Jammin’…’Cause Hidin’ Ain’t Livin’

Had my first night out since I got the Diagnosis of Doom (Ha! I laugh in your face, Diagnosis of Doom! Like this: Ha! And ha! Ha, ha, HA! I say). Amanda and Jo/Mutha Hydra and I went to my local, the Salisbury last night. Got in early, at six, and beat the rush. I stuck to diet Coke until I saw the list of single malts on the menu and remembered that all my chemo lit has said that if I imbibe, I should stick to really good red wines and really good single malts.

I am happy to report that good single malt Scotch defeats sour-metal chemo-mouth, and tastes as good as it should. I can’t remember the name of what I had––started with a K and sounded more Japanese than Scottish. Twelve years old; good stuff. Too much would have given me heartburn but I had just enough.

Emboldened by this, I have decided Chris and I should take a bus ride to the Borough Market, where I am going to walk on the wild side with a chorizo sandwich. I’ve been dreaming about chorizo sandwiches. I’m also going to look into whatever fruits and/or vegetables that peel or need to be cut open––I can have those, too.

I didn’t realise that I was hiding in the house but the truth is, I have been. After my first experience with chemo, where I got so violently sick that I had to go to A&E, followed by two more stays in hospital when my temperature went up, I got gun-shy, I guess.

But you can’t conquer anything by sitting still. Not that I really sit still. I turned down the blood-thinning injections when I was in hospital because I never really sit completely still––years ago, I got into the habit of flexing my leg muscles to keep them warmed up for dance and now I do it without even thinking. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, if I’m sitting down, lying down, I’m flexing. I do it in my sleep. It feels good and I’ve noticed that despite my excess weight, my lower body is still fairly toned. But I digress.

I’ve been hiding in the house but no more.

I’m going to put on my lovely red hat with the stars and I’m going for a ride on the bus with Chris, my one true love in all the world, and I’m going to remind myself of all the things I want to live for. If my white cell count is going to fall, it won’t do so for another six or seven days. Therefore, I’m pretty sure I can handle the Borough Market long enough to have a chorizo sandwich. If my resistance is still up, I might as well take advantage of it. And I’m certain it is. Both Chris and Amanda have been suffering with colds for the past few weeks and I didn’t catch anything from either one (my elevated temperature was something else, knocked out by IV antibiotics). Both are better now and I’ve decided: time to live like I’m still alive.

As Robert Heinlein said in Glory Road: Dum vivimus, vivamus! While we live, let us live!

Sometime in the near future, I’ll talk about my friendship with Mr. Heinlein, a man who had an appetite for vivamus!, so to speak, but whose health put limitations on him. Nonetheless, he lived as much as he could; he tried, he pushed, and he never gave up. I have thought of him so often in the close to thirty years since he left the building. He encouraged me even when he was breathless from emphysema (the only thing he ever actually ordered me to do was quit smoking). It’s not a coincidence that my son is named Robert. The Patricia in the dedication to Friday stands for me and at least one other Patricia, possibly two (we all knew it at the time). I miss him…enough that I guess I’ve made quite a start on talking about him already.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about him because he’d be the first one to tell me that I should get out of the house whether I could walk out on my own or whether I had to use a wheelchair…or crawl on my hands and knees to keep myself alive.

There’s so much I want to do. So I guess I’ll just start doing it, with an eye to building up enough momentum that it will keep me going, and going, and going.

I’m seeing real progress on the novel now––the sushi novel. Working title: See You When You Get There. I have also written a substantial portion of the next novel, working title: Truth and Bone, a completely different type of book taking off from a story that appeared in Ellen Datlow’s Poe anthology, also called “Truth and Bone.” I want you to read it. You might like it.

In fact, I want you to read all my work. Fortunately, all my books are in print, electronically and/or in hard copy. Any uncollected stories, you might have to search for. But this will help:

http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?96

The ISFDB is good for looking up work from all your favourite genre writers, not just me. I don’t know who maintains it but all of us should buy them dinner and candy and flowers for keeping it up to date. Even I didn’t have a lot of this information on my work.

Yeah, pardon the commercial. I have tried not to give in to the urge to advertise and tell everyone how wonderful I am. On the other hand, I’m a freakin’ writer. I do this for a living, for other people to read, not just for my own amusement. I want people to read my books. If you read them and don’t like them, you can slag them off. If, however, you do like them, leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads or some other place.

