The Countdown

Yesterday, I went to the symphony. As I sat in the rotunda,
with floating silver sheets suspended over the orchestra like god had dropped a
sheaf of silken paper, and hundreds of brushed pipes aligned against the
wall, people dotting and shifting, but mainly holding still and being lifted or
rapt into their own experience, I had a moment.
I’ve had them before during this time. And I’ve tried to sort them as gratitude, but it’s not quite that. It’s something more than
gratitude or being present, more than being alive or sensing grace – it’s
something transcendent, a few radiant seconds in a row where you are reminded
that this doesn’t exist on any other plane of existence that you know of, and
yet, you, yourself are here to experience it. You understand for a moment the
aching pressure of beauty, the sharply finite gift of life, and you feel like a quote from American Beauty. …
I teared up a little in my velvet fold-down seat, trying not to let the person I was
with see me. And brief as it was, it is precisely those moments that make this life one worth living. To not
be taken from
this, is what I
begged among the pieces of my half-built bedframe.
I go into the hospital on Monday for the fifth round of
chemo. The final round of chemo. The round that, according to
statistics, raises to 40 per cent my chances of living. This is the protocol the medical
community has studied, the course of treatment and sum total of what they know to
do for me. Anything thereafter is a crap shoot.
Every time I’ve had to go in, I have a few days beforehand that
begin to feel like a countdown to a guillotine, even though in this case, it
approximates a countdown to a “cure.” I start to collect what I’ll pack in my
head, compiling the list of where things are, and what I’ll need.
By this point, it’s down to a science, and I still overpack,
thinking that my stuff, the comfort of my stuff will keep the fear at bay, and
maintain an illusion of normality.
No. It’s not easy. Yes. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever
But, I had another moment yesterday, too.
I realized that, collectively, we’re facing cancer. Me; my
mom; my brother; you, my friends. Together, we’re getting through this. That’s
pretty amazing to me.
This fifth round is not the end. There are months and years
when I know that a headache will immediately make me question if the clot they
found in my brain is moving and about to cause a
stroke. I will question if a few nights of sleeplessness or days of fatigue mean there’s
something wrong with my blood. Or if, like a shitty day in September, what I
think is strep throat will turn out to be cancer.
I know that this will happen; and I know that this is
normal. I know that like someone who’s been mugged on a certain block, my
blood pressure will go up as I pass it again. I know I won’t
feel like a “normal” person for a while, and will forever be on the side of the
river labeled “Cancer Survivor,” while most people I know and love are on the
other bank.
But even though you don’t stand with me here, I know you do.
Even though there are nights I experience alone, and surgeries that tuck into
my skin and not yours, I know that there is a “we” in what has faced this, and
what will win.
I know, too, that I often darkly smirk at myself (often on
buses, for whatever reason) as I think how ironic it will be if I’m wrong, and have all these blogs about how it won’t be me, and it is.
But, that’s the truth of this: both/and. Still and
So, if the truth is so big that it can encompass delusion, faith, love, uncertainty, life and death, then let me share with you what I wrote in my journal yesterday morning:
The enormity of this – we’re facing cancer. Not
perfectly, as there is no perfect, but we are. We have. We are
facing it & are prevailing. What does it mean to prevail here? To not slit
my wrists. To still breathe, talk, engage, even a little. To have my heart intact. To
not lose it & never find it.  That’s prevail. 

2 thoughts on “The Countdown

  1. I'm rooting for you. It's thinking in the future that allows your mind to believe you might write in vain, but if you could, believe in this moment when your writing is what you are and offer, then today the writing is not in vain and beauty unfolds on your velvet throne.


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