Terrifying Two

It has been so so long since I’ve had the energy or interest or ability to even think of writing anything longer than a Facebook post that it must mean something about my recovering brain that I’m actually writing on this blog. . .

It’s coming up to my two-year cancerversary, which feels both important and terribly, terribly dangerous to note. Because two years is exactly how long my former oncologist Dr. H told me I could expect to live when I was diagnosed with Stage IV. Our first visit with her was on Henry’s 8th birthday, but she was quite adamant about admitting me anyway because of my pain, which hadn’t been addressed by anything stronger than Advil yet. But it’s my son’s birthday, I said—how could I go into the hospital? How many more would I ever see? Facing away from me, looking over the computer screen, she tapped her fingers a few times on her desk, and said quite calmly, “Um. . . . Two.”

So. Here I am, two years later, and the toddlerness of two seems about right. Both of my boys were pretty good toddlers. They had their moments, such as when Leo threw down a sippy cup of milk because it had originated inside a cow, rather than a lion, but for the most part we were spared major tantrums. But of course they struggled, with language, with agency, with the absolute non-negotiability of the material world. Why the fuck couldn’t they fly? If they wanted chocolate soup, why didn’t it exist? How could their parents be so unbelievably cruel as to put them in a different room at night and leave them on their own?

Did sleep, so fierce and fraught and ultimately undeniable, equal not just the end of the day, but the END?

I have more words and more teeth than they did then (at least for now), but my relationship to the physical world feels very similar. I’m scared most of the time, and sad, and if I’m not scared or sad I’m probably angry and shaking my idiot fists. All the circumstances around the cancer toss it around like something on fire—felt if not rational guilt, bad medical care, the pain of my family. But the cancer itself is just cancer, and I need to put it in its place. When toddler Leo was of walking age, he didn’t; we never knew if it was just too difficult given his enormous ham-shanks or if was partly a choice, but he walked on his knees, not his feet. And he got around fine, and he never minded that every pair of trousers had holes where the knees were meant to be, and whatever fear or embarrassment may have gone along with the knee-walking never kept him from going where he wanted to go. Lion milk desires and other struggles aside, there is something necessarily pragmatic about toddlerhood too.

Can I find that part of the twos this year? The part where I don’t think about three? I don’t know, but I want to try. The recent news I posted about my current chemo was incredibly energizing, but partly because it immediately followed an oddly-tensed death sentence from one of my current oncologists: if this chemo weren’t effective, the next ones weren’t likely to be either, and “you won’t be living very much longer.” The “-ing” pierced my heart and snatched my breath away, an echo of “Um. . . Two.” A week later we learned that the chemo is working, but with the of-course-caveat that there’s no way of knowing how long that will be the case. A few weeks before that, Matthew had noticed that I was turning my right leg out, which led to a “just to be sure” MRI, which turned up not one, not two, but ten fucking brain tumors. Brain tumors: just as weird as a demand for lion’s milk folks, seriously.

So over the past month or so: 1) leg thing; 2) brain MRI; 3) brain tumors; 4) intense brain radiation (I know, I sort of left that out above); 5) gerund death sentence; 6) good chemo news; 7) caveat. What news will this week's visit to Dana Farber bring? Hint: COULD BE FUCKING ANYTHING.

One of the bromides well-intentioned people often offer when you tell them you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness is that in fact we’re all terminal, that there’s always the possibility of getting hit by some bus (it’s always a bus, I don’t know why) the next day. I used to find this almost unbearably ill-conceived—I mean, my death is the bus that we can see and hear and smell just down the street, well-intentioned asshole, and it’s not the same as some potential bus in your imagination. But it is also true that for the most part, I’ve let the damn bus take over, and that is on me. Good news or bad news, the bus ride is as violent as a roller coaster and just as exhausting. I’m tired of the bus and ready to walk, whether on my feet or knees.

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