Wednesday, May 30, 2007


I like this poem. My experience is certainly not this dire, especially these healthy days; but the awareness becomes just as sharp.

What you realize when cancer comes

You will not live forever--No
you will not, for a ceiling of clouds
hovers in the sky.

You are not as brave
as you once thought.
Sounds of death
echo in your chest.

You feel the bite of pain,
the taste of it running
through you.

Following the telling to friends
comes a silence of
felt goodbyes. You come to know
the welling of tears.

Your children are stronger
than you thought and
closer to your skin.

The beauty of animals
birds on telephone lines,
dogs who look into your eyes,
all bring you peace.

You want no more confusion
than what already rises
in your head and heart.

You watch television less,
will never read all those books,
much less the ones
you have.

Songs can move you now, so that
you want to hold onto the words
like the hands of children.

Your own hands look good to you.
Old and familiar
as water.

You read your lover's skin
like a road map
into yourself.

All touch is precious now.

There are echoes
in the words thrown
before you.

When they take your picture now
you wet your lips, swallow once
and truly smile.

Talk of your lost parents
pulls you out, and
brings you home again.

You are in a river
flowing in and through you.
Take a breath. Reach out your arms.
You can survive.

A river is flowing
flowing in and through you.
Take a breath. Reach out your arms.

-Larry Smith, from Remains

Friday, May 18, 2007


Today's CNN home page features the headline Cancer Fears Self-Fulfilling, and I was immediately curious. I was wondering whether it would say that people like me, who have had cancer and now have a recurring dread or even terror of its return, might actually hasten bad news through our fears. Of course, the article isn't about that--it discusses how there are so overwhelmingly many things that can give us cancer that many people don't bother to take any preventive steps.

Well, that first, then: Immediately after ending chemo, I addressed my biggest remaining risk factor by losing 30 pounds. I was hoping to lose 36, and haven't yet, but I've kept off the 30 with really no trouble. As for other changes, I've started taking curcumin, after Judy alerted me to a study that showed it prevented later metastasis in mice. I know that the internet story about microwaving plastic is a hoax, but I still avoid microwaving plastic these days--what the heck. And I do try to buy organic and avoid any of those chemicals that I can--but I still breathe the air in Los Angeles. I hope everyone does these kinds of things. And doesn't smoke. And if any of that doesn't describe you, I hope you'll change.

But back to fear. There really is an ongoing fear that comes with this disease. I am so happy now, being healthy and strong and in better shape physically than I have for years. My brain is back, my body is more than back, my scar is fading, I'm going to Europe for a dream vacation, and basically my life is just incredibly precious and wonderful. I can feel the intense enjoyment of just living (even on a sad or irritable day) so much more readily now. There is a kind of insane joy just in seeing my hair get longer.

And that same awareness can make it very frightening to think that I could go to the doctor in July and be told I have metastatic cancer that can't be cured, and have to go back on chemo and get weak and blurry and bald, and know that forward momentum is for other people's lives and not mine. There is often a fairly active fear that the rug will be pulled from under me.

The kind of cancer I had is most risky for the first 2 years. This is constant knowledge. Each check-up is more portentous than the next, which is great when they are "all clear." Even after the 2 years, the declining slope of the risk graph is still pretty high until 5 years, and then it drops way down. So I will still have some time to worry.

And to wonder how to live. This may seem easy, but here's a puzzle for you. You are me. You still want to have kids, and you don't have a lot of time left for that. But the cancer community advises waiting at least 2 years after treatment before you start to try, in case you do get a recurrence and won't be able to be around for your kids. OK, now I'm 41. Then add in my own personal risk profile, which says that I probably have to worry for 5 years post-treatment, and now I'm 44. What do you do? Do you have a kid? How sure do you have to be that you'll live in order to have them? How sure are you that you will?