Updated: Sep 28
This week I had myself a little cancer scare. A combination of strange joint pains, unexplained long-term nausea, some other symptoms and test results set up the red alert sign in my brain, and I ended up sitting on top of my bed staring at Facebook to distract myself while freaking out. For the last month, I had been worried about some of the symptoms, and when you’ve lived through chemotherapy, surgeries and many witching hours when you wondered if your cancer would truly be cured for good, you’re especially vulnerable to such scares. Within an hour, some reassurances came, and by a day later, it was revealed that everything was likely just fine. Some follow-up visits and blood work are in my future, but I sense all is well, and so does my oncologist.
Cancer scares are part and parcel of being a survivor. I don’t know anyone who survived cancer who doesn’t occasionally, like at 3 a.m. in a particularly stressful season, sit up in bed and hyper-ventilate once in a while. Unfortunately, some of those moments are tethered to oncoming bad test results and discovering that the big, bad C is back. Leading writing workshops regularly for people living with metastatic disease, I’ve heard some heart-piercing stories about when the worst fears become the day-to-day reality. Yet I’ve also seen that even this isn’t ever what any of us think it will be: we are still ourselves, even if living with a very serious illness, and we still need to beg, borrow and steal whatever meaning we can from the day and whatever comfort we need from the night.
In many ways, such scares wake us up like someone blasting a trumpet at 6 a.m. that sends our heart pounding and our eyes wide open. We find out who we are in a moment of extreme fear. I’m always surprised to re-discover that despite being a people person, when I’m terrified, I freeze up and don’t want to talk to anyone…..until I start talking, and don’t want to stop talking until I’ve talked to everyone. But then again, who knows how I might respond at another time. We’re all kind of fickle and delicate like that.
Jane Kenyon’s marvelous poem “Otherwise” speaks to the up-close realities of waking up to the life we’ve been given with enough vision to see the outer edges of our life. I give thanks the life right here right now, even in the middle of a cancer scare.
I got out of bed on two strong legs. It might have been otherwise. I ate cereal, sweet milk, ripe, flawless peach. It might have been otherwise. I took the dog uphill to the birch wood. All morning I did the work I love.
At noon I lay down with my mate. It might have been otherwise. We ate dinner together at a table with silver candlesticks. It might have been otherwise. I slept in a bed in a room with paintings on the walls, and planned another day just like this day. But one day, I know, it will be otherwise.
~ Jane Kenyon