A year ago this week, I found out I had lymphoma. This horrible message didn't come like you see on TV - sitting in a doctor's office in leather chairs while holding E.'s hand. It came from a test result posted in my online medical chart. I read it alone as I sat on the edge of my bed still sore from the surgery to biopsy a lymph node deep in my abdomen. This news would gut me. I've spent the last year recovering from its impact.
My lymphoma is a tricky one. When not messing with your body, it's messing with your mind. It's indolent which means it grows slow but there are no cures that remove it from my body. You can live for long periods of time with no symptoms other than uncomfortable knowledge you are the living host to a malignancy that can kill you. Unlike everything you've ever come to understand about the importance of catching cancer early, treatment for my lymphoma includes actively watching it as it grows until the lymph nodes reach a certain size and deemed a threat. And if that's not enough, it can transform into a more aggressive form of lymphoma without warning.
After my diagnosis, I would recover from the surgery and immediately start treatment for the lymphoma. The treatment gutted me again on a weekly basis. After four weeks, I started recovery. Good news came shortly that the treatment worked. Three months later bad news came that the cancer was growing again and more treatment loomed in the coming year. This left me both gutted and paralyzed. How do you move forward when you're fearful of what the future brings?
Cancer, for all its downsides, does bring a crystal-clear clarity on your priorities. If my life is going to be shorter than expected what is worthy of my precious time and energy? The answer for me this last year has been taking care of myself, my family and spending time with friends. Cancer also creates an urgency to get shit done. I'm not going to become a writer by dreaming about it and waiting for the right time to get started. I have to get on it. Time's a wasting.
As I approached this unfortunate anniversary I would not wish on any one, I've been reflecting on the great wisdom in the Jewish grieving rituals that require grief be tended to and time periods are set for the mourning. Seven days, thirty days and a year. After those periods are completed, you are expected - and some might argue compelled - to resume living. The grieving is over. Life is calling.
A recent scan showed my cancer is stable and it looks like I'll get at least six months before more treatment. The future is no less clear but there is comfort in seeing a string of months ahead that won't require poisoning my body to keep the cancer at bay. So I've decided it's time to resume the living. I've grieved for a year now for my life before cancer and the future I once imagined, and I've been stymied by the uncertainty of what lies ahead. It's time to put those aside. There is living to do.
Bonus material: The poem that inspired my blog post title and asks me to “look at the skill and spirit with which I rise from that which resembles the grave but isn’t!”