Six years ago today I did’t know that I had cancer. The world looked different then. It’s hard to explain just how. I suppose my field of vision was wider, more encompassing. The future stretched comfortably forward. The world looked familiar.
Of course, even then, I knew something was wrong. I had massive amounts of blood in my urine and my doctor sent me straight to the ER. I remember the frustration of having to wait. I was one of only two or three folks there when I arrived.
But havoc was soon unleashed. I found out later several crash victims had been brought in, a child had been transferred via helicopter to a different hospital, and a man died of a heart attack. Trauma was swirling around us.
I waited for four or five hours to be seen. I hadn’t eaten since lunch. My daughter was home alone. My husband was out of town. All I wanted was to be checked out, prescribed something and sent home. After two hours I called friends to pick up my daughter. After three, my husband was on his way home.
When the ER doc told me that I needed to be admitted, I felt a familiar resistance, a “no” that sometimes completely occupies me. They were not impressed. By that time my husband had arrived and agreed with them that I should be admitted. I cried as I changed into a hospital gown, and then they inserted an IV.
Life was still fairly normal. I was scrambling to figure out how to cover my classes the next day. I wanted my computer. I needed to send email. I was fretting about my privacy because one of my students was working the admissions desk in the ER.
The diagnosis came the next day and my field of vision narrowed to a pinpoint. I began to live in a precarious now. It was not the sort of presence achieved by mindfulness and meditation. It was claustrophobic. It was a tunnel squeezing closed, hard to breathe, hard to see, hard to do anything.
I am grateful that six years later my field of vision is wider, that I try to be present moment by moment. Leonard Cohen told us there’s a crack in everything. Cancer put a crack in my world, but Cohen reminds us that’s how the light gets in.
It was very hard for me to see that light for many years, but it did eventually filter in. Some days are harder than others, but that’s true for everyone. Though I sometimes wish I could go back to life before the diagnosis, it’s impossible to know what that would feel like.
My life is irrevocably changed by the diagnosis. In many ways my life is better now than it was six years ago. But the future is not a comfortable or secure vision. It will never be.
Mortality smacked me down. I got back up, put things back together, but it’s all temporary. Life is temporary. I know that now.
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