Saturday, September 7, 2013

Frank. True. Honest. Real.

I wrote this post about a month or so ago, right on the heels of the dream I described. In that time I had begun to believe that the things I was writing here were too goddamn depressing, that there was no joy in anything I had to say, that people didn't want to read shit that made them cry.

Which lead to me not posting. Which meant that I wasn't being true to myself.

And then I got an email from my friend Lara last night, a long-ago woman with whom I shared a voyage around the world that will forever be imprinted on my mind. Lara is a kick-ass woman and kicked me in the ass to post again. Because Lara is not afraid of scary things. She's not one to need to mark of sunshine and optimism on everything. She just deals with things as they are. At least this is what I remember of her,  and loved about her, those many years ago.

So here we go again. Some things not so lovely, some things will be. It is what it is.

Every once in awhile, there is a dream so vivid and real that I can't erase it from my eyes. Stark-still morning leaves me reliving the flashes and images that the soup of my brain has created the night before: some delicious and gorgeous and sensual and beautiful; others deep and lasting and disturbing and filled with resonant worry. Last night was one of those nights, delivering to me the dream that I've pushed off and aside for the past three years.

I can remember the colors in the dream, deep sapphire blue, lime-emerald green, white...all outlined in a contrasted black...and the incredible realness of what was going on. Frank. True. Honest. Real. Sitting in this dream, watching it unfold, participating in the scene, I believed that it was really happening.

That's because it can. And might. Which is what I thought of in my dappled-sunlight morning, swaddled deep in the sheets, unwilling to peek open to the new day.

It was the first dream I've ever had about getting cancer again, a recurrence which is pretty much a death sentence in the triple-negative world. See, I've never checked the stats, never typed "likelihood of survival after recurrence triple negative breast cancer" into the google jackpot to learn about my fate. My sister mentioned it once, the likelihood that I wouldn't survive another bout, but I plugged my ears and danced around until that voice in my head was gone.

But this dream was the real deal, it was sitting in the hospital getting the news, it was the reality that I was going to die, not a question of if, but when. Fuck. So real, so very real that I did type in those words and my sister was right. Likelihood of recurrence? Much, much higher than other hormone-receptive breast cancers. Survival rate after recurrence? 10%. Survival time? Average of nine months. Nine. Months.

I can't begin to understand what it means to die from breast cancer. My mind goes into overdrive trying to picture it in my head, what it would look like and comparing it to my mother's death from lung cancer. What happens? How do you die? What happens to your body? Who are you in that space? And in nine months? Nine months...on average?

I've lived the past two years in a daze, half denying that I ever had breast cancer, half denying that it can or will come back. It's comfortable, this denial, until you are lying in your warm bed completely awash in the reality that you very well may. fucking. die.


That something fundamental has happened in your life that threatens your existence in a way that you can't resolve. That you may be that life cut short that people cluck their tongues and shake their heads about. That all of your bravado and feeling good and pushing past the looks of people who know your story may be total bullshit because you may get this again and have to make decisions that are horrible all to extend your life by months...months, not years.

I suspect this reality check is something that every woman who gets breast cancer goes through. I know friends who have had recurrences who are there and are winning. I know few people who have died from this disease. But I have watched my friends and loved ones waste away from cancer. I have watched the bizarre deceleration and crippling otherness of an otherwise vibrant life.

Honestly, this reality is too much for me to handle. It's bankrupt. It's the end of the road. It's the edge of the universe. I can't wrap my head about what it would mean. And I want to believe it won't happen to me. But I'm not that arrogant and I am just that pessimistic.

So how do you live when that veil has been lifted? Does it change anything? Is it just roulette? Isn't there some huge life revelation that I am supposed to get from "holy fuck, I really may die?"

All I can keep with me is the blue and green of the scene, of the movement of people through the film in my brain, of the feeling of reckoning that stayed with me in the dream and beyond.

Final. It is what it is. No way around it. Real.

I wish there was some big pledge at the end of this post, something that would tell everyone that this was going to be ALL RIGHT and that things will be fine. But I am just going to sit with this reality for a bit because I need to, it's been too long that I've pushed it away.

Friday, September 6, 2013

And in and out of weeks and through a day

For my friend Lara Turchinsky, with whom I have sailed vast oceans. Thanks, my friend.


“And [he] sailed back over a year
and in and out of weeks
and through a day 
and into the night of his very own room
where he found his supper waiting for him
and it was still hot” 
― Maurice SendakWhere the Wild Things Are

My mother used to remark that every time she sat down in a movie theater, she would fall asleep. These were in the post-Dad-dying days where her burdens were heavy and, I suspect, nights restless. We would load into the car during that hot Oklahoma summer and in the cool dark of the theater she'd drift off until one of us would gently nudge her as it was time to go.

In the darkness of the music auditorium I have a similar experience. Away from handheld devices and computers diverting my attention,  from conversations and questions and things needing to be done, I let my mind drift and wander. I visualize my life in snapshots and pictures. I let the music seep in and replenish the dry landscape of my harried mind and heart. Within this space, I have learned to let go.

Tonight I spent a good long while with a blue-period painting projected on my mind. Eyes upon the back of a woman sitting in a small boat, the water is flat, the sky and the sea enjoined in one monotone color. An arial view shows no land. There is no wind for the sail. There is no obvious way north, south, east or west; no clear direction and nothing propelling the boat forward.

It's not a frightening scene. Just dead quiet glassy water, humidity so thick you can feel it in your throat, close. It's a scene that is wistful for a cool breeze and for the clouds to part. It's waiting. It's not knowing how to get moving or which direction to go. It's not knowing what land will look like when you hit it. It's not being afraid of what you will find but confused about how you will get there. It is being alone in a vast sea, and either waiting for someone to come and tow you in or figuring out how to do it yourself. It's a lot different than being a leaf on the stream.

This is what my life feels like now. I can blame it on cancer and its aftermath. I can blame it on the stress and pressure from every side I feel so acutely that it pools upon my skin in bumps. I can blame it on loss and distrust and the feeling of being alone in the world. But the reality is that no matter the cause, it is a long journey of sailing back over these years that will take me to the place that I can call home.