My friend seems to have come to that cliff at the end of cancer, when things accelerate and it becomes more and more an exercise in keeping the agony of approaching cancer death at bay. It’s hard to know what I will say when I call him the day after tomorrow, the day after he gets back from radiation to hopefully shrink the tumors now growing in his lungs.
His wife has been heroic, loving, hiding her terror expertly as she changes the dressing on his grievous wounds sometimes twice a day. The doctors have been cutting away at him for some time now. The futility of their efforts reminds us of the relentlessness of what humans are up against when it comes to the killing powers of the universe.
My friend’s wife doesn’t talk about selling the house where he is dying, after he’s gone. He knows it’s the only equity they have. Their daughters are coming by for a last belated Thanksgiving-type meal tomorrow, the day after that it’s off to the hospital to have his lungs irradiated. The day after that I’ll call him in the afternoon, which seems to be the best time for him to talk. It would seem easy enough to call him and check in from time to time, but it isn’t, even as I know how little it is for me to do, that it is all I can do (he lives 200 miles north and doesn’t want visitors), and that it may make him feel marginally better for a moment or two to get the calls.
Does my friend’s situation give perspective on my own challenges? Surprisingly little. All of my grandparents and both of my parents died of cancer, as well as two close cousins younger than me. The odds are high that I will die of cancer too. Does it remind me that we are all candles in the wind and urge me to get on with the important business of living well? Not so much.
It sets me to rattling the keys in the middle of the dark night, and wondering about things really too terrible to think of. It should make me grateful for my strength, Sekhnet, the things I love to do, the people I enjoy. It really should.