Over the past year I have been asked if E’s cancer changed anything. What a preposterous question. Of course it changed things. It changed everything. But that’s not the question really being asked is it? You’re all too polite and kind to ask the big messy Q. Fear of intruding. Or opening wounds. Being considered nosey. But this is me you’re asking. I’ve been an open book since I started this blog in 2011. Poured my heart out. Spilled my guts. Let the cat out of the bag. Shared my deep dark dreary thoughts in this diary. So it’s perfectly okay to ask the real question on your mind.
HOW has cancer changed things?
If you were to peek into our house this Christmas, you’d probably smile, possibly sigh with relief, that everything appears the same. Sa-sa-sa-sa-same. Same family gathering. Same festivities. Same decorations and ornaments hung on the tree. It all looks very much like it did last year. And the year before. And the one before that. Right back to when E and I shared our first Christmas together. There have been a few different houses. We’ve all grown older. The kids are all now adults. There’s a grand daughter. A daughter-in-law. But the mood in the room is unchanged. Family jokes. Teasing. Cheerful banter. Laughter. Misty eyes. Magnanimous grateful hearts. Goodwill, and all that jolly ho-ho-ho.
Because of this ostensible normality it’s difficult at times to imagine that E is a cancer survivor. Sometimes I can’t even believe he had cancer at all. I think, did we really go through that? His 23 days in the hospital, now a distant memory slowly fading to black. I have to look at the photos that documented his stay there to bring clarity to my recollections. Fill in the gap between fact and fiction. Did this really happen? And sadly, have I diminished this life-altering experience to just another story that I tell?
Yet it was real. It did happen. Truth is, it changed everything.
There’s the obvious things. The loftier higher-self transformative stuff. Gratitude for a life being spared, given a second chance. Awareness of the fragility of our earth walk. Delight in the small precious things. Refined appreciation for all those we hold dear. Joy in the everyday and the mundane. Concern for all living creatures. Reverence for the fleeting passage of time. Appreciation of all that is good, for I am steadfast in my belief that there is more good than not. Awe and wonder at the sheer miracle of being here at all.
I thank God for this metamorphosis of the spirit. For giving my caterpillar heart butterfly wings.
But there’s more to this story. There’s the underbelly. The ugly shit that is difficult to admit. Even to myself. There’s the stuff I think I’ve kicked out the door and sent slithering down the road, only to turn around to find the ugliness standing in front of my kitchen sink doing dishes. Oh the shameful cowardly resentful thoughts I’ve had there. The devil’s face reflected in the white porcelain dinner plate. The monster in the bottom of the silver pot. The creep in the cast iron frying pan. All me.
There’s the fear that grips my gut and tears at my bowels. The anger that erupts and gasps and flares out of nowhere. The sudden and unforeseen tears that sting my cheeks. The frustration with a life interrupted. The impatience with everything, including E.
A foul tenacious undercurrent of dread flows through my nervous system. Silently terrified that cancer will return. It’s the uninvited guest in the room. The one that has outstayed its welcome. Can’t take a hint and leave. It’s the disturbing uneasiness beneath my flesh. The choking, suffocating, stifling vice grip. And at the heart of all this maelstrom, one thought prevails. Will this sinister beast return and snatch E in it’s Godzilla grip forever?
At times, often when I least expect it, I’m angry. Pissed off that a year later E is still in recovery. My impatient unkind inside-voice says, ‘get over this already.’ I want things to move according to my agenda, spoiled child that I am. Not E’s natural healing process. At the risk of sounding like Gilda Radner, ‘there’s always something.’ Rogue aches and pains throughout his body that seem to have nothing to do with cancer. Yet in some way they do. The hip bone is connected to the thigh bone, after all.
I cry. Like a baby some days. These crying jags are erratic. Out of the blue. Unpredictable. Indiscriminate and downright impolite. They take me by surprise. But then so did the diagnosis of cancer a year ago.
E’s personal mantra is that he “comes from good stock.” Hardy. Resilient. Tough as nails. It’s his Grizzly Adams fortitude and true grit that gets me through the hour of the wolf. It’s the call in the wilderness that keeps me going. One baby-step at a time.
Fuck cancer anyway. We don’t give up. That much hasn’t changed.