I wasn’t going to say, “Consider leaving a review on Amazon, etc.” but I changed my mind. I’m past sixty; the hour was already growing late before it acquired new urgency. Cancer can make you understand the power of love, the world in a grain of sand, and eternity in an hour; it can also make you honest. So, honestly: I want you to read my work.

PS: The appearance of this blog will change every so often. Change is life.

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While My Hair Gently Sweeps…Away

There are always a few things no one thinks to tell you. So here’s one for future cancer survivors who may have to cope with hair loss: it hurts. I mean physically. Your scalp will be sore.

It’s not unbearable agony. It’s more along the lines of the discomfort you’d feel if you had been combing your hair in one direction for a very long time and then suddenly decided to comb it in a different direction. The follicles protest.

I guess the follicles protest when they have to let go altogether, too.

As of right now, I’m not completely bald but the loss is very visible. I was going to say dramatic but really, it’s the hair follicles that are the drama queens. With the small amount of hair I have left, I could wear a wig easily now but my scalp would rather not. My scalp says, go for the lovely soft hats Eileen had Kate make.

Below is a photo of me sporting one of Kate’s lovely hats after a visit to the oncologist, with my husband Chris backing me up. After taking the hat off to show the oncologist my hair loss, I accidentally put it back on backwards. But you can still see what a thing of beauty it is. I will be bringing it and the other two hats, which are much more whimsical, to my second round of chemo tomorrow, where I will also be showing off my “Secretly hoping chemo will give me SUPERPOWERS” t-shirt. I need one of those in every colour but some colours only come in smaller sizes. I need lots of material to cover the multitude of cancer’s sins.

Which, while I’m on the subject, is another thing you find out the hard way. Most people think of cancer patients as thin and frail. And there’s been a lot of ghoulish humour around our house about the cancer method of losing weight. In fact, I lost over half a stone in the week after my first round of chemo––not that it shows a lot. The form my recurrence of endometrial cancer takes caused me to gain a substantial amount of weight and ballooned my abdominal area, making it hard for me to walk again. If chemo doesn’t take care of the problem, I’ll have to have a drain.

TMI? Sorry, but this is a cancer blog.

Unlike in the movies, real cancer patients don’t acquire a tragic beauty as their treatment and/or disease progresses. Cancer can torque the body out of shape. We lose our hair, revealing lumpy, imperfectly-shaped heads. We lose our eyebrows and eyelashes. We lose the little hairs in the inner ear that help us balance and we become unsteady; if we get up too fast––i.e., stand up the way we always have––we risk falling over. Our fingernails darken and break. Our skin dries out and dulls. Steroids make us moon-faced and cause us to put on weight. Fatigue makes us droop. Chemo-brain makes us slow on the uptake. Some of us have to have PICC lines, which means walking around with a weird-looking plastic connector protruding from an arm.

But hey, if that’s what it takes to live even a little bit longer, I’m game. And I do have some beautiful hats to wear while I’m at it.

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This Is Where It’s Starting To Get Hard

This is the part I’ve really been dreading.

It’s not the hair loss, nor the bleeding gums, nor the aches and pains, nor even the inflamed vein in my left arm (superficial phlebitis thanks to a cannula I had for IV antibiotics two weeks ago), but chemo fatigue. The weariness is as heavy and intense as when I was pregnant with my son. I wasn’t tired all the time back then––in fact, when I wasn’t tired, I had a lot of energy. I got the best sleep of my life when I was pregnant, even in the last trimester. I felt healthy and happy most of the time. But I had regular episodes of fatigue throughout the day and they were overwhelming. I was still working at Hallmark then and occasionally I was so weary, I’d go to the nurse’s office and lie down. (This was in the 1980s, when Hallmark Cards was the best employer in the midwest, and had been since J.C. Hall founded it. I don’t know what it’s like now. But I digress.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah: tired. So very, very tired. Gentleman Jynx, my feline supervisor, climbed aboard his lap pillow expecting me to get to work on the novel as always so he could fall asleep listening to music and key clicks. There’s music but not much in the way of key clicks. He gave me a dirty look and decided to have a mid-morning snack, to give me a chance to shape up; now he’s back with the expectation that I have shaken off whatever minor problem was afflicting me and will now get to work on finishing this novel I’ve been working on for two years.

