Ninety Days at a Time
So I clocked up another birthday this month. 49. Gone are the days of lamenting the passing of another year and the once inevitable, but now unlikely descent into sagging skin, multiplying wrinkles, eroding faculties and creaking bones.
I no longer fear the end of full bloom. Instead I mourn the prospective reddening of my leaves before they fall to the ground, unafraid of their impermanence, and carpet my wintry feet as I stand naked against the sky making poems with my branches.
Growing old is a luxury now, a remote but perfect Maybe that hangs like forbidden fruit in a painted orchard on a glass canvas. I pursue it like an out-of-reach, far-too-good-for-me lover who doesn’t even know I’m here.
When I was first told my cancer is “incurable” I watched the sand run out of my timer in an instant. Not a moment remained to catch my breath, kiss the world or throw another stone in the river. Everything stopped. Dead. Time shrivelled into a drop of water on an eternal sea. I couldn’t move forwards, backwards or even sidle sideways like a crab scuttling into a protective rock pool to hide. So I stood waiting in a place prior to chronology and perpetuity until a breeze blew in from nowhere and turned the tides again.
Since then I’ve been living ninety days at a time, which is how often I have my scans. They provide the data upon which I base my choices for the next three months: what treatments to take, which practitioners to see, who to spend time with, what projects to work on and where to take my daughter so we can make indelible memories to ameliorate her grief if she finds herself clambering into adulthood without me.
The first ninety days with cancer drew out like a desert across which I stumbled, browbeaten and thirsty, knowing the odds were against me getting to the other side. The next three months rolled out like a red carpet after I learned that all my tumours had shrunk. Most of the pain had subsided and, but for a few side effects, I was able to lift my face to the sun and trust I would actually see it rise again in the morning. Time seemed plentiful once more, like the extravagant apples weighing down all the branches in our orchard this summer. And for the first nine weeks I felt fat with potential and almost, if only for a few luminous moments, free.
The last few weeks of the cycle are harder. Fear creeps into my bed at night and whispers warnings as I sleep. New scans soon. Get ready. You’re terminal, remember. Nothing you do will change that. It’s just a matter of time before it gets the better of you. Cancer is clever. It will mutate and outwit you. Everything you’re doing to keep it at bay is temporary. You’re kidding yourself if you think you can beat it. You’re not that clever or special. Your tumours will grow back, you’ll see. You’re just treading water until they do.
Fuck. They say the worst thing for cancer is stress because cancer feeds off the acidity it flushes through your body. “Stay calm,” I am told repeatedly. “No stress! Stress is bad. Stress will make you worse. Stress is dangerous. Try to relaaaax.” Seriously? Do you have any idea how hard it is to wind your neck in when living with a terminal illness? Fear flirts with you every goddamn day!
As it happened, my scans defied all predictions and surpassed all expectations. No metastases detected in my brain and all other tumours in retreat, including my primary lung tumour which had shrunk 50-65% since the first scan in October. So, again, ninety days offered themselves up to me like a banquet I could feast on, knocking my fear out of the park and letting me run in the long grass again.
It’s a ride folks. Approximately seventy days of mental reprieve followed by twenty days of simmering ANGST. As I write I’m just days away from my next scans, descending towards the runway on turbulent currents of dire predictions and escalating panic. It doesn’t get any easier.
I’ve spent the last ninety days attempting to live my life with as much gusto as I am trying to save it. I’ve been out more, started some new projects, bought a Labradoodle puppy for Gabriella, done my first radio interview, spent an hilarious night in Richmond with my two best friends from school and tried to be of service to fellow cancer patients who reach out to me after reading my blog.
I have also been to the clinics in Mexico again, vaccinated myself several times a week, found a doctor in the UK willing to administer mega doses of Vitamin C and Laetrile, had my mercury fillings removed, received new prescriptions from a pioneering cancer clinic in London and continued other protocols like diet, supplements, detoxing, coffee enemas, Rife machine sessions and super-cool, mind-blowing, life-enhancing, spirit-freeing therapy once a fortnight.
One would think it’s enough right? No, no, no. There are supplements I didn’t take and juicing I avoided and occasional meals at non-organic restaurants I dared to enjoy. So there’s plenty to worry about as I wait for the next reality check and try to squeeze through my fear like thick rope through a narrow needle. I have a slight cough too, which is enough to send me into a tail spin. John has one as well, but his is just a cough. Mine is CANCER. The beginning of the end.
This is when I pray with desperation instead of courage. My faith falls through narrow cracks that I can’t reach into and pull it back out. I know it is my most important treatment, but I seem to lean on pills and protocols far more than I lean into God. Well how can I when I am harnessing my faith to scan results and bookending each ninety day cycle between the alpha and omega of my existence? I can hardly rely on the infinite and timeless when living my life in ninety day blocks of time! Duh. It’s like mixing oil with water. The ultimate discrepancy.
Yet this is exactly what I’ve been trying to do. Setting short horizons, then wondering why I’m shaking again as the deadline approaches. I need life lines not dead lines. I need to turn my scans into signposts on a road that fades towards a distance I can neither foresee nor fathom, but simply walk towards in willingness and acceptance.
It’s a work in progress. I get it. And then I don’t.
Yesterday it wasn’t an annoying (usually healthy) adult expert telling me to relax, but my five year old daughter, Gabriella.
“Mummy,” she said as I hurried her into the car to get her to school on time, “if you get rushy and stressy you will get iller.”
She stopped me in my stressed-out tracks. So easy to hear this truth from her wise young lips. To take a few deep breaths, quieten my fretting mind and place my attention on the wondrous little being outside of me instead of the worrisome little buggers inside me. And to remember that faith isn’t always a grand transcending of our fears and frailties, but a willingness to stand in their messy presence without judgement, feeling lost and vulnerable, waiting for the light to return.