April 15, 2010

I’ve been living with the cancer diagnosis for two weeks. Last week was test week with a colonoscopy, MRI and CAT scan. Sara, God bless her generous heart, drove me to each of the tests at Mount Auburn and took Leo while I was in the procedure. She wore him in the Ergo and took him for walks around West Cambridge, through the beautiful neighborhoods with their grand Victorians and gorgeous gardens that I’ve long drooled over and fantasized about living in.  By the end of the last test, I felt pretty worn out and deflated. This cancer thing is becoming more real. I have to face it and deal with it and get it out of me. The test results came back largely favorable—the rectal tumor is the only site of cancer in my body. Unfortunately, though, the tumor does seem to have spread into the wall of the rectum, making my plan for a simple surgery less likely.

Yesterday we met with Lisa Weissman, the oncologist at Mount Auburn. She explained to David, Sara, and me more about rectal cancer and the reasons why they go after it with more aggressive treatment. It seems that I have a sacred sacral illness, that the location of the rectum and its proximity to so many other organs as well as a rich supply of blood flow through the pelvis means that if left unchecked the cancer could easily spread to nearby organs and even travel through the blood elsewhere. Not what we want. Dr. Weissman proceeded to outline the standard of care for stage II rectal cancer, which includes 6 weeks of radiation and chemo, surgery, and then another 2 months of adjuvant chemo just to be sure any lingering cancer cells are obliterated. It’s quite a plan. I’ve been reeling ever since.

I think that even with the diagnosis and the tests, the fact that I have cancer (better to say, there’s a small cancerous part of my body) hasn’t fully registered. Treatment was still abstract. But hearing the details yesterday of 24-hour continuous infusion through a port and daily radiation treatments has provided enough of a clear picture for me to realize that cancer and cancer treatment is as loathsome as we all think. Of course, I’ve also seen cancer up close and personal with both of my parents. I watched them go through surgeries, chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, and all of the side effects. And then I held their hands as they died, delivered eulogies at their funerals, put stones on their graves, and said Kaddish for 11 months. It isn’t hard to feel cynical about cancer “therapy.”

So I stand in the unknowing. The decision-making time. I have to figure out a way forward. A way through and a way out. Next week I have an impressive line up of appointments: a second opinion at Mass General, meetings with the colorectal surgeon and the radiation oncologist, and an appointment with Ilana’s Chinese herb teacher. Guess which appointment I’m most looking forward to?

This morning Ilana and I were watching Aidan and Toby climbing on a play structure and I told her that I feel like lava rock being washed by the ocean. Wave after wave hits me, and I reel and cry and I have asked Why me? I’ve wondered what I did to cause this and what I need to learn from this lesson, and I cry for myself with the same tears I’ve felt only when I’ve mourned and I realize that this time I’m grieving for myself and still the waves come, wearing me down, polishing me smooth.

I feel vulnerable, especially at night. After the kids are in bed and the house is quiet, a dark space opens up like a mirror to reflect what I’ve pushed down and staved off all day: cancer. Dear God. This time it’s me. And I want David’s arms around me. I want to wear him like a blanket. I want him to protect me from this or, better, make it go away. And so I tell him that I don’t want him to leave the house to go pick up that free garbage can with a lid someone was giving away up the street. I tell him I want him to stay with me. I don’t even want him to go downstairs, to be on a different floor. Me, who is usually so independent and strong. David has called me his rock. Now I am small. I am so tiny I can disappear and never again hear the words cancer or chemotherapy. But then I picture Toby’s electric smile and long dark eyelashes and I remember the weight of baby Leo’s warm little body nuzzled against my breast, his mouth agape and a few drops of milk dripping down his cheek. I breathe in his hair every chance I get. I tell Toby I love him all day long. I know I have no choice. This story has been set into motion and I’m already somewhere inside of it. Wave after wave hitting against me. Salt and cool water. Wearing me down. Polishing me smooth.

One comment

  1. I was just forwarded this link to your blog and am sitting here stunned after reading this.

    Jess and I are both pulling for you and your kids. Best wishes to a speedy recovery.

    Matt Givney

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