(Actually, it’s more like half that, as I put it aside for a year to fulfil short fiction obligations. But the Gent, as we call him for his impeccable manners––never scratches the furniture(!)––does not give time off for good behaviour or promises to keep. As far as he’s concerned, a year is a year is a year, regardless of how you spend it.)

This novel is fun. Hard; I have to keep consulting experts about the way things work in outer space but still loads of fun. Not my usual kind of thing, which is why it’s so much fun. I’ve been a professional writer for thirty-five years, I’m in my sixties, and I’ve stepped ‘way out of my comfort zone. It’s not just fun, it’s exciting, and the farther out of my comfort zone I go, the more fun and exciting it is.

Hear that, chemo? Fun and exciting! This is no time to nod off!

Exeunt My Hair, In All Directions

Yes, we have reached that point in chemo where the hair falls out. And not just the hair on my head. I hear I will probably lose my eyebrows and eyelashes as well.

I am not depressed about this. As has already been made clear by a previous post, I will do whatever I have to do to stay alive. Losing my hair is an easy one. I mean, it’s not like I actually have to do anything. It falls out by itself with no effort on my part.

Of course, I may feel differently when I see what I look like. I don’t think I have a very aesthetically-shaped head, at least from what I can feel of it. Although I’d like to see what that scar on the back of my head from the police billy-club looks like now (that’s a story for another time; don’t worry, I’ll tell it). I’ll have to have Chris take a photo.

But I am prepared for my hair loss. As soon as I knew it was going to happen, I started buying wigs. I also visited my hairdresser, Daniel, at the Covent Garden Salon (he’s the best stylist in London, with a genius for colour; look him up if you want a hairdresser who understands your needs). I wanted to explain why I wouldn’t be getting my hair done for a while. I’ve been with Daniel for over ten years and as long as he’s doing hair in London, I’m his loyal client. Daniel, bless his genius, darling heart, has said he’s going to take me to the best wig shop in Brixton. And yes, indeed, I’m going. This man is a treasure and I am touched more than I can say by his desire to help me out.

Daniel isn’t the only good friend helping me out in this way. My friend Eileen went to another friend, Kate, who was in the first Clarion West writing workshop I ever taught in 1992, and asked her to make a hat for me. Kate, bless her talented, skilled heart, made three hats and Eileen posted them to me in a hatbox (wrapped in padding within a larger box). The hatbox arrived in London from Seattle in pristine condition and the hats are incredible. I will not attempt to describe them; instead, I will post photos. But later, when I am dressed in my kicking-cancer’s-arse finest, including my kicking-cancer’s-arse boots. They are sensational boots: Irregular Choice pedigree. Irregular Choice is the best footwear company in the world. (I get no money or reward for saying this.)

My friend Sherry in California also sent me two wigs: one brilliant purple, one red and black, which is also very long. I’ll wear them. I’ll wear them all. If I can’t have some fun with chemo side effects, the terrorists win.

Meanwhile, my hair is falling out. I run my fingers through it and strands come away. That’s okay. If I were going to turn puce, if thick orange fur was going to grow all over the rest of my body, if I were going to grow a tail, if my ears turned into long, floppy, cocker-spaniel-esque things, if horns grew out of my forehead a la Hellboy, if all these things happened at once––whatever I had to endure, I’d put on my big girl pants, suck it up, and deal.

I want to live.

There Was A Title On This But I Forgot What It Was

I’ve been a bit boggled by the response to the previous post. I hadn’t expected it. I’ve actually given this as a talk to various audiences. I’ve done it at an all-day event put on by SheSays (Google them, I’m too lazy for exposition), and for an even larger gathering for Ogilvy’s Storytelling Day (Gt, Itlfe) a few years ago, and at a science fiction convention in Norway last year.

When I do this as a talk, I play it for laughs. Believe me, I can make it funny; I’m a good speaker and a better performer. That sounds immodest. All the nuns who (brow)beat humility into me can probably sense a disturbance in the Force. (See? You really can overcome anything.) But I am a trained performer. I took ballet and later modern jazz lessons; I was a theatre major; I had voice lessons. I’ve faced many different kinds of audiences, some on short notice. After that much experience, I ought to be a good speaker and a better performer. But I digress.

