Monday, October 24, 2011
You Get What Anybody Gets - You Get a Lifetime.*
When I was first diagnosed, back in November of 2008, I was actually really hopeful. I was strong - I had proven that by walking away from a marriage that almost turned me into a person I didn't recognize. My new relationship with T, forged from years of friendship and trust, could only be made stronger by such a trial, right? I don't want to linger too long on my first bout of cancer, there's time for that later, and I'm not in the mood today. But several months - and some hair and a breast - later, we were on the other side, and I was here in beautiful Minnesota. I'd never really planned on returning to the Midwest, I'd thought of the East as my home for 15 years, but there was comfort in being back where my bloodline flowed for hundreds of years into this fertile ground. We'd even received some positive news from my oncologist about the chances of having a baby.
I wanted badly to have a baby with T. After the chemo was over and some hair had grown back, we had been married in a tiny courthouse ceremony witnessed only by the judge, a great mutual friend of ours, and a volunteer. We'd planned on having a reception sometime in the next year, I wanted to see all my friends together, I wanted them to see our love for each other. No one couldn't see it. Our love glowed through us like a living creature, a golden thread. Our molecules ticked and tocked in the same oscillations. Being big fans of quantum physics, we believed - still believe - that the longer we were together, the more we became each other, like the Policeman and his bicycle.
After the wedding, we settled down into the holiday season. I was still recovering from all the assaults to my body, but I was getting stronger. It was strange to me, then, right before Christmas when my lower back started hurting. I just thought it was too much exertion and, well, I was 35 now and random pains were something to expect. I didn't even tell T., but after days it began to gnaw at me. We went to a regular follow up with my oncologist, and I didn't tell her either. This was the day she told us that in about a year and a half, I could .get the operation to remove the (benign) tumor in my ovary and start trying for a baby.
Something I haven't mentioned is that T is 16 years older than me, and has a fully grown family, but I never wanted a baby until we began dating. I'd never been with a man I wanted so badly to be a father to my child. Other men had been either flaky, self-absorbed, not ready, or in my ex's case, poised to raise a child as sad and self-absorbed as he, his father before him, and his before him had been.
So I did something no oncology patient should ever do, I didn't mention that I was in pain. Two days later, there for a routine scan, my body was so twisted while I was walking that I couldn't hide anything. We went up to my doctors office and I was able to get some pain meds. A few days later, my results came back and of course, metastatic cancer. It had spread to my liver and was wrapped around my spine.
I don't really think about the liver tumors that much (except for one very exciting time which I will talk about much later) but the tumor on my spine I picture like a dark bony hand trying to pull me down into the center of Earth. It is skeletal, evil, and made of black liquorice sugar. For a while after that, I couldn't walk and thought, well, that's it for sure! But there was still chemo - so MUCH chemo - ahead, and radiation, and other things.
Anyone who has ever had cancer knows that relapse, getting it AGAIN, is our great fear. In many ways it is worse than fear of dying, at least for me. I'd only been "better" for 6 months, and now I knew I was never even better. There's this unknown fear, something lurking like all those childhood fears, and they all come rushing back, you bet. That thing under the bed is there, and it's you. T. becomes overly-controlling, angry when I don't eat enough of his food or too much of other people's cooking, obsessively monitors my pill or alcohol intake. My body balloons due to hormones and steroids (I had finally achieved my ideal weight after leaving my ex), my skin flakes off in chunks. I can't remember anything, days last forever but months fly by.
Chemo after chemo doesn't work, and I sink into a depression so deep during a Winter so cold, that part of me feel like it is more of the Other World than this one. I can picture in my mind that my grip on life is so slight that a shrug could pull me out of it. My dream world is real and vivid. There I mourn the things I think I am losing: my future adventures, seeing London again, my wedding reception, our baby. We were in mourning.
A person with the type of breast cancer metastases such as mine have a 10 percent chance of living over a four year period, and even then the likelihood is that the condition is chronic. If you've never had chemo, it is sort of like having from a severe to light cold/flu all the time, coupled with chronic fatigue and pain. Think of the last time you had the flu, and what you could manage to do during those days. Take that and multiply it for the rest of your life. You'll have good days, absolutely. I've had glorious days, sometimes 3 at a time, where the symptoms, most important the fatigue, are so far in the background that so long as I'm careful, I can feel Me coming back from where she's been sleeping. Those days are glorious. Those are the days that I do not feel like a burden to my beautiful husband.
* Death, Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Preludues & Nocturnes