When it comes to my prognosis, I hear two main lines of thinking: On one hand, there are the hard, cold survival statistics that I see in medical articles every time I try to do research about my sarcoma. The words from the doctors, like "probably not curable" and "prognosis not good." On the other hand, there are the words I hear from the spiritual people in my life, like a priest I respect very much who said to me this weekend, "The longer I'm in this business, the less regard I have for words like 'poor prognosis.' I see too many things that the doctors don't see." And the woman I met last fall from Well Within who came over yesterday to do healing touch on me, who told me she hates numbers and forecasts of how long people have left, who told me of people who have beat the odds for no apparent reason.
I much prefer to dwell in the latter zone. Obviously. But how do I go on educating myself about my condition — which all the cancer literature encourages patients to do — and keep my hopes up at the same time? I've started to dread reading the medical articles. They depress me too much, and a big part of me wants to bury my head back in the sand. I know I can't do that, not completely. (Thank God for a doctor friend of mine who is smart and willing to read some of them for me.) And while I would love to place all my eggs in the "miracle" basket and have faith that I will be the woman who beats the odds, I know I can't live in denial of what might happen to me — I have to be prepared, to have my house in order, even as I have hope. How do I do that? Seriously — how do I find that balance?
My dad turned 70 a few weeks ago, and I was thinking about him on his birthday, reflecting on what turning 70 would be like. It was before I knew my cancer had come back, and I was still in my happy place, just enjoying our family and the newness of Ben. I imagined myself on my 70th birthday, sitting on the porch in a rocking chair with Steve, reflecting on the long life we'd had together. I imagined us talking about those years when the kids were young and I had the cancer scare. "Remember those crazy times?" we'd say.
Mary Treacy O'Keefe (the woman from Well Within) says visualization is a powerful tool for healing (making the subtle distinction between curing and healing), and that it helps to imagine a specific scene like that. She told me about a woman who said she wanted to dance at her grandchildren's weddings. Not her children's, but her grandchildren's. I love that idea, too. I love imagining myself at Daniel's and Ben's weddings, putting my arms around my grown sons as we dance and telling them how much I love them and how proud I am of them. (I am crying now as I write this.)
But honestly, am I going to get that gift of time? I hate that I can't embrace this idea freely. I saw an obituary in yesterday's Pioneer Press for a woman who died after a "courageous five-year battle with sarcoma." Five years, I thought. That's pretty good. I'd be relieved if I knew I had five years left. But wait a minute. Should I give up the rest of my life so easily? Shouldn't I aim higher than that? Shouldn't I hold out for my 70th birthday, for the weddings?
Something else comes to mind. It's on a page I tore out of Oprah's latest issue the week before I got my diagnosis. It's a short, powerful paragraph by the African-American studies professor at Princeton, Cornel West. I'm going to type it here because it moves me so much; it's an attitude worth striving for. He says:
The surgeon was rolling me into the operating room for a seven-hour procedure on an aggressive form of cancer that was in the last stage. He said, "I don't understand; how is your blood pressure normal?" I said, "I've made my peace." My response to the cancer was that I was full of gratitude that I had been invited to the banquet of life for 48 years and experienced an abundance of blessings, especially in the form of family and friends. It just turned out that I've been spared for a while.