A Confessional: dedicated to beloved friends and readership

I’m living with my cancer and without fear of death. When I die, I close of the book of life I’ve written from my birth until that last, peaceful exhale. Beginning immediately facing each new day with gratitude not despair, love not fear, finding comfort in the changes that occur naturally and without effort each day in the certainty of growing even a minute older and slightly wiser.

If someone complains about their age or the effects of age in their outward appearance I have to laugh at the folly of vanity while coming to the aging process from a position of hope. I hope to live to see my gradually aging face or look down at my time weathered hands and that my days are full of garden dirt and callouses from toiling with artistic endeavors and of writing. Each of these efforts yields a better experience with each moment of practice.

What if the following statement were absolutely true: Practicing life prepares us for a beautiful death.

Longing for the great gift of aging.
We move into consciousness from sleep each day – a sleep from which we, eventually, will no longer awaken. I’ve breathed gently in the last soft breath of my best friend Allan who died (too young!) at 37 years of age from AIDS related illness, and that of my father who died at 71 years of age from complications of a huge but benign mitochondrial brain tumor. I am grateful to have had the blessed offering to bear witness of death at their sides.

Breathing someone’s final exhale of air is a taste few of us get the opportunity to intake. This very act has had such a profound impact in my life, that it’s now upon meditation and deep reflection, completely changed my perspective of death. So much so that the sadness of loss in living life without them honestly feels selfish to me now. Neither of them are in physical pain and they’re with my consciousness here as long as I am.

Curiously I await to solve the mystery of where our consciousness goes after the body separates from the energy it produced to make thoughts, memories, laughter, truths, inventions, experiences, experiments and most importantly LOVE. While the transition of consciousness certainly keeps me expectant of this single universal truth and everyone’s final gift from a life lived, it’s so intriguing to me as to what happens during that process.

In NO way am I in a huge hurry to find out. And I have no “bucket list.” I’m not going to kick the bucket over to see what’s inside. Nor do I have but two regrets. I’m keeping those for myself for now, but nothing personal.

Awakening wide awake.
While dreading it in the past I now love having insomnia because it gives me extra quiet solitude and time to read, write, think, meditate. Yet at first I resented my inability to sleep about one night a week – sometimes more or less. Insomnia depends upon what my body struggles to heal from and my mind refuses to put a bookmark in my life for the day and close down for the night.

Finally it dawned on me – no pun intended – that rather than fight to find sleep that never falls I should embrace the extra gift of time. There is so much our bodies try to tell us that we reject for various reasons. But maybe metastatic cancer comes with an after hours club invitation that we should gladly RSVP to join rather than fight or decline.

Yet the deepening loneliness and isolation do not feel especially worthy of the “gift” title. And these emotional rips in my seams aren’t worth a moment of extra time from cancer happens to have as a special kick in the head.

Over four years, depression changed my husband into someone I no longer know. The man I knew wouldn’t just sit around silently or pretend to sleep while actually ruminating. I wish he’d get well and rejoice with me in the daylight instead of what he cannot help on his own and all of it has me very angry right now.

Did I overstay to the point of no exit due to the intolerable amount of stress a breakup and move alone would cause me? That delectable detectable Cortisol flavor that cancer finds especially yummy would emit from the stress body might literally kill me. The consolation of quenching my curiosity about the death process would be checked off my “need to find out” short list, but not at the loss of and the deep desire for some loving time with him. And by “him” I mean whomever he becomes when he picks up his head after too long of his beautiful mind gone into the darkness of despair I cannot cure with or for him.

Of course resentment lingers in the air like smog over Los Angeles in the 70s. And I question my own judgement of trading fierce love and loyalty for self preservation.

Regrettable or not?
How do I not cover my eyes while I ride shotgun as he’s driving us both underground in and out of the dark tunnels of depression? Depression removes a person’s individuality as they move from one conscious state of being to another. Yet how to find his cruel remarks and his lack of empathy and care during those darker times as a way to see myself differently and stand back and remember that it’s just my thoughts making me unhappy hasn’t come to me…yet.

I find it really difficult to separate the depression from the person – is it the depression or is it really him saying that or, very frustratingly, not saying anything? Is it me he’s angry with or my disease? How can he look at me writhing in bed all weekend and not move to ease my suffering? I cannot find another way to understand but this:

Our conscious selves equal our thoughts and our thoughts are only illusory. However, rip the ribbons and paper from the present and by the time you think you’ve understood something fully, it’s already in the past. I meditate in the here and now, in this moment. I meditate to receive the world I’m in without judgement or labels or any expectations. I believe any person will do what they will regardless of what we choose to believe they think or feel, and I cannot know what anyone else feels but myself about a situation means.

