Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[cancer] Brooding about ambiguity

I used to think I enjoyed a high tolerance for ambiguity in life. That may or may not have ever been true, my delusions of adequacy notwithstanding, but it's certainly not true these days. Being a cancer patient is nothing but ambiguity.

Many medical issues have well-defined and well-understood progressions. If you get the flu, assuming you're in at least ordinary health, you will recover in a certain number of days with medical intervention, and in a longer number of days without medical intervention. The individual variation on those recovery curves is not profound. Likewise if you break a bone. Assuming at least ordinary health, an orthopedist can tell you about how long to heal, and what the long-term consequences will be.

Cancer is nothing but a numbers game. All an oncologist can tell you is that out of every hundred patients in your situation, a certain percentage will experience this disease course, another percentage will experience that disease course, a third percentage will experience a third disease course, and so on. The mechanisms of cancer are still so complex that it's quite difficult to forecast for individual patients, even those like me with common cancers which are well studied.

This cloud of unknowing can sometimes settle over me like the miasma of a fever swamp. Especially these days, since the January surgery made my prognosis so much worse. The graph of my tumor progression is frightening. I'm incurable now, which is the step before terminal. We know that next terrible step is almost surely coming, quite possibly in the next 2-4 months. But no one knows for sure. No one. Not me, not my oncologists, not Ghu themself.

It's impossible to plan ahead any more. Not as a parent looking at my child, not financially, not in my writing life, not to book vacations or travel or plan future family events.

And that drives me bananas.

There are days when I wish I had a terminal diagnosis. Then at least I'd know the outcome, and what would still be possible for me in the mean time.

I don't mean that seriously, I'm not suicidal. It's just that living with this adenocarcinomic gun to my head makes me more than a little crazy sometimes. As bad as knowing is, not knowing is sometimes worse. So I brood about ambiguity and wonder how to arrange my days and regret stories unwritten and life unlived even before my time.

Tags: cancer, health, personal, writing

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