My dog Dodger, the one I complain about, the one I pretend not to love, is a rescue dog. He was found abandoned in the woods by a local police department. When I met him he was in an old barn in a crate. It took just a minute, love at first sight. He came home for a trial visit; he’s a pit bull mix and vivacious at the least, so we were concerned about him being too much to handle.
When the rescue organization called on Sunday to check his progress I think they were surprised to have me ask if we could just keep him forever. And I promised him I would stay with him forever, I would never desert him, I would never leave him in the cold dark woods, fending for himself, he would always have a place, always have a Mommy and Daddy. Then Cancer struck us and I worried I would be unable to keep my promise.
You worry that you are unable to stay with those you hold dear, it was probably unfair, but there were times after turning out the light that I cried on my husband’s shoulder, saying I didn’t want to leave him. His response was always strong, that we would accept what God had planned for us, our path was already set. He assured me that he would be alright whatever happened. In those dark nights his arms kept me safe, I wondered what it would be like when and if the cancer started advancing, when the threat of death became more evident. I had not only made the promise of forever love and protection to Dodger, but to my husband, I desperately wanted to spend my days with him. Showing him how pathetic I was at fishing and golf. Sharing the joy of our children’s accomplishments and being there for them should they need us. Enjoying our grandchildren, seeing them grow up, making choices on their own, providing grandparent advice, good and bad!
As with any couple we had plans, things we wanted to do when and if we were able to retire. We had that nonsensical conversation about who would go first, never really thinking about what circumstance would bring that about and certainly not before the age of 55. My life expectancy was short, we never asked how long, we didn’t want to know. Who would? It is like slamming a door in your face, one minute you have forever, the next minute you have an expiration date. Plans needed to change, long awaited vacations needed to be taken, or worse, have to be abandoned.
At one point during my illness there was discussion about surgery to remove the cancer by removing a portion or even the whole left lung. In preparation for this expected surgery, I climbed to my favorite place, Maiden’s Leap on Mt Megunticook. The climb is moderate and I felt like I accomplished it with little serious exertion. But I had to go there, the climb is enjoyable and although I have a fear of heights, it is tranquil and the views are spectacular. I knew that this would be my last trip there, once I had surgery I would never be there again. But I was willing to have surgery if it meant a chance at life. In the end I discovered I was not a surgical candidate.
Sometimes having cancer is just one kick in the head after another. You get bad news, you are set up for consults with other specialists, appointments that are weeks away, and try not to hope anything, but as a human hope is all you have. Once you meet with the new doctor and they say the word no or can’t, a vortex opens up in front of you and nothing else that is said you hear. All you see is the spinning black hole that has sucked up your hope, it has greedily eaten up a part of your heart, part of your life and part of the hopes of your family who are affected by the words no or can’t. And this vortex opens up over and over when your family and friends ask you how your appointment went.
This is how you live with dying, how the hope is there, if you don’t have hope, you don’t have anything. But along with hope you have an expectancy, knowledge that the time you have with your beloved ones is precious, more precious that you can imagine.
Although I have now found a new life, my cancer is still there but the treatment taken is holding it at bay. And while my most recent biopsy shows no malignancy, I still feel this terror in my heart. At the present moment I am up at 3AM, unable to sleep. Not wanting the news to change and realizing that it isn’t my decision. As my husband reminds me, God places us on a predetermined path, we just learn how to walk it. That’s how you live with dying, you learn how to walk your path, you travel to beautiful places, you spend time with those you love, and yes, you go from doctor to doctor praying that you can change the path. In the end you get up every day and do the very best you can to make the most of that day.