Archive for July, 2014

posted by Amy on Jul 24

There’s a woman with whom I do not have a direct relationship, but who is important to people who are important to me. Last fall I noticed she had “unfriended” me on Facebook, and I sent her a text message asking if there was anything we needed to talk about. She replied, “I just don’t have anything to say to you.” That was a little hurtful, but I thought about it and answered honestly, “I have felt that way about you. Eventually my heart softened.” Not long after that I got a friend request from her, and I accepted it. Then a couple of months ago I noticed she had done it again. I haven’t reached out to her this time, and don’t plan to. I may very well have committed some offense–I rub a lot of people the wrong way, especially her–but since I have no idea what that might be, and I still haven’t been let in on the secret, I’m going to leave it at that. We may never see each other again, and if we do we can deal with it in person (or not).

She and I had a pretty good run right after my cancer diagnosis. I know it’s awkward that I’m still alive over three years later, without a known expiration date. It’s easy to bury the hatchet and be nice to someone who’s not long for this world. I don’t think that means her gestures of love, concern, and caring were insincere. I’m sure they were genuine, and I appreciate it. But practices that are useful for acute situations don’t always hold up for the long haul.

I don’t think it’s compassion fatigue. I think it’s bewilderment. I know the feeling. This liminal space can feel like a prison. Later, when I’m likely to be trapped in a failing body that offers fewer and fewer physical and mental capabilities, it will be even worse. Cancer stories used to be about suffering and dying, or about “beating” the cancer and returning to normal. This business of people hanging around for years, often with no visible signs of their illness, is new. We don’t have customs for it. And it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I explain that my cancer is incurable and I’ll be in treatment for the rest of my life. People just don’t get it.

Not long after my cancer diagnosis I figured out that it’s best to stay in the now and take things as they come. It’s a great life skill, and I recommend it highly, especially in the face of death. Denial, a much-maligned but highly useful life skill, plays a huge role too. It’s really better if I just don’t think about it. But staying in the now and living in denial have some distinct limitations. I keep asking myself the same questions about what I want and what I should be doing with my time: Should I keep working on the PhD? (So far, the answer is still yes.) Should I date? (That answer varies. Actually, it varied before I got cancer. It’s just that much more complicated now.) Should I get a pet? (Similar to the dating question: pros and cons. In theory the companionship would be a plus. In practice there are drawbacks.) Should I pursue ordination? (Again, so far, so good.)

But sometimes it all comes crashing down on me and I get depressed. I should make the most of each passing day, hour, minute. But what the hell does that mean? And what’s the point of striving? What matters most? And does any of it really matter? A hundred years from now I’ll be forgotten. Biologically, I’ve done my part with four birth children. That could all come to naught (biologically) too–so far there are no grandchildren or any prospects for them. Beyond passing on genes, I’ll never know if I’ve accomplished anything of lasting value, even indirectly. I’ve always wanted to make a positive difference in the world–whatever that means. Chances are, knitting dishcloths, reading my Twitter feed (over 2,000 followers!) and watching Treme reruns all day are not the best way to do that.

 

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