Monday, 19 December 2011
I am standing on a fault line. The sun comes up and goes down. Monday turns into Tuesday and the days and weeks go by. But I’m standing on a fault line and when I wake up each morning, that is my first thought.
Today, my meeting with my medical oncologist went well. I didn’t think she would acknowledge my letter asking for clarification but she did. She verified that what I am receiving is palliative treatment.
She pointed out that people interpret words differently. To a doctor, “palliative” means that there is no way to cure a disease. Once cancer has become metastatic, it cannot be predicted. Doctors aim their arsenal of chemicals, of radiation – and they hope that the patient may have a shot at more time, do better (in my case) than the statistical eight month survival rate. That’s eight months with treatment. Cancer, she said, cannot be anticipated by anyone.
My closest friends – those whose instincts I trust – flatly deny the possibility of that little time. The oncologist thinks it’s a good sign that, other than the effects of chemo, I’m not sick – and so far, the PET scan shows no spread of the cancer, other than the brain tumour they’ve removed.
For hours, sometimes days, I believe my odds of living longer are good. But the fault line is there and it’s in my peripheral vision all the time so I live in two distinct worlds – neither of which feels completely credible or real.
I think about how we touch the world and what remains of that when we are gone. What will happen to my father’s stones? The small rounds and ovals he collected on painting trips in the bush – the ones I stuffed into my suitcase after his funeral. Who will take my plants? What will people remember of me – and how long will it be until my footprints fade and disappear?
This is not morbid. Part of standing on the fault line lies in understanding that sooner or later, the plates below will shift and the ground will open. That I am mortal is felt – rather than thought. I view death with a mixture of fear, curiousity and relief.
Sometimes, when people urge me to be positive or hopeful, it makes me feel so lonely. Please don’t tell me about the power of visualization – which so many people confuse with wishing. That just isn’t how it works when you’re standing on the fault line. Some days, I know that I will live years longer. I don’t hope I will, or wish I would – I know it. But other days, I understand that I cannot know when it is my time to die. What I hope for is a good death, for making my peace with the life, forgiving and being forgiven. We all die. What more could you hope for than that?
And when you are facing the possibility of death, looking away is not positive, it’s just plain dishonest.
I believe that consciousness continues and some eternal egoless part of us survives the death of the body. I do not believe in a vengeful, punishing creator. And I am curious about the next stage.
And if I’m wrong, if there is nothing at all, then I won’t know that and it won’t matter, will it?