I went to visit my lovely friend T. today, and her two little ones, her husband taking a quick midday break to go and work out while I was there.
It is T.'s father who essentially has the same cancer as my father, and it has been this trajectory that allowed me to lull myself into a false sense of 'it's all okay, you can live with this for years' without letting the stark statistics join up with my strong sense of unease from the beginning, from the date of diagnosis, without allowing myself to think that 1 in 5 are hideously bad odds, and that most of the time, statistics proves that the odds win.
T. and I usually do magazine exchanges, my Oprah and Vogue to her Hello and Vanity Fair, but this time she wasn't finished with the Vanity Fair, but while she was tending to her little guy, she brought it down for me to read, so I could take a look at Christopher Hitchens' latest article. Hitchens also has a form of esophageal cancer.
She was upstairs with her son for a while, feeding him, which I was glad of, because during the reading of the article I needed to get kleenex.
This author who truly seems austere for lack of a better word; who wrote a book on Orwell which I own, because I love Orwell; whose January 2011 Vanity Fair article, which would have been written in say, October, was something I read in hair salon while waiting for a cut-and-colour, completely off-guard, unexpected (my father was not, per se, dying, that we knew of, in January). So reading this article today seemed like a foot note to an already sad story, and reading it, with its' references to Japan and the earthquake, I could once again tell that although this was the June, 2011 issue, the article had been prepared right around March 13th, on or about the date of the Japanese earthquake, on or about the date that my father had his tracheostomy, those endless rain-soaked days of mid-March, where we all spent approximately 4 days, with little respite, outside my fathers ICU hospital room. When they told us my father had weeks to live.
Hitchens, to me, does not seem the sentimental type. But reading about his battle with the disease and all of its accessory conditions, I couldn't not react, being the daughter of someone sharing his illness.
In January's issue Hitchens talked about the lightning-quick onset of his disease (my father's also arose, seemingly, out of the blue). He wrote about the things the disease wanted in exchange for his life; taste buds, the ability to eat...and more. Now it is attacking his voice, his vocal cords separating, leading to the eventual outcome, I know, of no voice. My father, for the most part, is already at this stage. Post-trach, he had no voice for the first six or eight weeks afterward. Now he can speak, haltingly, and his voice is not the same, but he has some power of speech. The ominous-ness of this, however, terrifies me. Vocal cords work in pairs, the 2 cords needing to touch to create sounds; changes in speech and sound indicate movement of cancer, of growth, of differences in the tumour. It is I who remains mute and un-talking in the faces of these changes.
There are days when I feel like I can't face them.
What stands out now are the things they didn't tell us.
How my father will die, for instance. You hear of people 'dying of cancer'. But what really happens?
Here's what I've got for you so far:
First, they give you hope.
Then, they give you timelines. Timelines, which, really, are more like throwing darts at a dartboard 3 drinks in. Maybe the dart will land close to the bull's eye.
Next, they just dangle carrots, like stellar weather reports for the week you're taking vacation.
And finally, they become, the doctors, not idolized gods--they are glorified pharmacists, doling out pills the way they do in totalitarian regimes in novels.
There, got it?
I don't have the eloquence of Hitchens, his subtle spit-in-your-face sarcasm, his utter rejection of pity, or of sympathy of any kind. I don't have his psychological prowess, his extra years on the planet out numbering mine, but I do have this--the will to write my way through this, as honestly as I can, so that maybe someone else doesn't feel as alone as I have over the past few months. So someone else can google a topic, find something, read it, and maybe for a minute have the calming thought of "woah....good to know I'm not going crazy!".
Because they left that part out.