As I write these words, I am paralyzed, creatively speaking, because of my situation. What do you do when your life comes to an unexpected, screeching halt? When you can’t plan ahead any further than November 11th at 3:40 p.m.? What do you do when you can’t do the only thing that makes you feel better? To create?
You talk to—or write for—the people who love you, or at least, like you . . .even a little. Enough to follow you on Facebook, or on your blog, anyway.
Hopefully, by the time I post this, the crisis will be over. The waiting is the worst part.
On October 31st (yes, on Halloween, my favorite holiday), I was enjoying a magical luncheon with my daughter, who lives six states away from me. I was visiting her and my grandson for Halloween—what has become an annual tradition. This lunch was extra special, though. Lil Guy was in school, and Susie and I were seated at a patio table at The Muse Restaurant, at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, FL. One of my favorite places in the whole world.
A mother-daughter day. Susie and I had just come from a shopping spree at the outlet mall, and up until that point, the day could not have been more perfect. And again, an annual tradition—my mother and I took Susie to the Ringling for the very first time in 1983, when she was only 3 1/2 years old. And I’ve visited there, either with my late mom, alone, or with my daughter and grandson, every year, for the past thirty-three years.
The weather was gorgeous, the view of the lagoon beyond the patio, lush and tropical. We laughed watching a turtle frantically trying to dig himself into the mud at the perimeter, while a giant Koi irritated the hell out of him. We sipped our glasses of wine, took the first bites of our delicious Mahi tuna appetizer, and then . . .my phone rang.
It was my gastroenterologist, a wonderful doc who’d performed some routine, screening procedures on me a few weeks before. All was well, he’d told me that day when he handed me the report, complete with pictures, in the recovery room. He’d taken some biopsies of my moderate gastritis.
This day, his tone, on the other end of the line, was somber.
“The results of your biopsy, Mrs. Brown, I’m sorry to say, were quite a surprise. I truly wasn’t expecting this diagnosis.” He cleared his throat. “I’m afraid you have cancer.”
The world stopped turning. I stopped breathing. And Susie, knowing by what she was hearing from my side of the conversation, was busily donning her armor.
Since then, I’ve been told, by a number of physicians, that if I had to get “the Serpent C,” I’d gotten the “best kind.” Leave it to me. I’m such an over-achiever. Even with cancer, I’ve got to achieve the best.
It’s lymphoma, of a type they’re telling me is a treatable, manageable disease. One that I “might die with, but not from.”
“Yeah,” I told my GI doc, “I’ll die with it alright. Especially if I decide to step out in front of a bus.”
His response? “Then don’t do it until you turn 90.”
Now, the hard part: how far has it spread? Is it contained to my stomach, or are there lymph nodes involved? My liver? Spleen? Lungs? Brain? Bone marrow?
I underwent a PET scan on November 11, a day before my 59th birthday. It is now November 16, and I have exactly two hours and thirteen minutes before I meet with the oncologist to find out. To discover whether I’m facing a simple, expedited treatment with some pills, or if I’m destined for a long, arduous course of chemotherapy.
For my husband, my children, my coworkers, and the rest of my loved ones and friends, I hope the news is good. Because as strong as I’d like to think I am, I don’t know how strong I will remain once I’m sick all the time and my hair falls out. As the future becomes as elusive as the next sentence beyond the writer’s block. As I sink into mental, and spiritual, despair.
This can’t be happening. I know I’m being selfish. I know—I have lived a charmed life up to this point, yes, but damn it—I’ve gotten used to it. Besides, I have too much yet to do. Too many moments with my husband (with whom, incidentally, I celebrate our 38th anniversary on November 18th). With my children. With my grandson.
Too many more damned books to write.
And although I’m not afraid of dying, I am afraid of the long, rocky road to that end.
Stepping out in front of a bus is looking better and better.
I promise, before I post this, I will know. And then I will either be asking for your prayers and support through this difficult time of my life. . .or whooping it up in celebration. In the meantime, I promise—I’ll stay away from public bus routes.
Four hours later. . .
Join me in praising God for good news. My PET scan was clear, and now it’s just a matter of “watchful waiting” with periodic scans & endoscopies to make sure we’ve beaten Serpent C into submission.
Apparently, the doctors were right. This type of lymphoma is easily controlled, and can even sometimes be eliminated. With pills.
My husband promised me that if I got good news, I would be granted a “rerun.” Another day at The Muse Restaurant in Sarasota with my daughter. Another occasion to over-ride and wipe out the bitter taste that dreadful day left in our mouths for our annual tradition.
The ticket is booked. I leave a week from Tuesday for just a brief, two-day stay. Susie and I will again go to the Ringling and ask for a patio table with a view of the lagoon. Hopefully, the weather will be lovely. Perhaps that tormented turtle will still be there, digging his way into the mud to escape the harassment of the pesky Koi. Maybe the wine will be sweeter this time, the Mahi Tuna even more decadent.
Not maybe. It. Will. Be. Thank God.
Oh, and a side note to all public bus drivers who may have read my threat to jump out in front of their vehicles? Drive easy. There will be no crazy lady jumping out in front of you anytime soon.
Claire Gem writes, and will continue to write, about strong women, starting over. Visit her at www.clairegem.com.