8 Aug 09…
I had a bad feeling the moment I saw the tiny little figure, broken in many places, lying flat on it’s back in the middle of the bathroom window sill. “Must have fallen,” I murmured to myself, trying to dismiss the haunting image with a rational explanation. Sue’s collection of miniature dolls is housed in an old printers type tray that hangs on a nearby wall, each doll looking out at us from its’ own compartment.
But the doll lay there for a two days, staring at me every time I entered the room, feeding a knot of dread that has lived in my stomach since Sue was diagnosed with melanoma three and a half years ago. The knot expands and contracts, often lying dormant for months at a time, but it’s always there.
Different things, just little reminders, can wake those fears. But the symbolism in the doll was so obvious, so striking, I couldn’t clear it from my mind. I wanted to ask Sue about the doll, for she had obviously picked it up from where it landed on the floor and placed it on the sill.
Before I could ask her, however, Sue left for her semi-annual check up with her oncologist. Everything looked great until he got to her ankle, the site of her original cancerous mole. There he spotted a lump he didn’t like. Two hours later, her dermatologist took a knife to the lump and a black tumor the size of a pea popped out. “Melanoma for sure” said the dermatologist. The dreaded disease was back.
How did the doll know?
How do we know these things?
What is premonition? Fear taking form? Spirits? Jung’s collective unconscious? They are not always right. But sometimes they are. That’s what gives them their power.
How do we, the unspoken victim, the cancer patient’s spouse, live with these things. How do we live with the knowing … and the unknowing … of what is in store for us. It is nowhere near as dreadful as what our loved one’s face, but it is hard. We know we will have to forge on without them. Alone. No partner, no companion, no support. That’s scary. And we have to learn to do the things they have always done. That’s hard too.
But I take comfort from Sue, who is not giving into fear, nor is she wallowing in self pity. She is going to her core self and asking what can I do, must I do, with the time I have left. Can we do any less?
22 Aug 2009
The call from Sue was urgent — she was in a line, boarding a plane: “The tests came back – I’m clean!! No cancer! It didn’t get out this time.”
We get more time.
It’s a huge relief.
Three years ago the cancer cells made it to the neighboring lymph nodes, necessitating a saturation bombing campaign that would have made Curtis LeMay proud (a series of four five day, twenty-four hour a day, chemo drip blasts). Thank goodness she doesn’t have to start that regime right away.
The reprieve is not forever. All things evolve. Relentlessly. But this is, by far, the best of all possible alternatives. The fear, of course, remains. We know the cancer can come back at any time. We live with that. But today is not the day.
The vows remain: make the most of every day. Share more of the joys, and the chores, of living together. Keep filling the notebook with pages on how to do the things she has always done.
As Sue said: “If I can be darkness, I can be light.” Let’s all bring the light into our lives.