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?


nangel9 said...

You are my shero.

Cynthia Newcomer Daniel said...

And we could both be hit by trucks tomorrow on opposite sides of the continent. Statistically improbable, but as possible as any other option in this crazy existence.

In my little corner of the world, you will exist for as long as I do: your work in is my jewelry box; I think of you every time I open it and I always will. My daughter covets those earrings, so after I'm gone, she'll probably think of both of us when she wears them.

Of course you think about death. You'd be crazy not to. There is no knowing the future, only that which we know right now. And right now, we're here. I plan to be glad about that, at least until something comes up to distract me.

Peregrine Beader said...

You're very right about its being dishonest to look away, but not looking away requires courage - more courage than many people realize, I think. You are a remarkably courageous woman, and remarkably honest. It shines through in your writing. I'm very proud to know you.

NEDbeads said...

I love what Cynthia said, and I don't think I can say it any better. You will exist as long as I do, too - and I'm sure far beyond that. Not only will the things your hands have made continue down through generations of women, but those people who knew you will be talking of you, and passing you down as well.

What Callie said - how courageous you are to have a long steady look. How honest you are with yourself astounds me just as much, because the world is full of people who lie to themselves every minute.

I don't think you're morbid at all. I think you are as strong as ever, and making your way with poise and grace and every admirable trait that humans can have. Well...except for the psychotic murderous urges, but we'll blame those on the chemo, eh? ;)

Roberta said...

Sometimes I don't know what to say. This is one of those times.

Howpublic said...

Roberta...There used to be a thing people did with comments. They would leave a stone to show they'd read but didn't need or want to comment. The symbol for leaving a stone, if I recall correctly is: (0)It lets me know you visited - and I find it kind of a nice custom.

And thank you all. I try not to dwell on death but I appreciate it when people understand that I must consider it. How strange, when you think of it, that people prepare of every big life change - and yet so many don't consider the conditions around death, which is as huge as birth. Anyway - today beloved friends are visiting, the sun is shining. My last day before the last treatment will be fun - and very much about life.

Marsha Wiest-Hines said...

(o) It's a really elegant stone, like you.

Jack said...

Courage is a funny thing, isn't it? To so many it means denial. To others surrender. To me, it means facing what comes with strength, decency and honesty. I don't know that I could be as strong, decent and honest as you. To show the grace that you do.

As for the vengeful, punishing creator - I've always felt that's just a construct of religious leaders desperate to maintain control. A loving creator loves all, not just those who support a particular faith or branch of a faith.

I'm looking forward to meeting you in person in the future. That's not denial - just a selfish expression of hope. :)

Howpublic said... spiritual advisor, the hospital chaplain, says that our true nature is joy. I'm hoping he's right and that when the time comes, I find that out. And PS - it's always good to hear from you.

Pat Barber said...

I'm only just beginning to meet you and to know you, but this much I know of you with certainty: you have lived a life of intentful purpose ... and clearly you are intentful on dying with purpose as well - whenever that event may be, and not one second sooner than it is to be. So all my love, admiration and gratitude to you, dear Linda, for choosing to live and die purposefully. Beyond this, I have nothing to say, so ... (0)