Nothing and Everything: The Different Textures of Terminal

When most people think of a terminal cancer patient, they think of the end-stage, when the person is bed-ridden and so heavily medicated, they’re barely aware of where they are. I’m about as far from that as most healthy people so it may seem strange for me to refer to myself as terminal. After all, where there’s life, there’s hope, yes? It ain’t over till it’s over, right? Sure.

If I wake up tomorrow morning to news that they’ve found the cure for recurrent uterine cancer, I will no longer be terminal. Recent work involving the use of viral cells to carry targeted medication directly to cancer cells to eradicate them shows a lot of promise, so much so that this may well prove to be the treatment all cancer patients have been waiting for. But so far, we’re all still waiting.

Meanwhile, I’m taking progesterone, which as I’ve said may be able to hold the cancer at a low level and prevent it from growing and spreading. This coming week, I’ll have a blood test; the following week, I’ll meet with my oncologist or a member of her team to get the results and find out how well that’s working. Her team members have said they’re hopeful about progesterone holding off the cancer for years; they’re all younger doctors. My oncologist doesn’t talk hope; she talks in terms of what results she has in front of her. Hope is my department.

I suppose calling myself terminal doesn’t sound like I have much hope but in fact I do. I hope to live longer than my oncologist’s original estimate, despite knowing that her estimate is based on however many patients she has seen. The long-shot is that I live long enough to see the viral-cell treatment succeed and be among the first to experience an actual cure. But those really are long odds, on the order of being struck by lightning, winning the lottery, or getting a personal phone call from Steven Spielberg begging me to accept two million GBP in option money for “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out For Sushi.” (I can dream; as Blondie pointed out, dreaming is free.)

Until there is an actual cure, all the treatment I receive is palliative. Palliative treatment is not curative treatment. Palliative treatment is meant strictly to alleviate symptoms and relieve pain, resulting in improved quality of life.

But if life itself is the terminal condition we all have, I’m not actually doing anything out of the ordinary. As I said when I started this blog, if mortality is certain, then putting off the inevitable is not only business as usual for us, it’s also the whole point. So in the larger sense, nothing has really changed for me.

Nothing…and everything.


14 thoughts on “Nothing and Everything: The Different Textures of Terminal

  1. I know you as a writer I look up to, to know you through this, because of this is a different level of admiration – for you as human. Hope I have the same level of pragmatic courage when it’s my turn.

  2. There is always hope. One of my MA lecturers was on liver no. 2 and Hepatitis C. He took an experimental drug, was the only one who lasted the course (terrible side-effects) and now he has ‘no disease’ and doesn’t need liver no. 3. Science is a great and many splendoured thing. I have fingers crossed for the best possible test results.

    • Thanks! I’m allowing for things to go right as well as wrong. Life is full of surprises and not all of them come courtesy of Murphy’s Law. My oncologist was surprised at how well I responded to chemo. Even if I’m terminal, it still ain’t over till it’s over.

  3. As usual, your words are inspiring and insightful. I’m lucky enough to have survived my bout with cancer, which was discovered during my last pregnancy. My son is now 23, married and has a gorgeous daughter himself! I’m 51 now and have been C-free for 22 years!
    I figure that if a dope like me can pull through, a word goddess like you will make it, too! You must, our world would be bereft without you!
    With your attitude, I’m certain you’ll continue to do very, very well!

    • Thanks so much for your encouragement––I appreciate it more than I can say.

      My son turned thirty this year, and I have no idea how that happened. I could have sworn *I* was thirty.

      I think I might not be quite so sanguine had I not had the good fortune to discover the secret of life by becoming his mother. đŸ˜‰

  4. You’ve been a hero for me since I first read one of your short stories in the 80s. Since then I’ve grabbed every book of yours I’ve come across.

    I started in engineering & sw development in the 70s when being female in those fields was a special kind of hell. But I loved the work. So I built up thick defensive armor and kept my focus on the work.

    You helped me. You created places with characters I could understand. You showed me mental spaces where I could work out my own ideas. Your characters kept cheering me on to kick some
    serious ass in my work.

    I am very grateful to be one of your readers. You made a difference to me and my choices.
    Thank you.


    • This is the kind of message that writers dream about receiving. I can’t tell you how happy you’ve made me this morning. Thank you so much for taking the time to tell me this.

      That seems a rather inadequate response, actually, because I know what you’re talking about. I don’t know of any readers who don’t have writers and books they depended on for support. I know I do, even now.

      People who read have a support system that non-readers don’t. It’s a support system that lives inside of us, in our heads and hearts, and it’s there when nobody else is. I’m really honoured to have been part of yours.

  5. Pat, you are an inspiration to me – you already were because of your stories. Now, even more so. I love you. If there’s anything I can do, you may count on me.

    • I love you, too, Fabio. Your friendship means a great deal to me. And as for there being anything you can do, the truth is, you’re already doing it.

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