My emotional state is a little precarious this week, as the gravity of recent events presses in. That brink I tried to describe poetically a few days ago lies immediately before me. I’ve been holding my breath, frightened that the ground beneath my feet could give way at any moment.
The logical inconsistency in writing this is that I remain physically strong. I ran for 40 minutes on the treadmill this morning, and then stretched for another 15. I’m fit, in at least a limited sense of the word. If I had the nerve, I’d jump on my bike today and ride over to the coast. I feel that healthy.
I’ve concluded that being in denial over a diagnosis of cancer has a lot to recommend it. Had I chosen to, I could have clammed up about my melanoma advancing to stage IV and no one would have known. The two surgeries I’ve had this year were minor. I don’t look sick or conspicuously scarred. Some days I behave like someone more interested in getting six yards of compost spread in his garden than worried about cancer that’s continuing to proliferate in his body.
Some people carry on under impossibly difficult circumstances by choosing to ignore or deny their problems. It’s a tactical response to danger for which I have a newfound appreciation.
It doesn’t work for me, however. I will be having another heart-to-heart with my oncologist on Friday in which treatment options will be discussed dispassionately. I’ve been through this drill. The doctor will lay out in general terms what lies ahead, I will ask questions and take notes, and we’ll come to some understanding about what can be done—if anything—to slow down what feels like a runaway train. We’ll consider a timetable. He might even offer me some sympathy. And then you’ll get a chance to read all about it.
In the language of pop psychology, I’ll take a pass on the denial and settle for cognitive dissonance. Ellen and I both noticed in the surgical suite at OHSU two weeks ago how unhealthy my surgeon looked. Had roles been reversed, with him in the hospital gown and me in scrubs, the scene might have made more sense. I know I’m sick—and yet I’m not sick. Appearances betray the brutal reality of where things stand. There are still days when I think, no, this really can’t be happening. On a couple of occasions I’ve needed to touch the nodule in my hip just to remind myself of what this is all about.
It’s such a bizarre place to be. It’s like free climbing the face of Half Dome. I’m off belay and there’s nothing but air below me. I’m having one hell of an adventure, but it’s ridiculous how much it’s going to hurt if I slip and fall.