It's been an exhausting past couple of days. Monday's chemo session has made me so tired, and my body aches like I have the flu, and I'm cranky and stressed about some household issues. The weather, on the other hand, has been gorgeous. It's been nice to be able to sit outside for a few minutes here and there. It feels restorative to go in the back yard and water plants and tend to the garden. But mostly, I ache and want to nap, which I can't do all day, though I'd like to.
In a strange and unexpected twist, I've discovered in the past couple of weeks that my hair is growing back. It's very thin, but it's nice to have eyebrows and eyelashes again. I haven't had to shave my legs all summer, but I don't even mind doing that again, either.
The oncologist from the Mayo Clinic called yesterday afternoon. Apparently, their pathology people have a different opinion about the origin of my tumors than the opinion given by the people in Boston, which was already a second opinion. In sort, no one seems to have a clear idea of whether this was a nerve sheath tumor or a bone tumor or a cartilage tumor. The probable scenario is that, whatever kind of tumor it started out as, it most likely started in my abdomen and spread to my hip and lungs. Which isn't really news. What does it mean in terms of my treatment? Not much. Maybe there's a larger arsenal of chemo drugs that can be thrown at me. I wasn't in the mood to think about that yesterday, though. Way too overwhelming. ("Not very healing," said my acupuncturist when I told her about it later.)
As I listened to the oncologist and tried to take notes, I idly opened a package that had come in the mail from my sister. It was a copy of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin's book, The Gift of Peace, which he wrote when he was dying of pancreatic cancer in 1996. I skimmed through it last night and was struck by how quickly his diagnosis was dealt him, how human he was in reacting to the fear and anxiety and loneliness of having cancer, yet also so holy and accepting of God's final role for him in teaching people how to prepare for death. His doctors told him he had a one in four or five chance of living five years. My doctor told me in April that half the people with my condition will live another year or more. Cardinal Bernardin didn't beat the odds. I still don't know whether I will.
But I'm not letting that get to me — not today, anyway. (I did the other night. Oh, how I hate going to that place sometimes.) If anything, I'm reflecting on something Cardinal Bernardin wrote about his last visit with his good friend Henri Nouwen (oh, to be able to call Nouwen a personal friend!). "The main thing I remember is that he talked about the importance of looking on death as a friend rather than an enemy," Bernardin wrote. "'It's very simple,' [Nouwen] said. "If you have fear and anxiety and you talk to a friend, then those fears and anxieties are minimized and could even disappear. If you see them as an enemy, then you go into a state of denial and try to get as far away as possible from them.' He said, 'People of faith, who believe that death is the transition from this life to life eternal, should see it as a friend.'"
That's something I'm still working on, struggling with. I wish my belief in life eternal were as strong as Cardinal Bernardin's and Henri Nouwen's and so many people of faith who have gone before me. No one really knows, do we? It's such a mystery. But those words give me comfort, somehow.
It's odd that I would be thinking of death in these terms today because I found out this morning that a friend's father (who used to be the editor of the paper where I used to work) has died. I wasn't privy to the family's final moments with him, of course, but thinking about Henri Nouwen's words makes me hope that there was a sense of peace in saying goodbye, no matter how deeply they miss him. (My thoughts are with you, L. and family.)
At the end of his book, two weeks before he died, Cardinal Bernardin wrote, "As I write these final words, my heart is filled with joy. I am at peace. It is the first day of November, and fall is giving way to winter. Soon the trees will lose the vibrant colors of their leaves and snow will cover the ground. ... It is a time of dying. But we know that spring will soon come with all its new life and wonder. It is quite clear that I will not be alive in the spring. But I will soon experience new life in a different way. Although I do not know what to expect in the afterlife, I do know that just as God has called me to serve him to the best of my ability throughout my life on earth, he is now calling me home."
I only hope I am as full of joy and peace when my time comes.