Yes, I play this for laughs, and in fact, it’s only the first half of a whole piece. I’m not going to post the second half because it’s one of those things meant to be performed, not written down and read. No, I’m not even going to tell you about it. When I get another speaking engagement, I’ll let you know. I’m not being coy, honest.

Anyway, the story in the previous post stands on its own without the additional material and it made the point I wanted to make. If you liked it, I’m glad. Today’s another day––above ground––and my novel won’t write itself. This is a very long novel, the longest single thing I’ve ever written. It’s set in the same universe as my (ahem) Hugo-award-winning novelette, “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out For Sushi.”

In a hundred years, I never suspected that story would win a Hugo. I’d never won a Hugo before. I know a lot of people think I got one for something or other in the past but no, I haven’t. You can look it up (Gt,Itlfe). I’ve been nominated a few times for that, for the Nebula, and for the World Fantasy Award, but never won for fiction (A and I won the World Fantasy Award in 1980 for Achievement, Non-professional but I don’t call myself a World Fantasy Award winner because it wasn’t for my fiction).

But I’ve won the Locus Award three times, for “Angel” (best short story), Patterns (best collection), and “Girl-Thing” (best novelette), and the Arthur C. Clarke Award twice, for Synners and Fools. For about ten years, I was the only writer ever to win it more than once; Geoff Ryman has since won it a second time and China Mièville currently holds the record at three times.

Winning awards is wonderful. I wouldn’t mind doing it again but I’m not going to turn out bitter and twisted if I don’t. For one thing, I love writing and I was raised to dance like nobody’s watching.

And for another, cancer has a way of snapping everything into perspective.

Another Day Above Ground = Another Good Day

You know that uplifting ad for the Macmillan Cancer Support charity–”Today wasn’t all about cancer”?

I’d like a day like that. Maybe after I’m done with chemo.

That’s it, of course––it’s not that my days are all about cancer but they’re all about chemo. Being careful about possibilities of infection, watching for certain side effects like bleeding gums or my fingers going dead (technical term: neuropathy). I think I’ve already experienced radical changes to my taste buds. Last night Chris made a nice dish of angel hair pasta and Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference pasta sauce. I tasted the difference all right––it tasted like mould. I had to have both Chris and Amanda taste it to be sure. Whatever the herb is, it tastes mouldy to me. Fuck you, cancer. Killing me isn’t enough, you have to take the little pleasures before I go?

And that’s silly because I’m not dying yet. Not really, not any more than anyone else is, in that the-moment-we’re-born-we-start-to-die way. I can’t even imagine dying, although I’ve actually done it twice and come back.

The first time, I was five and I checked out during heart surgery. Patent ductus arteriosis isn’t what it used to be in the late 1950s. These days, they discover it in infants and I suppose they would have found it when I was a baby if my home life hadn’t been so chaotic. As it was, the school doctor found it when I started school at St. Bernard’s, after we left my father and went to live with my Aunt Loretta and her “business partner.”

The second time was a little over thirty years ago in October 1984, just after Rob’s father A and I got back together after a year-long separation. Rob was just a notion at the back of my mind at the time, when I had to take penicillin before a dental appointment. I was supposed to take antibiotics before dental appointments because of my heart––the pda had been repaired but for some reason, there was a risk of my getting an infection in the lining of my heart. The old regimen had me taking antibiotics a few days before dental work, then for several days after. The dentist I had at that time told me the routine had been changed: I should take a certain number of tablets that morning. I don’t know how many I was supposed to take afterwards because I never got that far.

The tablets added up to a full gram of penicillin, which I thought was excessive for a drug that you could develop an allergy to. As well, I’d taken quite a lot of penicillin two months earlier for an infection. But I took the tablets and told myself to watch for a rash.

Twenty minutes later, I started swelling up. I knew what was happening: I had bypassed the rash stage and gone directly to anaphylactic shock. I knew my biggest risk was that my throat would swell closed and I’d suffocate. However, I was wrong about that. My blood pressure was dropping too fast. I did start itching briefly; I was on the phone to the dentist explaining what was happening at the time and stripping my clothes off so I could scratch.

