Sun slicing through the windows and splashing onto the bathroom tile and sifting through the ficus leaves to dapple the wall. Silence. Rick is at the cabin doing some winterizing. Abby is sleeping by my side.
Me? I have a newly rising CA 15-3 cancer marker and growing pains behind my lower ribs, especially on the right side. My glucose was 133 before my PET scan last Wed. Mine’s usually 90. My pancreas? Crap. I know too much medical shit. And yes, I can feel the tumor in my throat when I swallow. I REALLY don’t want to get that radiated again: pure HELL. I’m awaiting my PET scan results. I’m afraid I’m slowly dying. Dramatic? I can’t tell. I could be hit by a bus tomorrow.
Abby is over 12 years old. She’s having difficulty getting her rear end up on the couch or on the bed or into the car. I only walk her our one-mile walk in the neighborhood now – no eight-mile hikes in Briones like last year. Heck I’ve only maxed out at seven myself this year, not counting the eight mile Burma Burn I did with friends on Diablo in early January before I knew. I watch Abby slow down and wonder which of us will witness the loss of the other. I don’t want either. Her nose is at my thigh and her big furry paw on my knee as she sleeps with my left hand on her head. How I love this dog.
I’m wondering at the importance of activities I’m doing in my daily life. Not knowing when any of us will pass, I’ve always questioned how I spend my time. I’m cleaning out, sorting, and repositioning stuff in my sewing room/office. It feels like I’m getting ready to start a project, or leave it all in good order – good order that probably no one else cares about. It feels important and useless at the same time, like in the movie Love Story when she’s dying and can’t remember the music she used to know. He doesn’t care. She does. Does anything really matter? Except if it helps others, feels rewarding, or is fun? I planted new plants yesterday for Fall/Winter/Spring wondering if I’ll be here to enjoy them or if they’ll only be a temporary reminder that I was here.
I’ve always really loved being alive – witnessing the changing light and soaking in the darkness, the stillness, the little things, the twit of birds and bugs, the glint of light on hard surfaces, the smell of pork chops frying and banana bread baking, Josh Groban singing, the way my body feels making its way across the land legs and lungs pumping, black dog noses, salty ocean water, sun on my skin, laughter. And now Covid limits my movements and meetings. Will I live long enough to see the days post-Covid? When we can eat and drink at a restaurant with friends, hike with friends, travel at will, float in the Costa Sur lagoon, feel the hot Puerto Vallarta sun on my skin, hug my grandchildren, hug my friends?
Abby runs in her sleep. I awoke with a dream: I was doing something and got distracted by the cry of a baby – a tiny baby, so small it fit in the closed compartment of “Sunday” in a weekly pill container. I lifted the lid and remembered that I had a baby. How long has it been in there? What’s it doing in there? Can I be so irresponsible that I’ve forgotten that I have a baby? It’s impossibly small – a half inch in diameter. I see never-opened eyes and tiny blue veins. It fits like a small walnut in the palm of my hand looking like a just-hatched bird. Do I take it to the hospital and thereby incriminate myself with neglect? Will it survive? How did I let this happen? Suddenly its mouth opens and it starts rooting for a breast. It grows into the size of a newborn and I tuck it under my shirt to feed. Do I even have any milk? How did I let this happen and screw this up? This that is so important? I awake feeling terrible guilt.
I was reeling a bit from an acquaintance’s response to my cancer diagnosis: As long as my treatment wasn’t too bad and I was alive, I should be ok with it. He could not accept that my life style change was a huge loss for me: “Well, we’re all going to slow down, eventually.” “I’m not ready,” I said. Rick piped up, “She doesn’t have to like it.” “And I don’t,” I said. He looked away and shook his body as if to say that what I liked and didn’t like wasn’t important if I was still breathing. I know that basically, he can’t handle the whole idea. I’m living the idea. It’s sad, humbling, grievous beyond words. I can’t believe I’m in this position. People on Facebook ask questions about backpacking the John Muir Trail and I know all the answers. I just can’t DO them. And how can I live these precious days to my best advantage while being so sad? I think I’m getting beyond shock and anger and moving into acceptance and sadness. After many phone calls, I had to accept on Friday that I wasn’t getting my PET scan results before the weekend. I have no patience, never have – perhaps born of early neglect? Sometimes I feel like a hungry baby clawing the cold metal rails for a teat, to be held, to be seen, to have my wide eyes looked into by someone who wants to see who’s behind them.
Footnote: After the May PET scan results showed 75% decrease in the cancer and I backpacked four short trips this summer, I got the results of the PET scan done last Wednesday. It shows “progression,” a fancy way of saying that it’s growing again, even with the treatment. Insert expletive here. But a new drug is in my future. The journey continues.
Thank you for opening your heart. I stand in witness to your strength and struggle. Sending you all my love.
Oh, Karen, I am just in tears. I am so sorry about all this. I so identify with your feelings about losing your hiking lifestyle. I have my physical problems (leg, etc. which make it painful to walk) and I constantly wonder if I should continue to fight for answers and solutions that seem beyond my reach or somehow gracefully accept where I am and appreciate all the joys I have had. Your writing is so beautiful and touching–thank you for sharing your journeys with us. Sending hugs!
In writing from your soul, your words are heart-wrenchingly beautiful. I send you strength for your journey, wherever it may lead.I hold you in love and compassion. May you get out into your beloved Sierra again.
I am so grateful I got to read this post this morning. Chronicling powerlessness, searching for acceptance, these are things I struggle with every day. Your prose is achingly, breathlessly beautiful, especially when you face your fears and crawl through them.
You inspire me. You give me courage to do the same.
Thank you! Will Maas
Dear Karen: I read this post just now. Thank you so much for inspiring me! I left a comment on your website after reading it. I’m sending loving prayers for healing to you.
I am blessed to be reading your comments. YOU my friend are one beautiful and amazing woman! YOU my friend are an INSPIRATION for so many of us. YOU are in my prayers for comfort, PEACE and LOVE! Judy Donnelly Guidry
Karen thank you for the update with your blog…. and i also saw you post on facebook about new meds and that you will be hiking once again. That is great news.
so sorry you are going thru this rollercoaster of emotions, body changes (strengths and weaknesses) ….. I appreciate your honestly about what you are feeling as your deal with this cancer and also growing older. Your feelings about your situation are real – and none of us would like it. Yes you “should” be happy about being alive, having a wonderfully supportive husband, etc ….but the other feeling are also part of the package and best to acknowledge those also.
thinking about you …. and wishing you the best as you go thru this rollercoaster of your life.
Stay Calm, Safe, Healthy and Sane
Bobbie Foster firstname.lastname@example.org
The tumor in your throat hasn’t silenced your voice. You were in my dreams all weekend. The only thing I can remember about them is talking to my Uncle saying, I want to see my Aunt Karen. I want to see my Aunt Karen. He wouldn’t answer me but kept staring at me like I was unworthy. This reminds me that we are all unworthy to stare your death in the face, except you. Flip it off once for me? XOXO