Tomorrow will mark six weeks since my surgery for pancreatic cancer and I think I am doing remarkably well. The long incision down the middle of my torso is healed. Hardly any pain related to the surgery remains.
Although I am still unwilling to lift anything heavier than six or seven pounds, I am doing everything else for myself now, if a little slowly, and I drove for the first time over the weekend. It went well.
The overwhelming fatigue has lifted but by late afternnoon, I'm done for anything more than lying around, and that gives me plenty of time to ponder my predicament: the malignant tumor was successfully removed from my pancreas but there are those three pesky lymph nodes (and more that were not tested?) where the pathologist found cancer cells.
In about ten days I will spend time with the medical oncologist to find out all about what chemotherapy can do about that. Having that treatment is, of course, my choice but recovering now from surgery that was the hardest thing I've ever done, I doubt I'll reject giving chemo a chance to work.
Meanwhile, I am living in a sort of twilight zone of an unknown precarious future. Sometimes I try to imagine what the cancer looks like and picture it gone, poof. Other times I think of it as an enemy, as I would any person who is trying to kill me, that I must fight with all my might.
Neither of those work for me, especially the second. I can't seem to rustle up a mental scenario of bodily war against cancer. Lack of imagination, I suppose.
Many people have told me I'm brave and courageous but I don't know about that either. Bravery, to me, means lack of fear in face of danger and that's certainly not true of me right now. I am definitely afraid of the future.
Having courage, on the other hand, is to take on a dangerous adversary while also feeling overwhelming fear.
You may think that, particularly in agreeing to chemotherapy to fight the cancer, I am being courageous and for me, chemo is as frightening as cancer itself.
But I see it differently: that I must live in the world as it is and what it is now - a cancer that can kill me - doesn't change whether I am afraid or not so courage doesn't enter into it.
The possibilities for my future are simple and obvious:
⚫ The chemotherapy works and with or without additional treatments, the cancer goes into remission and am granted some reasonable number of additional years
⚫ The chemotherapy doesn't work and I die sooner rather than later
It's such a mystery, death is. Our culture sees it as the ultimate adversary to be fought against relentlessly. My current fear notwithstanding, I believe death is the natural order of things – nothing else makes sense to me.
Further, I've always thought that as the time of my death approaches, I would gradually lose interest in the world around me – I watched that happen to my great aunt and several friends who died decades younger than she did. But the thing is, faced with this medical catastrophe, I haven't lost interest.
Well, maybe I have to a degree. As I have recovered from the surgery, I have lost interest in most non-news television, even many of my favorite shows. Suits, for example, seems much less compelling this season, less well written, more soap opera. Is it them or is it me? I can't tell.
And it's not just recovery that has slowed me down. I take time outs during the day to try to think about how I want to spend the time I have left, and about dying - what I need or want to do to be ready for it.
I don't get much further than the idea I hold that death is a normal, peaceful process and that I would like to be awake as I die – to experience it.
Mostly, however, I have not come to terms with dying yet, which leaves me living on the edge of life. It is impossible to imagine that the world will go on without me to keep an eye on it. Silly, of course, that. And so many other unresolved issues to work on. But just for today, I have places to go and things to do, fully engaged as though this hasn't happened to me.
"Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome." - Isaac Asimov