Last night, calendula_witch and I had a long, tough talk about how cancer has inflected our lives, and specifically our relationship. This of necessity touched extensively on our respective hopes and fears for the disease and my journey through it.
In simple terms, our relationship is founded on very intense communication, both overt metacommunication (ie, talking about our relationship constantly, explicitly examining our behaviors, etc.) and more holistic or indirect forms of communication (ie, paying close attention to both verbal and nonverbal cues, listening carefully, focusing on one another’s needs and desires). Chemotherapy caused me to be increasingly abstracted from both these channels, due to a combination of physical and mental decline, as well as the internal emotional focus required for me to survive the process.
Our strong expectation had been that we’d emerge from chemo, re-engage the compromised processes of our relationship, and get on with something like our normal lives. This new lesion in my liver has seriously upset that expected positive transition, though somewhat differently for each of us.
calendula_witch, if I may presume to speak for her here, maintains a strong optimism that the liver lesion will prove to be something other than a second metastasis, perhaps a benign tumor, or some other less critical medical condition. Specifically, even though surgery seems to be a virtual certainty, that I won’t spend another eight or nine months down in chemo hell (six months of treatment, two to three months for substantial recovery).
My view is that logically this is unlikely to be anything but a metastasis, regardless of the anomalous PET results, and as such I have the strong assumption that another course of chemotherapy is in my near future. In both obvious and non-obvious ways, this generates an enormous amount of anxiety and distraction within me. Which is turn means I’m not doing a good job of re-engaging emotionally and communications-wise, as we’d both expected and intended.
If you asked me out of the blue how I was dealing with all this, I’d say I’m handling it pretty well. “calendula_witch pointed out to me last night that I’ve been deeply focused on this renewed cancer threat, with all the expected emotional conflict and distraction arising from that. While she’s hardly objective about me, in this context her view of my behavior is far more reliable than my own self-evaluation. As I said to her, I can’t see the back of my own head.
So we have some meaningful issues on the table and ahead of us. Not relationship-threatening, nothing like that, but possibly relationship-modifying as we learn to cope with this. We’ve spent the last nine months viewing chemo and its discontents as a transient problem. What we’re grappling with now is the possibility that this is the new normal for us.
Stack that next to my fears of a continued decline, with recurrent metastases until it overwhelms my treatment options, and I have the deeply sickening thought that my current rather-compromised state might be the best health I’ll ever see for the rest of my life. And concomitantly, the best relationship focus I’ll have with calendula_witch for the rest of my life.
Almost none of the above is especially logical (though I think it’s all quite understandable). Almost none of the above is based on current medical prognosis. This is emotion and fear and all the complex responses to the deadly game of whack-a-mole going on inside my body. But it’s real, it inflects our relationship, it inflects all my friendships and relationships, even things like my writing schedule and career planning with arcaedia, things like my Day Jobbe.
I’ve said before that cancer is a social disease. But cancer is also a thief, a vile bastard that steals the best from my heart as well as from my body.
I hate this.