Friday, August 11, 2017

In the last four years...

I have seen cells of cancer come and go, strengthen and weaken, grow and subside. I have examined scan after scan rendering results both terrifying and relieving. I have sat in hospital rooms and doctor offices, by my love’s side, in moments of triumph and tragedy, celebration and confusion, hope and mournful defeat. I have watched friends, family, neighbors, peers, instructors, patients, caregivers, doctors and nurses come and go through a revolving door. I have pushed people away and clung on to others, only to have my heart broken when they are unable to deal with the complexities and messiness of our lives. I have watched friends get married, have babies, renovate houses, make weekend plans, graduate, succeed in professions and move away. I have envied them and their ignorance to the fact we will all one day turn into dust, regardless of how many children, Facebook likes or social media followers we accumulate. I have pondered at how some seem immune to tragedy while others are consumed by it. I have held on to regret and watched seasons pass me by. I have been uplifted by the bubbling promise of hope and change for our country, only to see it deflate and watch it fall.  I have put on a smile while observing a spark flicker and, then fade. I have witnessed my love’s physical and mental abilities dwindle and dissapate. I have noticed my own cognitive abilities, physical well-being and memory decline, so much to the point that I could barely remember the type of mutation (ALK) and still cannot recall the name of the first medication – a word I heard and read so many times I felt we were intimately linked forever. It was only this past spring I allowed myself to throw away the remainder of these pills leftover and hiding under the bathroom sink. I spend days wondering what will become of me, trembling with fear at the thought of life without my love and consumed by the impending loneliness awaiting in the wings. I have covered it up with humility and humor. I have tried anti-depressants and herbal remedies. In spurts, I have tried meditating and connecting with my breath. Other times, I have run so fast and hard my breath gave out. I have hoped it wouldn't return. I have known pain and suffering so deep it renders me, at times, incapacitated and paralyzed. Many nights, I have whimpered, whined and moaned like an abandoned dog, while clinging to my love like a child, unable to place reason and logic within the confines of this experience. Other times, I have found peace, compassion, and something that resembles acceptance in the face of devastation. I have marveled at the beauty of his eyes. I have stopped to praise the magnificence of a sunset and scorned it's relinquishing of the light. I have prayed with conviction, understanding and gratitude and also cursed God’s name for the torment and trauma administered. I have come to both resent and embrace solitude. With each passing day, I have seen the notion of “us” slowly slip away, along with a future of promises that will ultimately be left unfulfilled. I have come to realize we will not have a child, buy a house, or visit Paris, nor will we grow old in each other’s arms. I have lost what was probably a false security and sense of myself and come to recognize the face staring back at me as only a hollow representation of the person I once loved to be. I have gained weight and lost it. I have been called brave, heroic, dramatic, emotional, overwhelmed, unstable, beautiful, brilliant and a bitch. I have seen jobs and projects come together and fall apart. I have seen countless friends make plans to visit, only to break them. I have made countless plans to go out with friends, only to break them. In a haze of pill-addicted desperation and spurts of unprecedented productivity and diligence, I completed a rigorous MFA program and graduated at the tip-top of my class, far surpassing peers with more ordinary lives. I regard such accomplishments, not with prestige, but as pathetic ramifications of a life I never wanted. I struggle to go to sleep and dread waking up. I enjoy quiet moments of reading and sitting with my love and do my best to absorb the fragility of time passing, never to return again. I have become "the man of the house." I have watched my dog adapt to new surroundings, grow old and become more feeble. I have moved into three new apartments and out of a community I came to link heavily with my own identity and well-being. I have re-invented myself, torn myself apart, and repeat. I have hustled and bustled, never taking a break, and pressed on while silently standing by - watching a life “happen” with no choice or force of my own doing. If I had a dollar for each time someone said to me something along the lines of: “I don’t know how you do it, I couldn’t,” I’d be a millionaire. And no matter how many times I tell them, it’s not really something you “do” rather it’s just “done” – they will never understand. I have directed movies about my life’s experiences and shared a carefully constructed narrative of my life to thousands of people, only now to realize how my early years of training as an actor paid off, not with a starring role in a Hollywood blockbuster or on Broadway, but in my ability to disguise myself and totally fool you into thinking “I’m okay” - or even, in fact “great." I have savored our wedding day and survived the first day of hospice. I have made the hardest decisions of my life and witnessed things that must always remain unspoken. I have stood in awe at the force and will to live and the determination to survive and exist even under unexpected and uncertain circumstances, in both myself and my love. Through the distance of social media, I have read about others being diagnosed, treated, surviving and dying from cancer. I have over-shared information about our journey and stopped answering the phones. I have experienced an outpouring of love and charity by many, while others quickly forgot my name. I have been praised, given awards and put up on a high pedestal with all eyes on me, only to fall, crash and burn while no one was looking. In the last four years, I’ve been through more than some experience in a lifetime, and all I can surmise at this point in time is this: I am still here. 

Battered and bruised. Weathered and worried. Stronger and weaker. More alive and deadened. 

A walking contradiction of happy and sad. 

I'm not the first person to experience this, feel it, mourn it, nor will I be the last. Over the many years of our existence, one would think our ancestors could have found some remedy by now, to ease us of our existential burden. Yet, here I am. And most certainly, some day, you will be too. 

"I can't go on." 

"I'll go on." 


  1. I can relate to so much of this. You will go on.......hugs.

  2. i read every word and took it in. i'm holding it all. peace to you, my friend.

  3. I found your blog posts through Leah Herzing (insert all attendant adjectives to describe her here), and while the words of strangers are often just that - strange, of little impact - I wanted to thank you anyway for writing through the endless complexity of life with cancer. I'm a 43 year old mother of a daughter currently surviving brain cancer. I can never write dispassionately about it, so I rarely do, and appreciate one hundred fold when others do with such honesty. I have not particularly thrived during my daughter's cancer treatment and the ensuring years of growth and rebalance. But I have maintained, and that's enough, right now. So often it is the "despite" and "victory over" stories to which people most respond, because our culture champions those and puts them on screens big and small (or in everyday conversation), tends to the challenge and pain in mere uncomfortable minutes that audiences endure because of the promise of imminent soaring resolution. And then there are the real stories of ongoingness, that do not forecast hope, that skirt death and then hang suspended there. There is no "right" way for us to tell our stories: either we are bringing it up all the time (guess what: that's the main narrative of our lives right now!) or acting like everything is fine (well, it is, for the moment, insofar as "fine" is defined for us, and we know so well that it's this moment and then the next one and then we can't really say for sure what the moment after that might bring, and we have to live with that and so do you, dear casual acquaintance at the grocery store, you just aren't nose to nose with it). So I've come to this: I just tell the stories when I feel like telling the stories, and live with what comes, because that's the only thing to do. Yours in short-term memory loss, chasm-crossing, and the ongoingness of surviving.