Friday, July 26, 2013

Keeping Cancer at Arm's Length

When Mark was first diagnosed, it seemed in some ways like the world had come to an end. The shock of it all left us in a daze. The cancer, along with the dismal prognostications and statistics, was just beyond that daze, staring us in the face. We could feel its icy, foul-smelling breath.

With each passing day, however, we were able to put some space between us and the diagnosis. And that helped. We were able to function. But there were times, however, that something would remind us, would remind me. In late April, for example, I wrote in my journal: "Though I try to hold things at bay, I broke down on Saturday night as I was preparing the salad, listening to music from the 70's playing. It reminded me of that special space that Mark and I share, and the thought that Mark may not be here someday filled me with immense sadness."

At the end of April, we left on a trip to Maui that had been planned months prior to the diagnosis. It was therapeutic to get away, to focus on the sun, the ocean and playing paddleball, rather that the cancer. But of course the cancer had followed us to Hawaii and, though I became better at keeping it at arm's length, it occasionally made its presence painfully known. 

On our first full day in Maui, there was a scare that we later realized was likely attributable to some medication Mark was on. His left hand became numb, and it scared us. "These experiences," I wrote, "remind us of the specter in the room. Death sits quietly in the corner, but he occasionally reminds us that he is there, silently waiting and watching, occasionally reminding us of his presence lest we get caught up in the exuberance of life and temporarily forget."

I described another experience a week later in my journal:  
"Mark and I were playing paddleball after cocktails and were enjoying it. Mark looked so beautiful standing there with the setting sun behind him, that I suddenly became overwhelmed with the prospect of losing him and started crying. He of course couldn't imagine why. It took me a while to compose myself. It was all so beautiful. Then a few minutes later, we went out into the water and watched as the sun disappeared behind Lanai. It was magical."
A couple of weeks later, back home, I noted that Mark had had a bit of a down day. "Some days," I wrote, "in fact most days, I put his cancer out of my mind entirely. I don't think about the ways things may be in six months or a year. I don't think about the possibility that, eventually, he will become very sick and, ultimately, die. Of course, these aren't 'possibilities'; they are likely 'certainties'. But until that time arrives, I will continue to enjoy each and every day with him and not think or worry what may lie down the road."

It's usually at this point that I try to think of something pithy to end a post with. Some lesson. Some realization. Today, however, I can't do that. I know the cancer is never going to go away. So does Mark. We try to live each day, to live in the moment, to appreciate all that we have; but cancer is still an unwelcome stranger who has set up camp in our lives and whom we haven't really gotten to know very well yet.  

1 comment:

  1. I can imagine the need and reflex to keep things at arm's length. It must feel like this enables you to function and better enjoy the present. I hope that both you and Mark can shorten that distance, little by little, to allow that fear and reality to coexist with your carpe diem approach to life. Feeding the reality of the cancer with the intense love, joy and desire can only nourish you and kill the pain. I love you both dearly.