Thursday, September 22, 2011

I Can't Be Dying If I Look This Good

         Life should NOT be a journey to the grave
         with the intention of arriving safely
         in an attractive and well preserved body,
         But rather to skid in sideways,
         chocolate in one hand,
         wine in the other,
         body thoroughly used up,
         totally worn out and screaming
         "WOO HOO what a ride!"

     I gave up chocolate and candy two years ago when I had 37 blasts of radiation designed to destroy renegade cancer cells located between my ears and my shoulder blades. I’d read that radiation could wreck my teeth, and I really want to keep them, such as they are.
     As for wine, I gave that up, too, long ago. It stains the teeth, and so does chemotherapy. And truth to tell, drinking the stuff often led me into awkward situations in other people’s beds. It’s been over 25 years since I’ve touched a drop. Or awakened in a strange bedroom.       
Respectably attired a few Fests ago
     Nonetheless, this sober and sugar-free body of mine is nowhere near well preserved, and sometimes feels frighteningly close to being thoroughly used up and totally worn out. Am I getting close to the end of the road? If I am approaching the end, is it really the end, or a transition from one plane to another? Is it time to sign on for the Social Security check, or should I hold out and hang onto my job, for the health insurance? Should I cash in my IRA and head to Italy for a very grand finale? What if this is my last Fantasy Fest? And if it is, should I join the scary league of over 60’s who march, nearly naked, in unabashed joy through the streets of Key West? How will I know when it’s time to wrap things up?
    The PET scan. That’s how I’ll know. 
    The PET scan is the ultimate test for detecting new cancer after you’ve done everything you can to put the original cancer to rest. When you get a clean, or as my doctor calls it, “normal” PET, you are in remission. Get clear PET scans for five years and they call you cured.  That’s not to say that the cancer won’t rear it’s miserable and conniving head at some future date, but the scientists had to draw the line somewhere, right? So five years is the golden stop. I’ve got four to go.
    After my initial diagnosis, and the resulting chemo and radiation, I flunked my first PET scan. Which means I had more cancer, which was treated with surgery and four rounds of intensive chemotherapy. I finished in August, 2010. Three months later my PET was normal. Six months after that my PET was clean again. Now it’s time for another, and I’m a basket case.
    During the past two years, as cancer has kicked the stuffing out of me, not once, but twice(!!) people around me have been remarkably candid. Shortly after I was diagnosed, as the word got around, one of the bosses at work said to me “how can you be here?” like I should have been at home dithering in despair.
My favorite picture of my mom. I miss this woman.
    I have realized, during this cancer journey, that many of us do not truly grasp the concept of our own deaths. Yes, we will all die. Everyone you know will die. Some of them before you. Some after. Being born is akin to sailing out to sea on a ship destined to sink. It’s the other thing, besides taxes, that we middle class citizens can count on.
     Death, mine or anyone else's, but particularly mine, is so difficult to imagine. When my mother died, she took with her a memorable singing voice, her kooky sense of humor, her recipe for the world’s best lasagna and the words to every nursery rhyme ever written. Where is all of that good information now?
    Which reminds me of something insanely sweet my son said to me. I told him I wanted to film myself and leave behind a video for his children, my grandchildren, who are yet to be. Miguel told me that wasn’t necessary.
    “But I want them to know who I was,” I said.
    “I know who you are,” he said. “You’re in my heart, and you always will be. I’ll tell them who you were.”
    Being forced to recognize your looming mortality brings different responses from different people. A Key West friend has been diagnosed with bone cancer and refuses to even discuss the possibility of treatment. I envy his resolve. I don’t see myself ever choosing that route. I’ll do what the doctors tell me to do. I like it here on Planet Earth.
    The other day, at the Salvation Army store, I found a pair of Donna Karan jeans, size 8 and a glove-perfect fit.  Five more pounds and they’ll be history, but for now, they’re sweet indeed. My husband thinks so, too.
    “I think we should go to New York for a week,” I told him, “just to show off my ass in these jeans.”
    Good PET. Bad PET. Today I’m booking flights. Cause today, it doesn’t matter.


  1. We are wishing you the clearest of clear PET scans!

  2. Love you, all of you, including your sense of humor and your courage. And your sweet ass, baby!