I’m learning again how much of my processing is aided by writing– by telling people what I’m going through. Using the term ‘cancer’ in public– in conversations with my child’s teacher, say, or writing it on Facebook or with the other Kettleheads on The WeberKettleClub– is not only stark, but a part of making it real. I see the words as I write them, and then again after I post them, and it all has the effect of conjuring my new reality. Saying things out loud has a way of making them real.
It brings responses, too, which are good and also reality-conjuring. People say things back to me that affect my reality.
A lot of people say I need to ‘fight’. I’ve heard people say this about cancer as long as I’ve known about cancer, and it’s always intrigued me. How, exactly, is one supposed to fight against something that is inside of them? I mean, it is obviously a foreign invader that needs to be resisted and removed and displaced, but the idea presents an existential quandary to me: I want to fight, but I’m not sure how to do that, or what that might look like. I stare down at my leg sometimes, trying to imagine me psychically pushing back the melanoma cells around the site of the tumor, hoping that they can be localized and safely removed on Wednesday morning when I have my wider surgical excision.
One thing I’ve fought for is my own advocacy, which is a little more concrete and yet only slightly more certain. The doctors (dermatology, surgical oncology, medical oncology) have all been uniformly awesome, but when they seemed a bit lackadaisical about scheduling this next excision and sentinel lymph node biopsy, my wife and I got a bit anxious. They assured us that waiting a couple weeks or more wouldn’t be unwise, and we didn’t disagree. Yet at the same time, it seemed even better to act sooner, so we started to (gently) push for that. By asking questions. By emailing. By leaving voicemails. By inquiring about pre-surgical punch-lists. By interacting with the referring dermatologist. By contacting the surgical scheduler. By going ahead and making arrangements for our own pre-surgical EKG and blood workups, so that these things wouldn’t impede any hasty scheduling. All of which might have cumulatively turned us into pests or problem patients, but hopefully came up just short of that. In any case, we got an earlier date, which was a huge relief.
Other people offer reassurances, mostly that I will be ‘fine’. I certainly don’t think otherwise, and am not planning to leave my kids behind (or my Weber grills, either, much to the consternation of my many fellow Kettleheads on the WeberKettleClub.com). Even if we get really bad news on the next pathology report, I’m not about to lie back and let someone else raise my kids or teach them how to make a proper roast chicken or Swedish pancakes. Hang up my toolbelt, leave the next book unwritten, or let someone else run my wife’s leaf-blower? Not gonna happen.
Still, I’m a little wary about the promises of ‘being okay’ or ‘fine’ or ‘healthy’. Who, after all, can promise such things? I will probably be in the 80% of cases where the melanoma is localized, and I’ll be back to my life in no time (except for the rigorous 3-month skin checks). But what if I’m not? Percentages are only reassuring to the folks who have a good outcome– statistics aren’t helpful if you’re in the 20%. And, as I’ve experienced at times in my life when the odds were much more in our favor, bad things do happen, and they have to happen to someone. People offered similar assurances that our son would be ‘fine’, but I imagine those folks felt a mite peckish at his funeral. The secret of being ‘fine’ is in dealing with the negative outcomes that can and do come up along the way.
I’ll be heading down my road tomorrow morning, under my surgeon’s capable knife and with my wife at my side. Fighting and not fighting, fine and most decidedly not.