I sounded so calm and collected, the dentist didn’t realise what was really going on. “You’re just having an allergic reaction,” he said. “Drive down to the office, we’ll give you an antihistamine shot.”

“Okay,” I said, now completely nude with my clothes in a heap around me. I would have to get dressed to drive to the dentist’s office, I thought, but I wasn’t going to put those clothes back on because I didn’t want to start itching again. I would have to go back to the bedroom and put on something else. Only now I had a new problem––as soon as I started to walk, I started to pass out.

The solution, I discovered, was to crawl on all fours and that was exactly what I did: I crawled to the bedroom and pulled some jeans and a shirt and underwear out of the laundry basket in the walk-in closet.

I actually was calm and collected. My blood pressure had fallen so quickly I was too stupid to be frightened. I got dressed sitting on the carpet and then stood up carefully so I wouldn’t pass out. At that point, I took a look at myself in the mirror over the vanity. My face was red and puffed up enough that the normally invisible lines under my eyes looked like paper cuts. Jeez, I thought, I hope I don’t have to stay like this.

I had to crawl back downstairs to get my purse and my car keys. As I picked them up, the last shreds of common sense kicked in. Gosh, if I can’t walk without passing out, I thought, I probably shouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car.

(With that thought came the memory of what I’d heard from Tom Reamy’s neighbour the day that Tom had died. Tom had known he was in trouble and he’d tried to drive himself to the hospital. His neighbour in the other half of the duplex saw him start to pull out of the driveway, then stop; then he pulled back into the driveway, went back into the house, and, apparently, sat down and died. Low blood pressure or not, that memory was vivid even though it was something I’d only heard about. I’d pictured it in my mind, wishing I’d called Tom that day. What the memory told me then was, I wouldn’t be able to drive my way out of this.)

So, still calm and collected, I pulled out the Yellow Pages to phone for a cab.

Overland Park, Kansas had little public transportation and less in the way of cabs. If you saw a cab, it was probably from the airport and whoever had taken it would know to use a car service next time. You saw cabs in KCMO, in front of the Crown Centre hotel or one of the other hotels downtown. But I found a cab service in the Yellow Pages––this was 1984, remember, no web, no Google, no Über––and blinking through the dark patches in my vision, I managed to dial a number.

“We can be there in about an hour,” the cheerful woman on the line said. “Is that all right?”

“No,” I said, “I won’t be here in an hour,” and I hung up. (To this day I imagine her wondering how I wouldn’t be there in an hour when I had to call a cab to travel in the first place.)

At this point, I realised it was time to call an ambulance. I knew the ambulance garage was only a few blocks away so I was sure they’d reach me in time. I picked up the phone again and for a moment, the buttons confounded me. There was a nine but no eleven. Then I dialled 9-1-1.

This time, I managed to sound urgent when I told the operator I was having an allergic reaction. She was dispatching a unit right away, she said. I hung up and thought about what I would need to take to the ER with me. Years earlier, my mother had told me that if I ever had any kind of reaction to medication, I should hold onto the bottle or package so that if I were unconscious, the paramedics would know what I had taken. I took a firm hold on the empty penicillin bottle. Now, what else? ID, yes, that was in my purse.

My memory went back to the ERs of yesteryear. Every one I’d ever gone to had been crowded. I should probably bring a book to read, I thought, and crawled to one of our many book cases to pick something out. Okay, medicine bottle and book; what else?

I should go outside and sit on the front step, I decided, because they might pull up in front of the wrong house. Keeping hold of my purse, book, and penicillin bottle, I crawled out the front door onto the step and waited.

The ambulance arrived and pulled up in front of the house next door. Seeing me, they backed up. Five people came, four men and a woman. They lifted me off the front step and took me into my kitchen, where they laid me on the floor and put what seemed to be the most comfortable pillow in the world under my head. (When I came home, I discovered it was one of our couch cushions.)

As soon as they opened my shirt, a hush fell over the room and I knew they were looking at my heart surgery scar. I explained about pda and how it was kind of why I was in this fix.

