I was working with a personal trainer, I was starting to see some of my dreams begin to move to reality. I was happy with life. How is it possible I was told I have cancer? It cannot be true. It just cannot!
I wake up in the morning, oh my god, I have cancer. I’m laughing with friends and all of the sudden I realize, oh my god, I have cancer. I lay down to relax and sleep, but then I realize, oh my god, I have cancer. How do I get this out of my head? It doesn’t change reality to think about it. I wish I didn’t know. I should have given myself years away from doctors rather than just one. I could be blissfully ignorant right now, and maybe asleep!
When I hear cancer, I hear death. And death is looking me right in the face, even though it isn’t the likely outcome anytime soon. A friend told me the other day that none of us really believe we will die; we live life as if we have forever. I think about what it will mean to not exist anymore, but I cannot comprehend since I only know existing. I’ve spent all my life learning, thinking, becoming, and to think about all that coming to a halt and disappearing from the world just doesn’t seem right. My mother believed when she died she would go to heaven, to some better place, but I don’t have any such belief. I’m glad she did for her sake, that she felt assured of what would happen to her so that she didn’t have the questions I have or that sense of dread. I, however, will never believe what she believed so how do I face the possibility that death could arrive a lot sooner than I ever imagined? What does it mean to live? What does it mean to die?
Early on Yom Kippur morning I read a poem in the Yizkor section of a Mahzor I bought a few years ago which made me feel somewhat better. It was about how a tree that dies in the forest still casts a shadow and that it continues to contribute to the life of the forest long after it dies. The thought of this made me smile a little. Maybe when I’m gone there will be some ornery, curious, adventurous little girl taking on the world and people will wonder how in the world she got that way! Maybe when I’m gone someone will find enjoyment in a picture I took, maybe someone will remember something I said that helps them. I think this idea of immortality works for me perhaps similarly to how the idea of heaven worked for Mom. The thought of spending eternity in some heaven out there where everything and everyone is perfect, where there is nothing to learn, nothing to accomplish, no new adventures to undertake, sounds incredibly boring, but the thought of contributing to some spirited little girl navigating life sounds like yet another adventure.
At the end of all my pondering, however, I only know life so everything else is just guessing, trying to peer into the void. I suppose it is human nature to try to peer on occasion, but what I don’t like right now is it seems like the void is peering back. Stop looking at me and plotting. I’m asking for another 20 years. I think my youngest son deserves to have as many years with his mother as I had with mine.
It was strange at Yizkor this Yom Kippur. Always before my thoughts have been on the people I have lost along the way. That’s what Yizkor is, remembering. This year, however, my thoughts were on loss in the other direction, with me being the one leaving my sons. I am not ready to tell them good-bye. The thought of not being with them, not being able to provide them with guidance and love through their lives brings me to tears. I know how much it hurts to lose a mother and I cannot imagine not being there to help my sons with their pain. I’m their mother, I’ve always been there for them. How can I go away and leave them on their own? Maybe it’s better to believe that when you die that’s it. How could you move on to some new existence for eternity carrying with you the pain of separation from your children? They are my treasures in this life and I cannot think about never being with them again. Someway, somehow, in spite of this stupid cancer, I have to keep living for a long, long time yet. I just have to.