Bird with a wire

Poetry Foundation

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

T.S. Eliot  The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

It’s 9:15 a.m., a frantic and rainy Monday after thanksgiving weekend, cars spinning like plates on 85, the 280, the 101. Crashes and minor accidents dot my GPS maps. Not too late for an appointment with a knife. Today, happy to wait in a room of nervous caregivers and their cared for loved ones with cancer, to get a lumpectomy more like a mini mastectomy.

We thought my surgery would take less time and tissue, however my former tumors left corrupted and genetically damaged breast lobes, and even with clean margins for the the 4mm tumor more must be removed. I imagine a pit inside a peach and the radio oncologist agrees with the metaphor except the peach grew in my breast. Not on trees. Like money grows on trees.

The surgeon uses a marker of sorts for navigation in the form of a very thin wire inserted into my breast using radio mammography and a good amount of numbing agent. Cannot recall the x- ocaine used, but no matter. A wire like a fuse on a bomb extends from my right breast as I await my surgeon, Dr. Tran, an affable, confident doctor who instills in me a feeling of relief rather than  fear. The first surgeon with whom I met months ago, asked why I was there in the office since, “we don’t operate on  stage IV cancer patients.” He’s not going to make the team. He’s cut immediately as the odds against the procedure become tougher to beat.

Patient. A person who waits. A woman without patience makes an awfully poor patient. However, this impatient patient won the battle against the oncological team who abided by the predetermined treatment bible for all people with metastatic disease. “Biblical” may seem somewhat overstated. I assure you, somewhere in a dark room under a thick  museum grade glass box, sits a jewel encrusted tome with instructions for medical personnel by which they must abide. I lean towards choosing those willing to simply consider my strategy for my battalion to fight along side me in battles I can win as parts of a war I can never truly conquer. They are special ops forces. Doctors who missed that part of the oncological specialty curriculum. Willing to listen and see patients as people. Individuals.

When I  entered metastatic pergatory, I found that treatments come and go in the cancer high fashion set. Metastatic cancer patients become the lab rats for the next new wunder drugs and all sorts of treatments. The anesthetic wears off as I lay in recovery, my mouth dry and sticky like my brain. For some unknown reason, I begin cracking bad jokes with the nurses. Nurse Sandy gets a no arms no legs at the beach joke and doesn’t find it funny, yet the others snicker and let me in on her emotionally serious nature. To balance things out I say what do you call a girl with one boob? Ilene.  Ha. Funny day. Steve Miller sang, “I really love your peaches wanna shake your tree.” Well, maybe one peach is enough.

 

Want vs. Need – to be human is to need

My hope: someone else reads this and realizes others besides themselves feel the heaviness of the life they’ve led and the weight of what the future holds and finds they’re not alone… Reads this with the comfort that if there is just one person who feels this way means others, too, share their pain. After reading this they go on through the day knowing other people who “get it.” Or perhaps the fact deepens the wellspring of hope out of your physical reach. But it’s okay for the “strong.” The ones who people depend on not those who depend on others, our shoulders broaden with time like the trunk of a tree. Ah, it’s all that, and not simple.

Sometimes fear rules over love. Living in fear brings a darkness. The kind of dark without any light at all. The darkness of the universe. Living with love in your soul brings light, and the light brings peace to your soul.

Light and love bring peace and knowledge. Knowledge of many kinds – of the self, of others, and a broader wisdom beyond temporal time – yesterday, the here and now, tomorrow. Light illuminates Spiritual knowledge. As overwhelming as it may seem, actually it’s quite peaceful. It’s knowledge of the fleeting nature of suffering. Knowledge of our short, blink of an eye length of time here we only experience a few moments to deeply interact with other human consciousnesses, with their own crosses to bear, their own fears, and shadows cast by their souls between light and darkness.  It’s therefore incumbent upon those who found peace in the light to bear a torch or at least light a candle for those who cannot find the way due to unwillingness or in this case death. Whether temporarily or because it’s been so long that they can remember what happiness is like, bringing them strength to pull themselves into the light so they can find love, is necessarily our task.

As an aside, last Friday night at sundown on the Jewish sabbath, I lit six candles – one for each of the good souls responsible for my existence and passing on the responsibility of bringing love into this world. The six candles were for my parents, both of whom I lost very recently, and my four grandparents. Leah Kaminsky nee Fox, my paternal grandmother, died in 1969 of metastatic breast cancer. She died before any of my miraculous and poisonous treatments became available for her. Who knows what my life would have been with her in this world. But one cannot speculate. The universe works always as it should.

I realized after lighting those six yertzheit candles at sundown last Friday, how my Jewish heritage celebrated life, not with food of which so many of us joke, but with light. (They fought us, we won, let’s eat.)

I learnt recently that the Jews view the flame of candles to represent the human body, mind, and spirit. Those are the three colors around the wick of a candle: the blue light closest to the wick that burns the hottest, represents the physical body that requires energy (or food – candles were made from bees wax in long past days); the white light next, representing the mind that’s fueled by the body; and the outer red flame represents the soul’s connection to the body and mind and also the light that creates brightness and connects to everything we know and the unknowable universe.

Remembering that life brings love and fear shrouds us in darkness, I looked through tears at my husband who suffers from depression. He refuses treatment. In my tears I tell him that my struggle with cancer becomes much more difficult when he cannot be with me if he refuses help. He believes it’s not authentic if he gets outside help, yet it’s now been two full years. By doing so I feel like he denies me the joy that would help to keep me alive in good health longer. It’s no secret that stress and unhealthy relationship cause illness.  By withholding treatment he’s withholding love from himself, and from me. I believe in some ways perhaps I am selfish, and that I should depend on myself for joy.

But as human beings we need others. He remarked, “I want you,” – that’s a perception of me as object. We want a car, we want a computer. We need other humans – and that is the definition of love to me. Giving of yourself of love – not only the romantic kind of love, but the love we give of ourselves even when things seem the darkest. I told him I need you – in response.

Another aside (please excuse my ADHD). About six years ago, I had $10 in my pocket, and was living through a very ugly chapter in my life that effected me to the degree of experiencing PSTD. My stepson, then nine years old, tagged along as he always did when he stayed the weekends. There sat a man outside of Whole Foods. He was suffering from bone cancer and could not afford his treatments. He wasn’t lying. You could see his eyes and his body and his shame for needing help from strangers. I gave him the last of the money I had to my name that day. My stepson asked why I gave him that money, and my answer was simply, there is always someone who has life way worse than me.

There but for the grace of god go I.

Live in love and light although today may seem so full of pain. Live knowing that you can be the light for another today when things seem so dark and hopeless to them right now. And know you’re not alone, you are amongst a world of people who will bring light today along with you. My birthday is June 21st – the longest day of the year. Was the universe giving me a big responsibility that day? I must assume if I believe in the human spirit that indeed my task is such. But it’s heavy, my shoulders hurt, and my knees are swollen from the weight. But here I stand, while others cannot even get out of bed today.

No chance at all I’d leave my love in his time of darkness. I’ll help light the hidden path until he takes it.

Fuck cancer. I’m stronger than anything that can be handed this physical self. My tenacity and my humor carry me from test to test. Some I pass, others I fail; yet my life’s biggest test is as long as I can stand here and reach out to others and say, “I need you.”