The Cheetah in the Grass

I think I’ve lost the plot a bit. I’m not on high alert right now, pouncing on every ache or pain as if brand new tumours are blossoming like hyacinths in the Spring. I’m not about to embark on a new healing adventure or introduce new treatments into my daily regime. Instead I’m trying to keep the ones I’ve started going even in this emotional hiatus from the intensity of living with cancer. It was easier to motivate myself when I was looking down the barrel of a gun with wonky eyesight and ‘terminal’ tattooed across my forehead.

It’s not that I forget I have cancer. It’s always with you, stalking you through bleary-eyed mornings and inevitable lapses into complacency because you just bloody well want to forget for five f***ing minutes. It lingers like a bad odour when you dare to waste precious moments watching mind-numbing soap operas or shopping for shoes on line. Never relax. Never take anything for granted. Never take your eye off the ball.

But the fact is I do take my eye off the ball. I feel well, weirdly well for one who is gravely ill, except for some nausea, a mild rash on my face and nosebleeds from the drug I’m on.

I am walking for an hour most days at a decent pace, pain free. I made cup cakes with my daughter this weekend (without a single temptation to lick the sugary spoon). I respond to emails, pay my bills, write my blog and watch Grey’s Anatomy with unswerving enthusiasm every Wednesday evening. And I still have all my hair (not being on intravenous chemo at this stage in my treatment). I was told I would lose it on a possibly permanent basis when they planned to radiate my entire brain in January, but that particular horror has been averted – at least for the time being.

Honestly, if you looked at me, you would never know I have Stage 4 ‘terminal’ cancer. Even I look at me and don’t know I’ve got it some days. It’s a wondrous but scary thing. I fear being lulled into a false sense of security and then being devastated by my next scans. On one hand I hardly dare let go and free fall into the sheer joy of living lest I hit the deck even harder than when I was first diagnosed. On the other hand how dare I not let go when I know my days are numbered? How dare I piss away a single opportunity to kneel and kiss the ground?

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It is easier to feel fully awake when you are living on a knife edge. All your senses are sharpened by impending calamity like a herd of gazelles snapping up their heads between each blade of grass and scanning the horizon with bright eyes, nostrils flaring and ears swivelling to the slightest sound. You can’t see the cheetah whose coat blends perfectly with the dry yellow grass, but you can small her scent and quiver in the shadow of invisible danger, ready to outrun your predator the moment she makes her presence known.

But sometimes she lurks in the background, silent, patient, undetectable and I graze on my days as if she doesn’t exist at all. I don’t know how to view myself. Nor do others. They keep telling me how well I look and don’t know how to respond. I think it would help them if I was bald and vomiting a lot. It would spell me out more clearly, like chalk on a blackboard: Cancer patient…limited shelf life…carpé deum!

Instead, my book doesn’t seem to match its cover. So I start living into another story, where numbness can cloak an entire day and apathy can ransack awareness of everything that really matters and tidying up after my daughter is as irritating as it used to be when I was ‘well’. A strange normality returns as if the world has righted itself and resurrected my capacity to take life for granted. It happens without you even noticing. Because being awake, aware, alive – fully vibrantly electrically dynamically wondrously gratefully alive – is never automatic. It’s always a remembering and a choice. Even when you know what’s at stake. Even when the cheetah’s in the grass.

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