april 26th, 2011.
A few weeks ago, I was becoming concerned that I was losing touch with what it means to live with cancer. I gave a talk at Instituto Nacional de Cancerologia in Mexico City – to patients, most of them poor and with advanced disease – and I felt too well, too healthy, too safe to be speaking to them. For the first time in three years it seemed I had taken up residence in the land of the healthy and I had trouble reaching out to my companions. They seemed to be living far away in the land of the sick and I had lost my visa. It was an uncomfortable feeling – similar to what the soldier who survives must feel. I felt guilt. I also felt fear – that I was becoming too sure of my health.
All of that came shattering down yesterday. I found a ´bolita´ in the left auxiliary region. I palpated it. My sister-in-law, one of the best doctors I know, palpated it. One of my oncologists palpated it.
As I walked into the radiology room I remembered – one day after my 45th birthday – how it felt more than three years ago to have been in that same room. And in walked the same doctor, the same sweet-voiced radiologist who had found my second hidden tumour in November of 2007. I told her I recognized her and she me.
We both tried to find the bolita but we could not. Then, she asked me to locate it with my hand and help her guide the ultrasound. Her face went grey and she told me that she had only wanted to give me good news but that now she could not. There, staring at us both on the screen was a small, pea-shaped, dark mass. She was more upset that I.
As I went through the day, I gradually crossed back over the bridge that had suddenly materialized from nowhere and I returned to the world of those of us who live with cancer. I remembered why I do not use the term the `survivor` and why I prefer `survivorship` - to refer to what is a relationship of fear that will never end until death do us part. I spend the night alone with my cancer – my other me – we had not been together for many months. I woke up and realized I was exhausted from revisiting our troubled relationship.
My new ´bolita´ is not likely to be cancer. We will see tomorrow and know more in a few days.
But malignant or not, my little ´bolita´ has brought me back to the world of the sick. I realize I am likely to leave as quickly as I returned. Yet, I have again received the gift of a new taste of life. And this -- the pleasure of living the moment -- was in fact what I shared so many weeks ago with the group of women living and dying of cancer in Instituto Nacional de Cancerologia. We were far far apart – in terms of the disease and the means at our disposal to deal with it – yet we shared the timeless joy of loving and living the moment.
Thank you little bolita, for today the moments again mean so much more.
Tomatelo a pecho.