Monday, May 3, 2010

The C-Word

"When I was very young...nothing really mattered to me,
but making myself happy. I was the only one. Now that I have grown, everything's changed.
I'll never be the same. Because of you..."
"Nothing Really Matters, Madonna, Ray of Light"
I read about it everyday, or see it everyday, somewhere, someone, someone other than me or a person I love--having cancer. Having cancer, living with cancer, dying from cancer, dealing with cancer.

Just today I noticed, online, that Lynn Redgrave, after a 7-year battle with breast cancer, lost her life. In the Globe, on the back page where Facts and Arguments is located in the weekday edition, there is usually an obituary, one that is written by somoene who was close to the person being written about, and today it was a twenty-six-year-old woman, again; who lost her young life to cancer.
My own grandmother died of cancer, many years ago, a memory that still hurts and haunts my mother.

So when my father got his diagnosis today, I didn't know how to react. I didn't have any resources, or facts, to try and deal with what I was hearing, along the phone line, while I lay in bed recovering from your standard run-of-the-mill flu.

The dance started about two months ago, when my father first noticed he was having trouble swallowing. It progressed to a lump on the side of his throat, which I somewhat noticed at Easter time, and then, and only then, did he deign to go and have it checked out. His own brand of denial, I suppose, one that he is, especially in light of the circumstances, completely entitled to.
The surgery and tests that followed were unremarkable, my father bore them somewhat off-handedly, while I kept my rising panic in check in a curious denial of my own.

The news today did not surprise me the way I thought it might. On Thursday or Friday of last week, the doctor set up a Monday afternoon appointment to meet with my parents, and, logically, I reasoned that if it wasn't difficult news, he would have told them something over the phone, something re-assuring to get them through the weekend. I hate Mondays at the best of times, but yesterday I took a good look at my perception of a 'bad' Monday. I would go into work, deal with numerous stresses and deadlines, I would make decisions to fix things, I would help to find solutions to alleviate situations being created. None of it would change anyone's life, none of it would truly be life or death. I'm a designer, not a doctor. I didn't have a 4 o'clock appointment with a frightened patient and his wife to give them life-altering news. In retrospect, my Monday seemed, for lack of a better word, and I know I've used it before--benign.

So the page turns over. All the cancer articles no longer seem remote and happening somewhere out of this world. They no longer seem like something that can't possibly happen to me, or someone close to me.
They seem real, the struggle magnified; the whole process of dealing with cancer looms.
And I have absolutely no idea how I am to respond.

My aunt is already coming down, to go with my parents to the hospital this week. I know she is skilled at talking to doctors, and in ferreting out information when she needs to. I now look to her to begin this first chapter for me, as I am at a loss to how to begin it myself, quite frankly.

There are writers and artists who have dealt with a prognosis such as this one with incredible eloquence and bravery, the way I think my father will deal with things. I look now to them to guide me in this process. I'll be mining the poetry books and the song lists over the next few days, my own form of hard-won comfort in times of difficulty, and I'll definitely be sharing some of my finds.

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