Or, in other words – if life’s difficulties are only our thoughts and my thoughts aren’t “me,” but very much a construction of my consciousness – then why does it hurt so deeply to my core!?! Riddle me that, Joker!

One singular sensation!
Please make no mistake, I believe in a singular One-ness, connecting all things that ever were to all things in forevermore. Perhaps not inclusive of an organized religion’s version of God for me to adhere to, and for which I do not begrudge anyone’s spirituality. (I do take issue with those who feel the need to commit acts of violence in the name of their god(s).)

I believe in the One representing all beginnings and every ending together at once, the circle of what is and is not, energy and harmony, light and dark, opposites and parities. And you can hear my voice raise up with the joy of this “knowing.” Perhaps it is towards this abstraction, where our spirits or souls disappear, when our physical bodies give way and depart from the earth and the understandable, tangible universe. Back to the singular One, the infinite, to everything and in nothing. Mind blown in the windless universe.

I think my most authentic sense of self is found in the fundamental truth that all things, every molecule making up every thought and every step that leads us to the next place in the dimension we choose even by releasing a sneeze or not eating that apple, comes from the same “stuff” as dreams and stars are made of…and with that I can rest my mind free of guilt, shame, pain, and suffering. If it were only so easy to do as to say “I can do this.” And I’m in no way close to perfect and may find someday that I’m very, very wrong! Straight to hell with me and my heresy!

My confessions should be crystal clear to you – haha! But here’s the short list

  1. I hate cancer.
  2. I’m slightly afraid but definitely curious about death.
  3. I hate depression.
  4. I’m really angry with my partner for not being a partner.
  5. I think I should have left him but I’m not sure so I won’t.
  6. My spirituality is probably a mixed bag of religions, eastern philosophies, and science.

This may be anticlimactic for having read so far, but part of writing is practicing to become a better writer. And a great writer I’m not but a good writer I’m becoming. Greatness alludes me.

But I start each day hoping…

A Must Listen BBC “About Death”

Bravery on the precipice of the end of life.

British woman who exhausted clinical trials for metastatic lung cancer died the next day after recording this podcast for the BBC. I’m not afraid of death – my belief is this gift of life in our physical manifestation of consciousness is bookended by not being. I’m not – I’m here – I’m not. For those whom we leave behind when we are no longer, really need to try to listen to her talk. She had a tumor wrapped around an artery, and liver failure amongst other mets, contributing to her demise. “All I want is options, because when you have options you have a chance.” Indeed, brave woman, indeed. My greatest gratitude to you posthumously for this gift of speaking out when you could have quietly gone into that good night.
— Listen on www.bbc.co.uk/radio/play/p06hkhx7

Cancer and The Diffusion of Time

It’s improbable, but not impossible, that I’ll have enough time post diagnosis to continue my PhD in quantum mechanics. Or, even begin one for that matter. My academic career ended years ago, after embarking on a failed attempt at finding the funds to eat and live while pursuing a masters degree. I gave up my dream of becoming a full time writer who traveled extensively, to actually make a living wage in marketing during the rise of the tech economic hot air balloon.

Each day, the alarm did its best to beat me awake at 4:30 am and after downing my cup o’ 5 am Cuban coffee (cortadito) and hour at the gym, I ran my young self a quick shower and took a quick drive to the office. 15 minutes took me over the causeway connecting Miami Beach to the mainland to downtown and down Brickell Avenue. And I always arrived at my desk early.

D-Day and Chronic Lateness Syndrome
Since diagnosis day (D-Day), I’m persistently, consistently late. I find myself getting distracted by just about everything and even simple tasks seem to take me longer since D-Day. However, it’s something I’ve never quite gotten used regardless of how I try to trick myself. The use of anti-dilatory tactics such as setting clocks and watches 20 minutes fast do not work particularly well, if only to confuse everyone in my house.

