I sit here this afternoon, with tears pushing at the extremes of my eyes.
I have not given in to the desire to let them flow, as I am still holding on to the last vestiges of emotional strength I can still muster. But, a few minutes ago, while going through my daily readings, and in between doing the work I am currently busy with, I came across this blog, and again, those tears are straining to come out.
I sit here and contemplate for a moment, what it could be like to have someone tell me that I have a limited span of life remaining. For just one moment, I transport myself to a place, a sunny room in a medical practice somewhere, having had some routine tests done, and with some mild trepidation, sitting and wait for the doctor to call me into his rooms. I sit, in this holding pen, and take in the view through the big mirrored window, thinking of small things, like the fact that doctors no longer where white coats and stethoscopes around their necks. That waiting rooms now have current and up to date magazines. That a large 42” screen is showing a hit blockbuster movie on DSTV, that the couches are comfortable, stylish and very luxurious. Alongside me, I see a young mother nursing a toddler with streaming red eyes, snot dried around his nose, and yet the child is still able to smile at me. I smile back, yet resist the temptation to talk mindlessly to the child or mother.
The doctor arrives, a bland face, devoid of any emotion, a mumbled greeting. Leading me by the arm, the touch of his hand warm on my exposed skin. I glance down at his grey haired hands, a surgeons hands, large, confident, firm. He beckons me to sit down on the hard brown chair in front of his desk. Again, I take in the neat picture in front of me. Deskpad, prescription pad, framed photo of the family, slightly off center a small trophy of a man swinging a golf club, with a date I cannot decipher on it. The doctor takes his seat now, folding his hands before his face as if in prayer. I sit quietly as he opens the yellow manila folder lying before him. A cursory scan, as if he is seeing the results for the first time, a small frown creases his already lined forehead. And then the bombshell. Details. Blood counts, protein counts, white cells, red cells, bone marrow, stem cells, details…All I hear is…Cancer.
I swallow involuntarily, my parched throat sore, my lips dry. Finality. I ask the question everyone in my position asks – How long do I have to live? The answer is also standard. More words, more details. More scenario sketching. More tests to be performed. My thoughts are reeling, all over the place like a bad rash, breaking out as I scratch them, surfacing as red blots on my mind. I recoil. I deny. I listen to the sound of the words coming from the doctors mouth, seeing his graying mustache rise and fall like the swell of the sea, more words crashing on my already drowning ears. I hear the sound of his voice fading into the background of my consciousness, my thoughts now over riding the words of reassurance coming from his mouth. I reach for small glass of water before me, struggling to swallow the tasteless substance. I stand up slowly, reaching out my dying hand to thank the doctor, unable to get any words out, mumbling something. He sticks a piece of folded paper into my hand, unlined and unruled with a simple two things written on it: Oncology – 021 555 4232.
I walk out of the room, sensing rather than seeing the waiting room before me. The mother and child have left, replaced by another older mother and an even older child, with red eyes, this time the mother looks like she has been crying. The child has a look of rebelliousness on her face, eyes narrowed as she looks at me, then looks away quickly, not wanting to look at the dead man walking. I reach the security gate, pushing against the locked barrier. A young receptionist looks at me with more than mild irritation, pointing at the sign asking for upfront payment, expecting me to know that she does this a thousand times a day. I reach for my wallet, pulling out my faded gold card, noting absently that the card too will expire in 2012, in the 2nd month, wondering if I would be around to renew it, or if the card will outlive me. The young girl swipes the card, passing me the terminal to enter my pin. I enter the 4 digits 0270, my month of birth and the year I was born in. I sigh deeply, hearing the machine spitting out the confirmation of payment, realising that I did not even look at the amount, not caring, just wanting to get away from this place.
I am transported bask to reality now. The phone is ringing, someone needs to talk to me. My tears have not come, and I am filled with other thoughts. I cannot really know what this feels like, as it had not happened to me. It had happened to a million other people though, and most recently, it happened to Jacky G. Not 41, but approaching 68, I asked him what the worst thing was about this thing. His reply was simple – What do I do with what I have left with my life, to leave something more behind?
Sadly, as I write this piece, I see a mountain of a man fading away before my eyes. Unyielding, largely unemotional before this, he has now succumbed to the melancholy of his condition. Withdrawing into a world of chemotherapy induced order, sleep is his only escape. Behind closed doors, and with more and more demands on those around him, he is sliding deeper and deeper into a depression. Small positives are no longer counted, death impending the only thought in his mind, constantly talking about his Cancer to all who will listen. I see pressure mounting on Annie G, a strong woman who has endured much, a tidal wave of depression hovering to engulf her too. Resistant to chemical aid, I see her fighting the good fight for both of them. I see her fighting with Jacky G to cling to what remains of a good life. I see her cares and concerns about money and the future. I see her get up each day, and face this evil bitter foe called Cancer, armed with her bible verses of encouragement, and surrounded by a few good friends providing much needed support. I see the prodigal son who has returned after years out in the hinterland, now facing the indescribable turmoil in a home that was Cancer free and love filled up until a few weeks ago, finding his coping mechanisms in his pastimes. I see this young man, filled with hope and ambition for the future taking this on the chin, watch him take this in his stride and I know that he too will be OK. I see my wife dealing with her fathers illness in her own way, she of the same personality traits, who can see the darkness her father is moving towards rapidly, and finding her coping mechanisms, along with dealing with her personal demons too. And lastly, I see me.
Here I am, expressing in words what I am feeling. I am filled with a range of emotions. I am emotionally tired. I wish the tears would come already. I am angry. I ask why God? Why?? And all I hear is the sound of my own mortality, the ticking of my own little biological clock, my personal countdown to my own worldly demise. I wonder if the years of cigarette smoking will come and catch me out? I wonder if my genetic disposition will be my end? If my diabetes will worsen, leaving me with failing kidneys or amputated toes. And then I smile. And I know that my few seconds of morbidity has passed. This is my way of dealing with this trauma – to write and share it with others facing the same things I am. I smile because I know that I am a fighter. And I know that fighters too need the 20 seconds in the corner, a bucket to spit in, a trainer to wipe the bloody nose clean, to prep with some smelling salts, to whisper some words of encouragement, to advise on tactics for the next round. I see the smiling crowds outside my own battle ring, I hear the roar of support from some of them – true friends who have stuck with me through all of this, and who will still be there tomorrow,and the day after, and the day after that. I know I am going to be good. I know I am going to live my life to the full, take the knocks and punches, and never ever give up. And while I will walk away from some of these fights bruised and battered, lose some by knockout, win some on points, draw level at other times, I know this. I am a fighter. And afterwards? I will celebrate with my friends and supporters, celebrate this gift of life I have received.