Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[cancer] The gentle subtlety of a sledgehammer to the skull

Mostly these days I just trundle along. The mortal terror and high anxiety I’ve been through during past phases of my cancer journey isn’t a daily feature of my life lately. I don’t need to pull over the car for a crying jag, I don’t have panic attacks. As I’ve mentioned before, the human mind’s capacity to routinize anything is truly astonishing.

Still, sometimes events or the comments of other people pull me back into a difficult headspace.

This isn’t my news to share in any detail, but a friend who has a very similar cancer situation to mine was just given a diagnosis that is probably terminal. Specifically, a new round of metastases in an inoperable location. This, of course, could happen to me at any time. Precisely so. It’s what killed another friend of mine last spring, also with a very similar cancer situation to mine. I’ve been lucky that my metastases so far have been discrete, single tumors in easily accessible locations (lower lobe of left lung and right lobe of liver). All I need is a tumor in the liver stem and I’ll be doing short term end-of-life planning.

And there’s absolutely nothing I can do to control or prevent this.

Yesterday, Mother of the Child and I met with [info]the_child‘s new therapist that she’ll start seeing next week. She’s having typical teen transition issues, plus working through her identity as a transracial adoptee, plus dealing with my cancer. She needs this. MotC and I spent an hour going through [info]the_child‘s life history, our marital history, our current living arrangements, my health issues, our assessment of our daughter’s life issues and so forth. The therapist, charmingly blunt, finally said, “It really sounds like you’ve done everything right. You’ve got good parenting, good living arrangements, she’s in the best school she can possibly be in for her needs.” Then she looked at me with my 30% five-year survival rate and said, “But if you die in the next few years, all that good work goes swirling down the drain.”

That’s telling it like it is. And there’s absolutely nothing I can do to control or prevent this. That five-year timeline for survival? That’s how long it will take her to make it through high school.

At this point, other than the cancer, I border on disgustingly healthy. For a chemo patient, I am disgustingly healthy. I can do a lot to take care of myself to improve my tolerance of and response to surgeries, chemo and (if needed at some point) radiotherapy. I can do a lot to take care of myself to be available to my daughter, to have the energy to write my books, to be connected to family and friends, and to live in the world.

But my ability to control what actually happens next in my cancer?

Spitting in the wind.

As I said to my therapist yesterday, “Hey, I could take up smoking! It doesn’t matter now.”

We are all mortal. Everyone dies. But my chess match with death is in a very different state that most of my peers and age cohort. Most days I just shrug and move on. Yesterday, the fact that I can see the end game a few moves away, and the absolute lack of control I have over when that end game takes place, was hammered home with all the gentle subtlety of a sledgehammer to the skull of a slaughterhouse pig.

Sorry, no quiet wisdom or life lessons in this one. Just me thinking aloud about the fundamental brutality of living with cancer.

Originally published at jlake.com. You can comment here or there.

Tags: cancer, child, health, personal

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