I like the idea of that lurking uncertainty in the background. It is the anticipation of what is to come feels exciting. And now here I am facing that uncertainty.
You have cancer. I stared point blank into his no kidding tired blue eyes. I felt nothing, no emotional upheaval, or any uneasy feelings. I listened to the list of options, and finally said what if I opt out of the treatment? Instead of giving me the run-on on could be symptoms the doctor gently veered to the pathology report. Soon we left, my husband and I, feeling elated. The anticipation began with a checkup, then a phone call, and finally followed by the doctor’s appointment. The week long wait seemed too long. Now it was over. I was empowered with knowledge and at the same time I was left with the burden of making a decision so heavy that I did not know what to do with it. The adrenaline rush was pretty strong. I decided I will make a special dinner, and so we went to the grocery store. The items on the aisle looked more colorful, the vegetables fresh, the people friendlier. I picked up more grocery than I needed. The dinner was good. We didn’t bring up the C word.
That night I slept in the guest room. I woke up in the middle of the night, tip toed to the living room and sat on the recliner by the window. I could make out the shoreline of the lake over the green of the trees. Down below the night lights wrapped the marina like beads of a necklace. I opened the window. The night air smelled sweet and felt cooler; and I thought I could hear the water. It was a peaceful night. Tears created pressure in my eyes. I felt there is so much to do. So many incomplete expectations to complete. In many ways I am the anchor of my family, or so I predicted. All my life I have been happy with aloneness. Emotionally it freed me from dependency. But this would change the situation. In the morning I needed to have an answer for a simple question, what did the doctor say? I wondered whether my reply would make children grasp the fact that the hermetic wrap of love and security may retain a deep crack in future. We all know we have to leave life at one point or the other. But this, to them, may feel like death has been stamped, sealed, and delivered with absolute certainty. How was I to explain that is exactly the way it is, under normal circumstances. Or perhaps, I thought, the reality of seeing me suffer through the treatment would make their heart ache. I have been of sound health all along, and everyone around me took for granted my designated care giver role. Stop, I said to myself. I am running ahead of my own thoughts. Perhaps I am projecting my own concerns. Mind is funny that way.
Next morning, the day started as usual. In the past my children’s rational approach to challenging circumstances have always caught me unawares, and every time I discovered the sound persons they have become. Their advice on hearing the doctor’s verdict was, your priority is to take care of yourself. And that was that. This time it was my suppressed emotions that revolted. Aren’t they supposed to say let’s weigh the treatment process and quality of life? Do they not love me? I was angry. Give or take, the twenty-six letters in English alphabet can arrange syntactically eons of history, lay out unfathomable expressions, and yet the four letters L O V E is hardly the construct we want to utter when needed. Perhaps it is a complex idea even though built from simpler emotions, I thought. Perhaps care rather than love is the endurable thread of life. And then they said, we want you around. That was their profound way of saying, we love you. Of course, they do! My heart was, and always will be, filled with copious joy.
And now onto that uncertainty! After confronting the diagnosis, I was sure life would fall in a pattern again. Yet one word has managed to breach my right to decide about my body and imprisoned my claim to no treatment. The energy of this word has led me to tons of research and reading, thinking and rethinking. What if the mutated cells find their way to my brain? And thus, affect my mind. Invading the bones, liver, lungs, and what not, of course, would be unpardonable. But the mind? The mind is the most priceless possession I have. Increasingly I notice the pauses this word has induced in me as I continue to design more questions. Life has not been perfect. Whose is? But I have come a long way, and it has been a fine journey so far. How can I relinquish authority to a word and give it permission to hurt me? Can I triumph over impossible odds? It will be something to add to my collection!
Ainon N writes from Chicago.