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what’s it like, living with cancer?

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Karen and Chris meditate with our Fernwood Sangha whenever they’re able. The three of us met a couple of months ago when I was volunteering in the chemo room at the cancer centre and they called from behind a curtain asking for more pillows. Since then we’ve entered into a gentle conversation about life with a deadly disease — with the aim that I may learn and their voices be heard. Perhaps you too will benefit from witnessing their story. Karen writes:

Wow … this is a big question, possibly too big as the answer evolves daily. Part of me wants to say that everything has changed and yet I know that is both true and not true in the same breath. Certainly life’s markers have changed. Chris was diagnosed on April 19th. Some milestone. Half a year. Time changes. Reference points change. The bar changes.

Good news comes in the form of having deep vein thrombosis rather than being in congestive heart failure. Or not being able to see metastases on an ultrasound. Are they gone? Or just too small to see? No matter. A small bit of flotsam to grab onto in a large, stormy sea. A meal eaten with relish. A pound gained instead of lost. A day without bowel focus or obsessing about pills. Time spent not thinking about cancer. Appreciating seemingly small things that are in fact really big: walking in the sunshine. A perfect chanterelle. Returning home to a cord of wood delivered and stacked by friends. A pot of matzoh ball soup left on the doorstep. Emails. Phone calls. Love expressed and experienced in such a myriad of ways tiny and enormous …

The challenge of accepting physical changes and not knowing what is temporary or not. What was once an unquestioned holy trinity of our lives — food, sex and wine — has been turned upside down. We are quick to see the irony but not necessarily how to replace what’s lost right now. And is it a blip? The result of too many toxic chemicals and major anatomical alteration? Or will some of these effects last indefinitely? And then I think maybe that’s not true either; perhaps we are slowly fitting other pieces into those holes.

As Chris has always said, “there are many ways to make love” and in many ways we are discovering new ones daily. A touch, a look, a laugh, silence, acceptance, support, the sharing of this experience. I think we are really fortunate in that it has brought (and continues to bring) us closer together. I can absolutely see how this can completely blow relationships (and individuals) apart. We have always laughed well together, something that has been invaluable and yet is also changed by the drugs and the reality. There have been days that he barely smiles. Relatively few, thank goodness but they exist where they didn’t before. That may be the hardest thing of all for me, and for Chris too.

So there’s lots of waiting. Waiting out the impact of the drugs. Waiting to feel “normal” or at least a vestige of same. Waiting to have “a life” back and knowing at the same time that THIS is life.


One response »

  1. ps: i’m surprised that no one responded to this post. wonder why…


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