When cancer appears, life stops. Except it doesn’t. The mind may move in slow motion, sleepless nights may seem to last for weeks, and plans for holiday trips may be put on hold. But one still has to pay the bills, shop for groceries, and keep up at work—all while considering options and preparing for treatment and its effects. It’s kind of like having a second job, or taking night classes. (And then there are people who already have a second job or have gone back to school . . . or who are caregivers for children, elders, or other family members.)
During the summer of 2007, as I recovered from surgery, I had all sorts of things on my mind, some weighing on me more heavily than fear of mortality, believe it or not. At one point, a kind, supportive friend said, “You need a vacation.” Somehow this unsettled me, and another ally later observed that, well, “you don’t really get a vacation from cancer.” She was not denying me the right to a vacation, but rather speaking a truth that life-threatening illness doesn’t really dole out breaks.
Cancer may be more or less present at certain times, but one cannot evade it. Yesterday I witnessed much heated discussion about what I’ll simply call “October.” It was overwhelming, and it is important.
Today I worked in my garden and experienced October, instead of “October.” Every moment in the garden can be read as a metaphor of a cancer journey. What do we remove, and what do we put in its place? What do we engage in, and what do we pass by? When do we speak up about what is given, and when do we create a silence instead?