At that point, I thought I could relax but the paramedics wouldn’t let me. Every time I started to, someone would yell, “Breathe! Breathe!” at me. I have a vague idea that someone hit my chest, hard; there was a bruise later, although no pain or fractures.

They started a saline drip and I kept waiting for us to pack up and go to the hospital. I gave them my then-husband A’s phone number at work so they could tell him I’d be at the Shawnee Mission Medical Centre. But time passed and no one made any let’s-go-the-hospital moves.

This was where I finally started to get a little scared. I had managed to keep myself alive until medical help arrived. Were my would-be rescuers going to blow it?

“Is there some problem?” I said finally. “That we’re not going to the hospital yet, I mean?”

“Well, we’re trying to get your blood pressure up. It’s still pretty low,” said one of paramedics.

“My blood pressure runs pretty low anyway,” I said, which was true. 90/60 wasn’t an unusual reading for me in those days. “What is it?”

“Fifty over zero,” came the reply.

“Oh, my,” I said, astounded. “That is low, even for me.”

Eventually, we did pack up and go to the hospital. I left my book behind; there was no waiting in the ER, not in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. Not that I would have had to wait anyway.

This is where things become very fuzzy. I passed in and out of consciousness while a procession of everyone I had ever met in my life passed by my bed in the ER bay. Eventually, A arrived. (“How do I look?” I asked him, still thinking of what I’d seen in the mirror. “Like Howard Waldrop’s little sister,” he said.)

After a while, I was more awake than semi-unconscious and one of the paramedics came to see me.

“How are you?” he asked.

“Pretty good, considering,” I said. “And you?”

“We just wanted to check and see how you were doing,” he told me. “I don’t know how you did it, lady, because you were dead when we got there.”

I was still too stupid to grasp the full meaning of his words. It didn’t hit me until later, after I was discharged and A took me home. I couldn’t stay awake; I kept falling asleep. this bothered me because I was afraid that if I napped all day, I wouldn’t be able to sleep that night.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t know why I can’t stay awake.”

A gave me a Look. “Well, when you almost die, it takes a lot out of you.”

And then I finally understood.

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That was over thirty years ago. The anniversary of my narrow escape from death’s door went unnoticed. In October 2014 I was more concerned about the severe hernia I had developed, which had made it almost impossible for me to walk. I think I had a cancer follow-up appointment around that time. Sometime that autumn, anyway. My surgeon had been happy with how things looked in that first year after my diagnosis and surgery. But he didn’t like what he could feel going on in my abdomen that time. I’d been waiting to have a CT-scan, which was supposed to be fast-tracked as I was technically still a cancer patient. Mr. Pisal gave them an extra nudge.

The consultant I saw for the CT results told me they had trouble reading exactly what was going on. There was a hernia, yes, but that wasn’t all. I saw the consultant on a Friday afternoon; they found a slot for me in the OR the following Monday.

The rest is cancer.

#

And now I’m back on the floor, back on my hands and knees, trying to keep myself alive. The medical cavalry has ridden in but even if they do everything right––and they are––they know at this point that they are delaying the inevitable. Which is fine with me––see my previous post about the condemned prisoner who has a year to teach a horse to sing. It is entirely possible that I may get lucky with a clinical trial or just go into remission for some unknown (and unknowable) period of time, and it might be long enough that they figure out how to cure this thing. I’m all for delaying the inevitable for as long as possible.

Isn’t that really what everybody does anyway?

In fact, isn’t that the whole point?

This Was Going To Be A Funny Blog And Then My Cancer Came Back

The first time I got cancer was in June 2013. It was endometrial cancer and they caught it so early, that it hadn’t even penetrated the uterine wall. There was no need for chemotherapy or radiation because there was nothing to chemo or radiate. I was fortunate. I have friends who are cancer survivors and I felt stupid calling myself a cancer survivor along with them because my cancer experience had lasted maybe a little over a month, from diagnosis to the day I went home after surgery. I had other friends who didn’t survive, Losing them was––is––a dull ache that fades some after a while but never goes away completely.

And then my original cancer come back. While I waited to find out if it was the old cancer or something new,  I met with my original surgeon. He was very encouraging and optimistic. His wife had survived ovarian cancer four years ago and was still well and strong. That was good news.

Then I met my oncologist and she told me the truth about recurrent endometrial cancer.

