Exactly one year ago today I completed my last radiation treatment. As far as I know, no detectable cancerous lesion has returned since then, which makes this a cautious but happy holiday. The caution is prudent, given the size and mass of the original tumor and the fact that it had metastasized to lymph nodes, thus increasing the chances that it will pay a return visit. If it does, according to my medical oncologist, it will do so “with a vengeance” having cleverly re-engineered itself to evade the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. A relatively prompt death is likely.
I have believed in and witnessed the truth of the saying that “we die the way we live.” Among other things, I have lived a life of short-term pessimism and long-term optimism. Things will work out in the long run, I have always thought, but the rub is in the present and immediate future.
Unfortunately for me and those committed to living with me, this has made me a rather troubled and troubling companion. For if the diagnosis of stage 4 cancer does anything, it creates a shift in perception. Whatever cuddly visions I have had of the long-term future quickly vanish into the thin air of fear. Some say cancer is a wake-up call, but for me it has always been more than a challenge to wake up at all, let alone from a nightmare that projects itself into the waking state of monthly hospital checkups, blood tests, radiation-rich carcinogenic body scans, and the harrow of waiting for results.
Yet without the battle there can be no victory, and today is a time for celebration. And in this very moment, as others around me are wont to remind me, things are looking good. And as I try to remind myself, this very moment is the only moment that matters; it is the only moment which this brave and betraying body of mine can ever embrace.
And, perhaps in spite of what you have been kind enough to read so far, I am not a whiner. I have fully embraced my father’s dictum that life isn’t fair, and that it is all of our jobs to work with what we got. And though it’s too easy for me to miss what is right in front of me, I’ve got a lot.
It is about 4 in the morning, still unaccustomed to the time shift from L.A. to Galway. Yesterday my wife and I walked over 5 miles along the coast in the gray chilly mist, as the sun set over the Atlantic between this continent and the Aran Islands. Gas-fueled flames in the faux stove heat this cozy AirBnB, a modern addition to a traditional rowhouse just four easy blocks from the pub-lined High street that twists through shops packed with a mix of tourists and locals. And peregrinating through the streets of this, one of my favorite cities, I am constantly reminded that there is nothing quite like the amity, charm and wit of the Irish. In this, the only moment there is, life is good.
So today I will struggle again, as I have each day, to find a suitable folder in which to file the fear that each of these bizarre symptoms that arrive daily, uninvited and unwelcome, are signs of the cancer returning. No, they are just the creaking of an aging body or the teasing of my guardian angels. I will, today, try again to inhale the crisp air of gratitude and allow its sweet calming effects to wilt the tension in my muscles. I will, today, if only briefly, imagine the soft embrace of a mother’s arms in order to protect me from the ill wind, and soothe the bristles of expectation.