Intimations of Extended Remixed Mortality, or The Good Die Young But The Lucky Get Old

I was reading about the Marvel Cinematic Universe yesterday with regards to Netflix. There’s a Punisher series coming, I guess, and one about a character who was in the Jessica Jones series as well, among others; I can’t remember them all. They were giving the projected release dates––sometime in 2017, sometime in 2019––and I suddenly caught my breath at the realisation that if something appears in 2019, which is two years after my initial expiration date,  the chances are now very good that I’ll be around to see it. 

There are no guarantees, of course. I might get through all of 2017 in great shape only to have my cancer wake up loaded for bear in 2018. Or I might be planning my 67th birthday party (a surprise party, of course) and fall under a bus. It’s always Anything-Can-Happen Thursday. (Actually, it’s always Anythiing-Can-Happen Thursday for everybody, even those of us who don’t live in my particular area of Cancerland, or any other Chronic-Life-Threatening-Illness-Land.) 

However, when I started getting the good news that the level of cancer in my body was diminishing, I thought of what my mother, Old Eternal, told me during the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Scroll me if you’ve heard this one.) I was a little girl at the time and the possibility of nuclear war between the US and the USSR seemed very real, but never more so than right then and there. I was actually having nightmares. One night, after she’d read to me, she was tucking me in and I asked her if she thought war could really break out.

‘Not a chance,’ she said. ‘Take it from me, putschka, nothing’s gonna happen that’ll get either of us out of going to work or to school tomorrow or the next day or the day after that, or ever. Nobody’s gettin’ a day off, so you can fuggedaboudit.‘ (Her maiden name was Saponaro and at the time ours was a Mafia neighbourhood. We all used to talk like that, myself included, even when my mother and my aunt lapsed into Yiddish or Polish, as in putschka. Life’s rich multi-cultural pageant. But I digress.)

I thought about that when I first got the Diagnosis of Doom. Old Eternal had been gone for a little over two years by then but I could hear her like it was yesterday. I could even hear things she would have said: ‘Two years? Don’t count on it, putschka. They’ll be telling you the same thing ten years from now, and ten years after that, and probably ten years after that. Nobody’s gettin’ a day off so you can fuggedaboudit.   

Of course, that was just my defence against the dark arts, so to speak. You do whatever you have to do and think whatever you have to think in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other rather than curling up under the bed in the foetal position. But I also wanted to face reality. I rearranged my priorities, got my affairs in order, got my mind in order, decided that if I had to live in Cancerland, it would be as much on my terms as cancer’s. And while I don’t think I ever really believed I was going to check out in late 2016/early 2017, I didn’t realise how much of the future I had abdicated from. I would read something about London Transport’s plans for 2020 and think, Well, that’s not my problem. Then, when things went right and the possibility of living years longer than my doctor had originally estimated became real, I had to consciously acknowledge that whatever London Transport or anyone else did in 2020 would be my problem.

As I’ve said elsewhere, Be careful how you talk to yourself, because you are listening.

Another good thing to remember: things aren’t done blindsiding you.

I.e., I was pretty sure I was done with all the feels about my extended lifespan: Yeah, I’m gonna live longer than they thought, hooray! Mom was right, nobody’s getting a day off and hey, that’s a good thing! The good die young but the lucky get old. And in the immortal words of the immortal Warren Zevon: I’m too old to die young and too young to die now.

Yeah, I really did think all those feels about having more life ahead of me were settled, old business, case closed, now back to writing the sushi novel and the ‘Truth and Bone’ novel and who knows, maybe Doré Konstantin will get her last hurrah after all. And all of it contained within my 12-week schedule for buying green bananas (not after the end of week 10).

But apparently I’m not done with feels. Today I was, in the words of (I think) Gerard Manly Hopkins, surprised by joy. Not euphoria or ecstasy, more of a quiet bliss arising from the fact of my existence and of having given it purpose myself, and the satisfaction that comes from figuring out what to do and how best to do it. 

And that no matter what I’m facing, all I really have to do is get through today. 

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11 thoughts on “Intimations of Extended Remixed Mortality, or The Good Die Young But The Lucky Get Old

  1. Pat, I’ve never commented before on your illness, partly because I didn’t know what to say and partly because I’ve lost your email address, but I was near heart-broken when I first heard and more joyous than Hopkins to hear you were in remission. Take it from me, there are a lot more of us out here who find your dispatches from cancerland inspiring. I have to say I didn’t understand any of the stuff about Marvel in your first paragraph but if _you_ find it is something worth living for, then more power to it. Please write more novels. The canon is far too small at the moment.
    I hope to see you soon, perhaps at the Clarke Awards. Keep inspiring.
    Paul Brazier

    • I actually did reply directly to you but you’ll have to scroll down for it because apparently I don’t always know how to click on the right things to put a reply in the right space. But while I’m at it, I also meant to say, ‘…I don’t have as much cancer as I did when I started chemo, _or even_ at this time last year.’ At this time last year, I was already done with chemo. Because I can’t always type, either.

  2. your posts have helped a lot of people. thanks for that and for your developing strength of mind…

  3. Paul, thank you for your lovely words. I appreciate them more than I can say, and I feel rather churlish about throwing cold water on you. The truth is, I’m not in remission. I still have cancer. I will have cancer for as long as I live, although I don’t have as much cancer as I did when I started chemo, even at this same time last year.

    My cancer is inoperable and incurable. Technically, I’m terminal but at the moment, I’m living with cancer, not dying of it. This is because my inoperable, incurable, technically terminal cancer also happens to be treatable, and it’s my immense good fortune to have responded much better to treatment than even my doctors anticipated.

    Eventually, I’m going to find myself back in the chemo suite at the Macmillan Cancer Centre wearing t-shirts that say things like SECRETLY HOPING CHEMO WILL GIVE ME SUPER-POWERS and CANCER, YOU PICKED THE WRONG BITCH! while I pole-dance with my IV tree.

    But not right now. All I have to do right now is get through today. And lucky for me, today I’m feeling pretty good.

  4. Your continued existence on this plane is a cause for joy and celebration every day! Your posts help me to stay in reality and live in hope and contentment. Heck you should be a writer! ;^>

  5. I like Old Eternal’s take on things; I’ll have to remember that the next time the news is scaring the hell out of me. Glad you’re still trucking, and much as I love that SECRETLY HOPING CHEMO GIVES ME SUPERPOWERS shirt, here’s hoping you never have cause to wear it again. x

    • Thanks for your good words and the continuous support of your friendship, Simon!

      I’d like never to have to wear the CHEMO SUPERPOWERS shirt, too. But for now, I’m content with the fact that I won’t be wearing it today.

      Actually, what I want now is a shirt that says, CHEMO GAVE ME SUPERPOWERS––FEAR ME!

  6. Quotes to remember: “Be careful how you talk to yourself, because you are listening.” and (what a lovely image!) “Today I was, … surprised by joy.”

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