Sunday, October 30, 2005


Which is what you get if you ride this damned cancer-rollercoaster long enough. Emotional whiplash: from the tearful getting ready to say goodbye (as if such a thing were possible) over and over again, then finding some small hope that cannot be extinguished. Intellectual whiplash, from thinking you know where this is going, and then being wrong. Professional whiplash, from being snatched in and out of your classrooms, your career, your own thoughts.

We've been through only one round of the modified chemotherapy our newly-promoted cancer doctor recommended for Mr. D., and it seemed to have stunningly positive effects: a near-immediate, visible and palpable reduction in the tumors that had recently become so alarming. That and a liver intervention seem to have slowed the jaundice and liver failure; perhaps even reversed them a tiny bit. Mr. D is more awake and animated than he has been in the past 2-3 weeks, during which he had sunk into a kind of semi-conscious haze. These are all good things.

Balanced against that (and dooooowwwwnnn we go) is the unbelievable toll of the treatments, the sickness, the incessant drugs routines, the lack of nutrition--these are frequently the final culprits in cancer, and we are forced to see why. Several weeks of semi-consciousness means very, very little nutrition. A body devastated by chemo means lowered blood counts that preclude more treatments. A weakened immune system means opportunistic infections and a severe case of shingles. For every time he pulls himself back "up" (a point that is, of course, relatively lower every time), another aspect of his body seems to give way. There's a sense that we are shoving a few feeble sandbags in the face of the oncoming flood, or rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship. Every dose lovingly administered is a tiny bit of torture for both of us: is the discomfort worth it? Will it do any good? But what would we do, if not keep trying?

These last weeks have brought me up against the cruelties of dying. Which is worse: to have the one you love slip away mentally, so that at last he is just a breathing body on a bed whose release (and yours) you pray for? Or to have him alert and aware, resisting to the final moments the unseemly destruction of a body that is so young and--despite the ravages of the disease--so healthy? We "joke" that if we disregard the cancer, he's in perfect health. But it's not so funny now, when every step reminds him how frail he is, and how far down we have come. Scenario A seems easier--the slow decline and then release, the comfort that "there's nothing more we can do," the knowledge that "he's not suffering." But that scenario also means that I go through the worst event of my life--and I cannot but pray that there will be none worse--without my other half. Scenario B means we go down together, fighting and crying and clawing for more time, but aware at least of the other's presence. In the end, of course, we won't be allowed to make the choice. It will happen to us. The choices in dying are pretty severely limited.

What we have had the chance to do in these past weeks is realize how amazingly happy we have been together, despite everything: how much we have laughed, how close we have become, how beloved each of us feels in this marriage, and what a joyful surprise our lives together have been. We were married for only one year before the diagnosis, and the two years since have been devastatingly difficult and yet the best we have ever known. To find happiness like this and then to lose it is unbearably sad, and frightening. I'm smart enough to know that I will probably survive this, and that I will find reasons for joy in the life to come, but I realize every day that I will hever again experience the base-line comfort and happiness that I have in my marriage.

What my husband is going through is infinitely more tragic and terrible, but for me this feels like a loss of optimism and hope, a fall from the belief that a happy life (in some ongoing, sustainable sense that underlies the daily tempests) was possible into a world where I know that it is not, and yet must find the courage to get out of bed anyway. Hope will be the final victim here.


At 12:01 PM , Blogger ABDmom said...

Dorcasina, once again words fail me. Your writing is powerful and moving. You are, as always, in my thoughts.

And re: the which is worse question, I've done both with loved ones, and both SUCK. As you said at the end, the outcome is the same, and that is the awful thing about all of this.

At 1:33 PM , Blogger Pilgrim/Heretic said...

Glad to see you posting again, even on such a difficult subject... I've been thinking about you the last few days and wondering how everything was.

There's nothing positive I could say here that wouldn't sound absolutely trite, but I'm glad for you both that you have at least your few years of happiness together. I wish you strength and grace and love through all the difficulties ahead.

At 3:36 PM , Blogger jo(e) said...

Just wanted to put a comment in to say I am reading -- and listening -- and thinking of you.

At 4:51 PM , Blogger bitchphd said...

Wow. I am so happy for the good news. That you've been given the gift of more time. Even though the cost is so, so high.

Everything you've done and achieved and been happy about together has come from the two of you as a couple. And it will be a great loss when the time comes. But half of that is you. You do have that in you.

At 5:18 PM , Anonymous leslie said...

I have to second everything that abdmom said - either side of that choice sucks and to some extent we don't even get to choose.

I'm glad you've gotten more time together and hope you can keep the side effects at bay. I know all too well how devastating they can be. sending hopeful thoughts your way that you have as much good time together and find peace.

At 9:24 AM , Blogger Yankee T said...

You have shared in three years what many people never experience in a lifetime, and that may just be what carries you through the terrible times to come. Your writing is so heartbreakingly beautiful. I wish I could offer more than my kind wishes and positive thoughts...

At 10:26 AM , Blogger Demetri said...


I keep you in my thoughts.

I'll send out my hope to you.

At 8:07 PM , Blogger Clancy said...

I agree with what Yankee Transplant said. I have a friend who lost her partner, suddenly, to a heart attack. She said once that what they had together was so wonderful that it was and still is enough, even if no one else ever comes along again.

Okay, that sounds absolutely trite indeed. Maybe I should just say that I'm reading, too, and leave it at that.

At 8:53 PM , Blogger timna said...

I'm reading too, and thinking of both of you.

At 12:54 AM , Blogger feminine expressions said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4:27 AM , Blogger feminine expressions said...

i read you and tears run down my face to see such love. i read you and tears wet my face to see such pain.

i would, if i could, carry your pain for at least a few moments today, and everyone who loves you through your writing would do the same. yet we cannot but pray, and wish you moments here and there of peace and some kind of comfort.

you are beautiful and brave and brilliant and strong and we are blessed for our opportunity to know you, even if only through this medium. we love you and pray for you, and we thank you for your willingness to let us into your life even in this, your darkest struggle.

diana christine

At 2:31 PM , Anonymous mindspin said...

I have checked in daily, kept vigil, longed for words. The ones remembered today are Emily Dickinson's, written of loss:

My life closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me,
So huge, so hopeless to conceive,
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.

Parting is a destiny knit into our mortality, but to love anyway, devotedly, is to live. This is terrible beauty, and I know you perceive it now more clearly than I can imagine. I wish you every day you can yet cherish together and then an end to suffering when that is the last mercy that can be.

Miraculous recovery would be even better - I hope against the odds that the treatment you've written of has given you more treasured time.

At 9:54 PM , Blogger The Misanthrope said...

My heart goes out to both of you. I have to say this did bring tears to my eyes. I hope you can receive more good news even if it comes in small steps.

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At 6:03 PM , Blogger Supa D. Fresh said...

You're a great writer. I was there, but I feel it more through you than I could say at the time. I'm trying to process it all now, two plus years later, but awed by how well you said it.

Thank you!


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