Susan Gubar’s November 20th New York Times essay entitled “With Cancer, a Different Rhythm to Life” struck many chords with me. Gubar, a distinguished emeriti professor of English and ovarian cancer patient, reflects on “the oddity of cancer temporality.”’ She writes, “Every facet of cancer and its treatments transforms times.” Into year three, I couldn’t agree more.
As I finish a treatment and schedule my next appointment, I think, “A three-month reprieve!” Plenty of time to live life to its fullest, and, of course, that time flies by. All too soon Barbara is arranging my hospital rides. All too soon I’m fending off encroachments on my work calendar, as the assistants of other deans ignore the holds I’ve placed on treatment and post-treatment days. All too soon I’m activating my “prep plan,” so familiar now I operate by memory: pack the hospital bag, stock the frig with soups and juices; clean the house so I’m not tempted to get up and vacuum when I should be resting. Hey, at least I know myself.
But at the hospital, time seems to slow down. Gubar nails this when she refers to the interminable tick-tock of waiting, “especially when you are anxiously waiting for test results.” When we were on this roller coaster with Bing, I tried to tell myself that we can’t live by test results, but that was, and is, futile. It’s as if you’re going into a play-off game with a celebration standing by off-field in anticipation of a victory. Everyone hopes for a cause to celebrate and no one wants to contemplate the possibility of defeat.
I usually get the immunology report from the nurses by mid-day; today Dr. Weitz delivered the good news of another drop, right on the downward trend line. She was very happy, and so am I. Every drop in the IgM count is a victory of more time, yet that is tempered by the unpredictability of the unknown. With the benefit comes the cost, the continual degradation of my immune system, evidenced by the concomitant continual drop in the “good” immunoglobulins and white cells. The docs remind me that I must skate along one serious infection away from catastrophe.
I live with the realization that, if this protocol hadn’t kicked in, by now I could have been serious ill, perhaps dying, or even dead. I live grateful for medical and spiritual advice, a job with excellent health insurance and a national cancer institute in its plan, and ever-ready helpful friends. Like Gubar, I doubt I will ever escape the feeling of living on borrowed time, “that numinous period beyond the predicted end, like a stay of execution, which must be fraught with its own blessings and curses.”
Time again to try to sleep, or at least nap.
P.S. This statue is “The Spirit of Life” by Daniel Chester French is in Congress Park, designed by my urban planning hero Frederick Law Olsted in Saratoga Springs, New York. The area’s famous natural spring water feeds the streams and this and other fountains in the park. I was there for last year’s AGLSP conference.