Cancer. The big C.
Tumours, chemo, radiation, side-effects. All of it is inexpressibly ugly and sad. We spend our lives fleeing it, and living in fear of it. And yet it touches all of us – we all have known someone who has succumbed to a cancer of some sort. We also all know someone who has survived, sometimes for many long and healthy years of life. When it touches the people closest to us, our children, our parents, our brothers and sisters and best friends, it wounds us. When it invades our own bodies, it’s a betrayal of the highest order. We think, how? How could my body be doing this to me?
We laymen tend to think of cancer as one disease, but truly it is not. It is just easier for us to use this one word than to get into more technical jargon. I remember meeting with neurosurgery before Gavin’s tumour resection. Craig, my father, and I, were shell-shocked and teary, but trying to absorb the information we were being told. I can’t remember who, but one of us asked, Is it cancerous? The doctor smiled and gently explained that the word “cancer” doesn’t mean much to neurosurgeons, they tend to think more in terms of scales of malignancy. And yes, Gavin’s tumour was extremely malignant, a nasty, tooth-gnashing monster.
These monsters need to be beaten back with the weapons we have at our disposal, with chemo, with radiation, with stem-cell rescue. If we mothers had swords to injure these beasts, we would fight them until our last breath was breathed, we would chase them down, and destroy them if we could. If only we could.
We can’t. So we must allow our children to be poisoned in the hope of saving them. We must watch them lose function in their organs, lose their hearing, lose their sight. Brain tumours take from them the ability to walk, to talk, to eat, to hear and see. And yet, if they live, it is a triumph.
Gavin is still triumphant. Yes, he has suffered losses, but they don’t impinge upon his daily life. He is joyous, he runs and jumps and goes to preschool and enjoys an occasional brownie. He loves reading and art and cooking and games and playing. Knowing this, I know how lucky we are. How blessed I have been. Sometimes, when we get into a big debate about bedtime or the amount of DVD-watching that has gone on, I have to check my irritated voice and remember how lucky I am.
Gavin does not yet know that he had “cancer.” We have talked about the fact that he was sick and in hospital, and I’ve told him he had to take a lot of strong medications and now he is better. There will come a time when we need to talk more about what that has meant, as Gavin cannot hide his history. The opening in his skull, his sparse hair, and his impacted swallow reflex all indicate a health crisis of some sort, but the majority of people cannot identify what it is, as collectively we imagine kids with cancer as these bald, brave little tykes pushing their IV stands as they go. Gavin was once one of those. But now, he is his hilarious and energetic self, scripting play story-lines, creating beautiful works of art and demanding attention 24-7.
And yet, despite all of Gavin’s great gains, I can’t banish the voice of fear that murmurs at me, about relapse, about what if? On Boxing Day, we had a scare, as Gavin complained about pain in his ear. We are not yet in a place that we could put that down to the cold that he has, it must be relapse, right? But going over all the symptoms, we had to conclude that all is well. He is not lethargic, vomiting, acting oddly. I examine him closely every day, and ask Are you okay? on at least an hourly basis.
MRI is coming soon. We are waiting to get in on a cancellation appointment some time this month. Every day that passes without a call from MRI is painful. I want to pass this hurdle and bask in the glow of post-MRI time, when all is well, when you know that you have won another reprieve and can try to live life as normally as possible. At least for the next three months.
That is life as a cancer mama. Moving from scan to scan and praying that each time you will have won yet again. And having no way of knowing if you have, but having to blindly believe that all will be well.
I believe. Many of you do too. All will be well.