I'm terrified of cancer. There's a lot of it in my family (though thankfully, no prostate cancer. Hereditary is a huge risk factor for it.) When I learned my psa levels were elevated, I assumed the worst. On the phone with my closest male friend, I cried--which was a relief to me, frankly, and by crying I learned how frightened I was. As frightening as the possibility of dying from cancer was the possibility of having to live with it. I'm in my forties and single, so I quickly assumed that finding love would become an even greater challenge than it seems to have been for me in good health. To live another forty years or so with impotence and incontinence seems almost unthinkable, though of course, there remain far worse fates under the sun ('things are never the worst as long as we can still say they're at the worst,' to paraphrase a favorite author.) Far, far less potentially life-changing events in my life have splintered my will in the past, and left me self-pitying and panicked.
But, there are some events in life--events we know long ahead of time are going to happen--in which there is no room for triviality, for prom night hysterics. Oh, yes--if I turn out to have cancer (as it seems will not be the case), I will know hysterical moments, but those will be moments. I will not allow existential despair and spiritual panic to divert my attention from what is essential in my own life. I'm grateful that in my terrified, tearful first reaction last week, that I did immediately focus on the essentials, in the midst of my worst--case-scenario-building-panic (I wrote about this in a post below.) But, if my mind did focus rather than splinter, it's because the men in my family who have already either died or are dying have taught me much--both in negative and positive examples. My father's death taught me not to leave unfinished business nor to ignore the responsibility of the dying to their loved ones (a person who knows long in advance that he or she is going to die has the responsibility of blessing those who remain alive.) My uncle's death taught me that it's actually okay to have failed in this life in the ways we thought we could not have borne, as long as there are people on the planet who are grateful we were alive. My grandfather's long life and stunning poise in the evening of his life teach me I can choose either bravery or cowardice in the face of death by embracing life or not, even when my life expectancy may be 'one day,' as it has been for him for a decade, now.
I remain terrified of not living out the dream I've chosen to manifest in my life, but, in the end--fuck it. Life is no more than a sweet breeze through a momentarily open window, with a whiff of distant carrion dead to sting the nostrils, before a quiet hand shuts the window and returns to the baking, and laughter and suffering of those who remain behind.