Sunday, May 18, 2008


I’ve been thinking a lot since last Thursday and the meeting with Dr. Specht. About a lot of things, like my physical well-being, my purpose in life, my feelings about death, my feelings about cancer.

On the physical side, not surprisingly, as soon as I returned home from the appointment where Dr. Specht told me I had bone metastases, I started to feel it. Suddenly my lower back hurt when it hadn’t before. Suddenly, the muscular ache in the top of my head, worse when I threw up every morning, became a part of the cancer and not just a result of intensive heaving. Suddenly my ribs began to bother me, and I realized that on the right side of my chest I was feeling pain like boob pain . . . but the boob was gone. Suddenly I felt a tightness in my lower left ab, where the ovary is.

I did start one prescription, for an anti-nausea pill, which is making me physically much happier. I have not thrown up for two mornings in a row, and I was able (and this was my goal) to enjoy a breakfast both mornings at the lovely Kingfish Inn in West Sound on Orcas Island. The pill has made me constipated, but still gassy. A nice combination. I am wondering a little about taking this . . . after all, I’m pretty sure my body was throwing up for a reason, and I don’t want to block that reason without getting to the root of the cause. I don’t want to keep a bunch of stuff inside that my body’s been effectively expelling. But . . . it’s nice to eat breakfast again.

I’ve been wondering a lot, as well, about my purpose in life. I don’t have to work a traditional 9-5 office job. And yet, I haven’t turned into an artist, sharing my vision with the world. I did some freelance writing for awhile, and I was pretty good at it, at the level I was at, but it was a big pain in the ass and warranted not remotely enough compensation. Financial or otherwise. Editors don’t have time to praise you—they only have time to complain when you’ve done something they don’t like. And then you get your measly checks late. Anyway, there are obviously lots of other writing options . . . but I haven’t fulfilled those either. I also haven't donated all my time to charity work.

At a certain level in our society—a level my husband and I are pretty comfortably ensconced in—life meaning comes from what you do. It’s a question I have a hard time answering, and the last few days I’ve thought a lot about where my value comes from if not something I do. I’m not fishing for compliments here, or knee-jerk reactions from people—it’s a serious question I’m kicking around. Why, honestly why, keep me alive?

Which brings me to my feelings about death. I’m no longer scared of death itself. I don’t believe in Hell. I believe I’m going to find the next place pretty interesting. I believe I’ll get to meet people I’ve known here who have died, and maybe some people I’ve known on earth in other lifetimes. I believe a lot of things will make sense to me that I’m struggling with now—my perspective will be so much broader, so much more comprehensive.

However, I don’t want to die right now. I like the life I’m leading right now, with Ian and the dogs, and all the people I love around me. I like the challenge of finding my meaning, of recognizing my purpose, of increasing my perspective fraction by fraction. This world is beautiful and interesting, and I love living here, meeting new people, traveling, doing new things. I also love spending time with familiar people and familiar places, entrenching myself in a food or a culture I’ve come to embrace. I love my home. I want these things to continue, simply because I want them to continue.

Also, no matter how much I know they’ll miss me, I know eventually my friends will move on—will have parties where they don’t mention my name. Make new friends who will never have met me. And the thought of that makes me jealous, which isn’t perhaps a mature reason to stay alive, but it is certainly a real one.

And last, I’ve been thinking a lot about cancer and what it means to me. For one, I’ve never thought of myself as a cancer patient, further yet a cancer victim. In fact, I think of myself as healthy (although I’ve wondered a bit in the last couple weeks if I should maybe start to change that personal view). I don’t define myself by this disease. I don’t find life meaning in cancer support groups. I haven’t made new friends among the frighteningly increasing numbers of women my age who’ve had the same experiences. I find that peoples’ experiences with conflict are so individual, so unique, that I’ve never felt a draw to someone for the simple coincidence of our shared disease.

I am also starting to wonder about the language people use when talking about cancer. I don’t blame people at all for using warlike metaphors when talking about working through this disease, after all, I’ve “fought” it three times myself already, and I’ve referred to the people I see as my “arsenal”. I’m going to change that, though, because the fact is, I don’t believe any longer that I’m going to war here. I don’t believe I’m “fighting an enemy”. Yes, I am pursuing health, and balance, and full-body life and vitality . . . but I am not going to war.

We see cancer as a negative thing in this society . . . but I don’t even believe that anymore. First of all, it’s not uncommon. In fact, most people have some cancer or other in their lives, and most of the cancers are flushed out of the body by the immune system, without anyone even noticing. Also, in the last nine years, I have learned so much, gained so much perspective and strength, found so much love and support, discovered so much personal gratitude and humility, and learned a new awareness of joy and fulfillment in the world. I can only look at something that allows all those hugely positive things and see a positive force—a force for light. And so no, I’m not fighting.

Don’t get me wrong—I have not changed my mind in my path right now. I am not choosing, after all, to do nothing. I suspect that, in some ways, complete acceptance and complete non-response is the most enlightened route. But I am not choosing that path right now.

But I am also choosing not to go into battle. Instead, I am choosing to love my cancer, to be grateful for what it has taught me and, I hope, the people around me. I am choosing to look at my health in a different way from most of the people around me—the doctors, the friends, the relatives, the strangers who are supporting me—and see this as a challenge, yes, as a bump in the road, yes . . . but as a benefit I cannot even hope to understand the scope of at this stage.

That being said, one of the main things I am grateful for is the love and support I’m receiving from so many places. I love and cherish your support whether you believe I’m fighting for my life, negotiating a Class VI rapid, merely hitting a small patch of black ice and skidding a bit off course, or lucky to have such an opportunity for personal growth. Whether I’ve met you or not. Whether I’ve seen you in the last two hours, or closer to 20 years ago.


Graham said...

Well, I hope you are still taking the anti-nausea pills in a couple of weeks when I visit L&S, so we can all have breakfast together.

CMT said...

Looking forward to it, Graham!

Sassy Glasses Girl said...

You write about your purpose in this life. Personally, I always think of you as a learner and a teacher. When my life changed a couple of years ago, I called you--and I'm so glad I did. By observing you, I learn a lot about how to live an integrated life, one that makes the best use of everything we are given. :) I also learn so much about enjoying this world.

Maria said...

Your writing is wonderful. Have you thought of contributing an essay to the NPR "This I believe"?

Taya said...

...I like that you are going to love it into submission...

Taya said...

I really like loving it into healthy tissues....

same socks laura : ) said...

ooh Calin, you sound so enlightened. I love it. Reminds me of a book I read about embracing love and letting go of fear.

Thank you again for your blog.