Since D-Day, I’ve absorbed many lectures and books on quantum physics. Cancer artificially inflates the time space continuum, and my greatest discovery yet, although I still await word from the Nobel Prize committee (who also are chronically tardy), is the following equation:
time + cancer = tardiness
T + CN = D (where D is the diffusion of time)

Needless to say insomnia keeps me from getting to sleep until 4:30 am, not getting up to go to the gym before work as was once the daily habit. Due to an early and forced retirement, I look for ways to redefine my purpose in life. I’m a writer, so I’ve been able to circle back on an early career goal and I appreciate that immensely although it’s not ever going to earn a living. I’d be incessantly pissing off editors for my inability to meet deadlines. So my blog and notebooks replace professional gigs, although one day I do hope to publish a chapbook of poetry. Before I leave this conscious life that’s one goal I hope I’m not late to achieve.

A Very Important Date
Yet I’ve forgiven myself for my lack of timely arrivals and missed deadlines. Sometimes, poor health or overwhelming side effects, impede any hope st beating the clock. Mornings set the pace simply to get out of my own way and escape the house before sunset, or to even ready myself for the occasional visitor. Any of the first three tasks of the morning, after I ascertain how I feel physically and emotionally when I get up, effect how to measure out the minutes of elasticity in my schedule. Rolling out of bed, first shaking off the painful pins and needles of neuropathy, next reading and/ or writing while sitting on the porcelain throne combating turgid bowels and numb ass cheeks, while the hat trick amidst silent suffering, fumbling, squeezing and allowing my medications to take effect, thirdly, deciding whether or not shower or take a bath. Depending on my overall health, pain, and fatigue, I obsequiously send texts and make calls, if it’s necessary, to rearrange my schedule for later that day or another day altogether.

To cope with losing self worth and the care of others as I look less and less like a good friend and more and more like a Prima Dona, I use different stratagem. Aside from pure honesty, which I cannot imagine doesn’t sound like pure bullshit to some people, I pre-empt disappointing others with a written warning before accepting an invitation: “ATTENTION: chronic illness causes chronic lateness. Plans may change without any written warning or consent. Your mileage may vary”

I’m generally about 15-30 minutes late, even to see doctors – my palliative oncologist in addition to my oncologist. Although my palliative oncologist helps with most of my symptom management including the psychological impact of having an incurable disease knocking on my door day after day, she cannot help my chronic tardiness. Metastatic cancer is neither easy nor fun, and most people don’t believe I am as sick as I am. I refuse to let it dampen my optimism. Or, more truthfully, I try not to allow other’s opinions to bring me down. False Stoicism isn’t my strong suit and I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve.

Makeup to Make Up
Yet even if I’m home all day I still get up and get dressed and put on some makeup. Mascara and a curling iron become my personal therapeutic counselors. I really couldn’t care less if people say I don’t look like I have cancer – or if they don’t even believe I have stage 4 because I still have most of my hair. It’s my internal state that makes the most difference to my overall wellbeing.

Motivation and timeliness don’t always go hand in hand. I’m relatively optimistic and motivated by good intentions every day. It’s a new day, there’s light and life and love around me and I’ve achieved consciousness after awakening from my unconscious state of sleep for the gift of another day. For that I celebrate my life and I get dressed as nicely as I can. As ridiculous as it may sound, this act seems to help my ability to find positive motivation. Perhaps I may overdress and take too long in doing so; otherwise I may not back the Mini out of the garage or dare think about walking out of the front door. Those kinds of days cause a cascade of cancellations and schedule rearrangements. It would feel awful to the people who got bumped to throw away any part of their day and some of their well-meaning hope with a bad bet that they won’t sit idly waiting on my appearance at some future point. I feel really awful when I think I’ve wasted someone’s time, knowing to the cellular level how precious and few are every moment to the living.

Writing It Down
Sometimes just looking back at the week or month or year gives me hope and also perspective that I would have forgotten had I not kept up with writing. I recall numerous times with good friends, cancer peer groups, and fundraising events when I arrived on time. To the delight of others let me add, and to my humble embarrassment.

Writing too, chases the hours like a dog after a mechanical rabbit on a race track. Once the shoot opens I sprint through an idea for an essay or a poem until it’s complete. Usually this happens late at night or early in the morning. And with that, Simon my cat has come to let me know he’s finished puking on my new rug, and my friend is driving from Reno as I finish up editing this post. My husband still in the throes of chronic depression will not get out of bed until I do.

I must wrap up this lengthy discussion by saying this: if I’m late to my own funeral I won’t be a bit surprised, because cancer also succumbs to my late arrival. I’ve already beaten the artificial deadline of my initial diagnosis. In the meantime I’ll keep smiling, getting dressed to celebrate each new day, writing, and hoping you don’t mind the days when I just can’t seem to make it.