You know all those uplifting cancer ads you see on TV about how we’re beating cancer, as many people are surviving cancer as dying from it? Yeah, we’re making a lot of progress in the fight against cancer. Unfortunately, endometrial cancer isn’t one of those big successes.

My oncologist told me that it can’t be cured or eradicated, only kept at bay for a while with chemotherapy.

“How long will I live?” I asked.

“Well.” Pause. “About two years.” Pause. “It could be less.”

It was like getting walloped upside the head with a great, big, heavy, blunt object, except from the inside. I remember my husband Chris grabbing me as if to keep me from falling out of my chair sideways. I don’t think I was but Chris knows me so well, mentally, spiritually, physically, that I probably might have if he hadn’t been there to catch me.

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My mother died at 92 and no one was more surprised than she was that she had lived so long. By then, all the rest of her family was gone but then, none of them ever lived past 70 and some of them never got that far. When my mother developed breast cancer at 89 or 90, it was as if it was only one more thing going wrong because she was so old. You know: if you last long enough, something’s bound to get you. She didn’t die of breast cancer; she had a heart attack. She simply wore out.

At 92.

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I’m not going to start ranting about how unfair that is. I might as well go outside and yell at the weather; it will have just as much effect. I don’t feel hard-done-by. Honest, I don’t. I’ve had some lucky breaks and I’ve had some bad breaks; this would be the latter.

But at the moment, I don’t feel sick. I feel good, and I’ve lived long enough to know that when you feel good, you shouldn’t waste it feeling bad.

My mother, bless her, was a good, wonderful, even heroic person. But she spent the last ten years of her life terrified of dying. She was in relatively good health––poor eyesight and hearing, and osteoporosis had literally bent her double so she couldn’t go unless we took her in a wheelchair. But she survived not only breast cancer surgery but a partial hip replacement after a fall. She was still able to live independently in a small flat in sheltered accommodation. And she spent a decade terrified of dying. We tried to distract her; she wouldn’t be distracted. We tried to get her help; she didn’t want to be helped. There was nothing wrong with her, she said. The problem was, she was so old she could die at any moment and she was freakin’ terrified.

I don’t know about you but I think that’s a lousy way to spend ten years. Especially if it’s your last ten years.

I don’t feel terrified or pissed off at the universe or sorry for myself. The way I feel can be summed up in the following story:

Long ago, in a kingdom far away, a man is caught violating a law against something or other, and he is brought before the king, who is very proactive in the area of justice. The king is having a bad week because there’s been a crime wave recently, and even though this wasn’t a violent crime, he’s just fed up with scofflaws and criminals. So he says to the man, “That’s it, I’m going to make an example of you. You’re sentenced to death. Now. Any last words?”

The man’s lawyer begs for mercy. “Please, Your Majesty, don’t just throw away a man’s life!”

The king says, “Oh? And whats so special about this man?”

And the man says, “I can teach your horse to sing.”

Well, the king is speechless. So is the guy’s lawyer. Finally, the king says, “Is this really true?”

And the man says, “You bet! If you give me a year, I will move into the stable with your horse and give him singing lessons. A year from today, your horse can entertain the whole country with a medley of great tunes.”

The king loves his horse and he finds this idea absolutely irresistible. So he says, “Okay, it’s a deal. You move in with my horse tonight. One year from today, my horse is singing or it’s the gallows for you. Understand?”

“Got it, Your Majesty,” the man says, and the guards take him straight to the stable.

Later that night, the man’s lawyer brings his friends to visit, and his friends say, “Are you crazy? You don’t know how to teach a human to sing, much less a horse. What possessed you to make such a deal?”

And the man says, “Well, I got a year’s reprieve out of it and a year is a long time. The king might decide he was entirely too severe and commute my sentence. Or he might die and his heirs will free me because they think I got a raw deal. Or there’s the king’s daughter––she was giving me the eye. She might fall in love with me and get him to spare me. A group dedicated to social justice might take up my cause and have me out of here in six months, no further obligation. There could even be a coup d’etat and the new government will free everyone convicted of non-violent crimes.”

“And if none of those things comes to pass?” ask his friends.

“Well, you never know,” the man says, “a miracle could happen and the damned horse might actually learn to sing.”