These past several weeks have been my ‘lost time’ — dull days of floundering and fatigue brought on by a chemotherapy that levels me even as it eats away at my insides. I wander about, languid and dispirited, too weak to accomplish anything creative or fruitful. I try my best to go easy on myself, settling for simply being grateful that I can adapt to and cope with the poisonous concoctions that permeate my body and dull my soul. I’ve learned to rest when my body demands it and to give myself a compassionate free pass when I feel dim, doltish and despondent. Ever true to my classical upbringing, I try to distinguish between accident and substance, reminding myself that even in what appears to be only vapid and vacuous, underneath it all, “there lives the dearest freshness deep down things,” as priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins once put it. (“God’s Grandeur,” Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose, Penguin Classics, London, 1985, p. 27 ).
Tonight, however, the fog has lifted. My spirits are refreshed. Renewal has come just in time. Tomorrow I meet with a new oncologist who, I hope, will coordinate my medical care and help me defeat this cancer that has spread too far too soon. I have a job to do: I need to let him know just who I am and where I hope to be headed. I’d like him to understand that I’m not some doddering old goat who’s about to come to the end of his tether. I hope he’ll see that sitting before him is a vibrant seventy-three year old man who fully expects to live a rich and rewarding life for decades to come. Of course I will want him to be straight with me and realistic, never hiding the true nature of my situation. But I would hope that he will be committed — unless and until we must see things otherwise — to a plan of care that ends with a cure.
I’ll tell him that I have so much and so many to live for that the prospect of an early death strikes me as a great inconvenience, (unless, of course, Providence has other plans, but that’s not the message I’m picking up just now; there have been no deathly premonitions in my prayers.) I’m not desperate, but I am determined: dying is an adventure I look forward to, just not anytime soon. I feel called to live in a spirited way, not merely to survive, but to thrive, not to ruminate on what’s dismal but to savor all that’s delightful. For me, I want him to know, every day is a precious gift. Even my worst days are good — they’re more than good enough.
So, I’ll tell my prospective new oncologist, that I’m looking for a partner in healing. I pledge to be compliant even as I commit to being defiant. I’ll be compliant in the sense that my medical team can expect that I’ll do everything I can to cooperate with them so that I can get better. But I’ll also be defiant in battling this illness and I need the company of a skilled practitioner who shares my passion for a cure.
Seeing me will be the doctor’s first appointment of the morning. I hope I don’t scare him off; I pray that I’ll make his day.