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[Cancer]

[cancer] Mortality blues and the illusion of brave competence

First, if you have a minute, go watch the new trailer for the Lakeside documentary. It does a pretty good job of capturing where I am right now.

I’ve been feeling my mortality again lately quite a bit. The recent trip to Austin, being in Omaha now by myself: lots of food for thought. Just settling in to the new reality, really. Not so different from the old reality, just a little worse. My oncologists have redefined hope from “finding a cure to return you to a normal life” to “finding ways to keep you going as long as we can.” Well, okay then.

I hadn’t really been expecting to be in this place at 48 years of age.

John DeNardo made a comment to me the other night at dinner about how much strength it must take for me to face this cancer and carry on. But it’s not strength. It’s just daily living.

I’ve been doing this for five years come April. In retrospect, the first year was easy. I spent most of it thinking I’d dodged the bullet. That’s what I was told, after all. Then there was the lung metastasis, almost exactly a year after the initial presentation. My lung was surgically resected, I did a tour of duty in chemo hell, and we thought again I’d be fine. Then it was my liver. Then it was my liver again. Then it was my liver a third time.

It’s not like I just woke up one day and found myself living in a cheap horror show. This is a very expensive horror show, constructed bit by bit over an extended period of time by my own body, its genetics gone awry and descending into the errant metabolic process that we label as cancer. I’ve been on a glide path into the valley of the shadow of death for years.

When I seem brave? That’s mostly a combination of routinization, inevitability and psychic numbness. When I seem competent? That’s just me doing what I must believe any rational person would do in my situation: gather the data, seek to understand the interpretations, and work at making the best decisions possible.

I want to live. What else could I do?

I’m probably going to die of this, probably in the next couple of years. That doesn’t make me want to live any less. Quite the contrary. I’m neither particularly brave nor particularly competent. I’m just a guy with cancer who sometimes cries for fear of his life and the existential terror at the bottom of his soul. Then gets up the next day and does the best he can. Surrounded by a world full of good, loving people who do the best they can.

When you think about it, there’s not a lot more to life than that.

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