Sassy Soothing Side Effects

I’ve been swimming with fear several times this week. I muzzle it most of the time, but it’s hard to silence it completely when you’re terminally ill. It lurks round dark corners like a stalker, ready to catch you unawares and pounce.

It’s not just fear of dying, of disappearing into the silver smoke on a distant horizon and dissolving into the mystery at the End of Days. It’s also the fear of losing, leaving, letting people down.  And of missing out on the delicious details of living: Sufi poetry, on-the-mouth kisses, the chevron of geese that flies past my office window on blue afternoons, the horses that nuzzle me in my neighbour’s field as if I’m one of the herd, the intense shades of bougainvillea in a Mediterranean summer, the shape of Gabriella’s knees, the sound of her laughter, the lived-in lines on my husband’s face, the next season of shoes.

Fear is easily triggered. I see a headline about the latest breakthrough in treating lung cancer and read on enthusiastically, only to be reminded that mine is “the deadliest form of cancer” and to find out said breakthrough involves more than doubling people’s lifespan “from nine to twenty-two months”. Which is very cold comfort when you want to see your five year old mature into womanhood like a perfect drop of water in the world’s wild falls.

It is sparked by small things too. Like forgetting a treatment, eating something non-organic because it’s the only thing available, or receiving a large bill from my drop-dead-gorgeous (an unfortunate but nonetheless accurate turn of phrase) biological dentist after he removed my mercury fillings.

This week my fear kicked off because the side effects from the drug I take subsided. Normally the skin on my lips peels off every day, leaving them dry, split and sore. I am constantly soothing them with Elizabeth Arden eight hour cream, my one departure from all things organic because it is so damn effective. My nose bleeds most days too because the mucous membranes peel persistently and I have a rash on my lower back that often wraps itself round my ribs like ivy. Occasionally I get spots on my chin (nothing compared to my pizza face when I was on a high dose six months ago) and the odd bout of diarrhoea.

I love my side effects. They soothe me like gospel music or home made chicken soup, assuring me the drug is still working and I am still wrapped in a thick warm blanket of sunrise that refuses to set on my days. I love how they keep me alert when I dip my toes in complacency and blemish my skin when it poses as a picture of perfect health. I love their sassy admonishments when my head swells and their comforting caresses when my faith shrinks. I love how they curtail my fear.

I have been told, and told again, and then again just in case I missed the first time and the last time, that the drug has a limited shelf life. At some point, most commonly after nine to eighteen months, the cancer finds a way to resist it. My doctors don’t really like adding a sentence after that, but the subtext screams like a little girl on a fairground roller coaster: game over, prepare to die.

I am often struck by cancer’s intelligence, its ferocious ability to outwit the immune system and decades of medical interventions, to stay alive. To endure. To raise its children in our bones, tissues and organs. To pursue immortality so relentlessly and so almost-successfully, if it could only stop killing its host. Ironically, its purpose is the universe’s purpose and the same purpose it has mobilised in my soul and sinews: the preservation of life.

But what if the life it tries to preserve is not just its own? What if cancer is the body’s last desperate attempt to get your attention, to awaken you from your slumber so it can stay alive for as long as possible? What if cancer doesn’t cause sickness, but is caused by it – a weed that can only be pulled out by its roots?

What if cancer is pointing to a lifetime of underlying disease that culminated in tumours – processed food, artificial sweeteners, toxic environments, lack of sleep, lack of sunlight, pesticides, microwaves, electro-magnetic radiation, drugs, growth hormones, chlorinated water, dehydration, smoking, sugar, stress, internalised conflict, unacknowledged fear, festering resentment and imprisoned grief?

What if cancer eventually resists the drugs because all the factors that contributed to its existence are still in play, unnoticed and neglected, secretly building their muscles in an invisible gym while we pop a pill and continue life as normal? What if my job is not to rely on a drug that can extend my life for a short period of time, but to uproot the weeds that wither my leaves and poison the seeds of my freedom? To make it hard, even impossible, for my cancer to fight back?

This is the role I have chosen to take on – the unequivocal restoration of my physical, emotional and spiritual well being. Nothing less. I can’t ask more of myself so there’s no point scaring myself. My fear isn’t caused by cancer. It is caused by the meanings I give cancer and the meanings I place on not having nose bleeds, sore lips and an itchy back, or simply feeling gloriously healthy for a day.  Fear feeds cancer, not the other way around.

So I don’t want to join ‘the war on cancer’ by treating it as an evil enemy or even as a killer disease. If I do that then I can’t lean in and listen to its healing whispers or walk beside it while it unveils its tangled roots in my untended garden. I might not notice the blackened wood where my fire had gone out or the last wave on the beach before the sun sank into the ocean on some sorrowful yesterday. On this website learn where to purchase Cialis (Tadalafil) online. I might build my defences so high I can’t see any carved images on the cave walls of my cancerous history. I might miss the story it has gone to so much trouble to tell me and the rope it is letting down to my dinghy.  I might not notice the seed of a healthier life it pressed into my palm when I held its hand in mine.