Cancer logs 29 & 30
Apologies for the two in one -- yesterday was a long day, and I came home to the news about Nimoy, which made me sad, and I forgot to post here. But this one comes with a poem, which is something. Cancer log 29: There are little things that make all this easier. I bring my laptop and a book with me, every time I come to the hospital -- if I end up spending an unexpected hour waiting for a procedure (as I have been today, due to what I hope is the last of the referral frustration), I can avoid being totally enraged at the wasting of my time, instead being productive / entertained. I discovered where in the Loyola complex (the nursing school) you can find a Starbucks chai tea latte -- despite its not bearing all that much resemblance to actual chai, I find it a comforting and decadent drink, and its treat-like nature helps to counter the simmering irritation. I'm wearing comfy clothes, and comfy shoes -- the latter were particularly helpful as I went to two different wrong buildings today, trekking an extra twenty minutes back and forth. I keep snacks in my backpack in case I'm stuck somewhere and get hungry (just ate a Kind bar, very glad it was there). I make sure that I have childcare coverage (thanks, Kat!) in case things take longer than I expect, as they so often do; adding time pressure to this process is additional stress I don't need. Nothing can make the hospital actually fun, but if I'd spent the last four hours just sitting around waiting for people and paperwork, I'd be in a much worse mood. Cancer log 30: I got my diagnosis on a Friday afternoon, and really, I think I was mostly in shock the rest of the day. I managed to drive home from work, and then collapsed with Kevin on the couch in the living room. It didn't seem real, most of the time, but occasionally, it would hit, and then I'd lose it a little. I mostly wasn't scared of dying -- that in particular didn't seem real, and still doesn't, mostly. But what did seem real, what terrified me, was the thought of leaving my kids without a mother. I always knew that was a risk, of course. I had my first child at 35, and my second at 37. Advanced maternal age on the charts, and I certainly felt it, when I was staying up all night with infants or chasing after high-energy toddlers. My mother had me when she was 19, and there were many times when I thought she made the wiser choice. But mostly, I consoled myself with the thought that I was a more patient, easy-going mother, for being older, than I would've been otherwise. Possibly even a bit wiser. And I didn't really think there was any danger that we wouldn't be around for their childhood. Kevin and I would talk about how we just needed to get them to college, but we didn't think that would actually be in any jeopardy. (Paying for college, on the other hand...) We thought we could count on living into our 60s, at least -- all four of my grandparents lived that long (though not much longer). Plenty of time to get them into college, and out the other side. But I have friends who lost their mothers young. Some when they themselves were still children; a few in high school or college. And even though I teach college students today, and they certainly consider themselves adults, I'm now old enough that to my eyes, they tend to look like children too. Trying so hard to be grown-up, to take care of themselves, but so often floundering, unsure. When my kids get to that stage, I hope we have the kind of relationship where they feel like they can call up their mother and get some advice. As I learned more about the diagnosis, I panicked less. I'm in the 95%+ likely-to-survive group, so odds are, I'll be around for quite a while. But yesterday I had the BRCA gene testing, and we mapped out my family tree, and talked about how my positive diagnosis means an increased likelihood of cancer for my children, and I have not been angry about this cancer so much, but for a moment there, I was raging. I'm a calm person, normally, but this is where my emotions rise to the surface and spill over. I am scared for them, scared for all the sad, bad, hard things that they're going to encounter in their lives. So far, we've protected them from almost everything, but hard days will come. And now, a little bit of me is quietly terrified that their mommy won't be there to help them through it, whatever it ends up being. Broken hearts, false friends, bad choices, bad luck. There are so many things in the world that can hurt them, and some of them may be embedded in the very genes of their bodies, the bodies we gave them. I used to joke about hybrid vigor, but on some level, I took comfort that Kevin and I came from opposite sides of the planet, that, in fact, whatever bad genes we carried were less likely to be passed down to our kids. Maybe we did improve our odds a little, by choosing to combine across such a wide genetic divide. Not enough, though. Not enough to guarantee their safety. The genetic results will come back in two weeks; we'll see if they're at increased risk or not. (It surprised me to learn that 70-80% of breast cancer is sporadic, rather than genetically-linked.) I had a repeat MRI yesterday (hence the jellyfish socks); we'll see if they want another biopsy, or if we can go ahead and start chemo. One way or another, we're almost done with the testing; soon, we start actual treatment. I can't wait. I know the chemo will make me sick, will make me feel horrible. But I plan to be around a long, long time -- I plan to see them go to college, and out the other side, and if Kavi and Anand decide to have kids, I want to be around to meet the grandkids. So dammit, let's go already. Time's a-wasting. ***** I wrote this poem more than a year ago; it feels bizarrely prescient now. But I think all of us who have our children late worry this way. Belated Parent I’ve never been afraid of dying. It’s true. I have friends who worry about their deaths a lot, friends who take an array of supplements so they can live as long as possible, the kind of people who inwardly rage that they were born too soon before we learned how to live forever. I’ve never really understood that. I’ve always wanted to live as if I could be hit by a bus tomorrow, wanted to live fully, saying everything that needed to be said, doing what needed to be done. People say to me, often, “I don’t know how you do so much!” They don’t understand -- I’m trying to pack it all in. But now I have a problem. My father is seventy, works full-time, takes long walks, watches what he eats -- in some ways looks better now than he did a decade ago. I may have him for a long time yet, but I can also see the day is coming, like the day when I was small. The letter came across the wide ocean, on onionskin paper, thin and blue, telling him his father was dead. The only day I saw him weep. And now, I have a daughter, a son; I want to give them everything. I had my children late in life, and I may not be here to meet their children, should they have them. That is a regret. But my fear, my terror, is that I will leave too soon. A stroke, a heart attack, a cancer will descend and carry me off while they are still too small to understand. I have friends who lost a parent young. They went on, built good lives, full of love, but I’m not sure they ever recovered completely. And even if I survive another seventeen years, until my son is twenty-one, until they are both, technically, adults -- I do not know if there will be enough time to tell them everything. Everything I want to say. This is what I want to say. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, my dears. For you, I would have lived forever. ***** November 2013