I definitely spoke too soon yesterday. By evening I was in a state of complete disarray, and my most wonderful family sat with me at the kitchen table for hours, reviewing all possible options and consequences and associated feelings.
Two things in particular came up. The Lovely Daughter asked me point-blank whether I trust my doctors, and I responded immediately with an emphatic "NO."
This has nothing whatever to do with the doctors. They are outstanding physicians at a university medical center; they are progressive, up-to-date, articulate, compassionate, and skilled educators.
This has to do with events in my childhood.
When I was seven and lying in a hospital bed with major injuries and begging to see my mother, I was told that she was asleep down the hall. The truth, that she was dead, came out pretty quickly, but the impact of that outright lie on my subsequent management of my health care has been profound. In both good and bad ways. I look at a medical building and I am filled with suspicion and distrust. Those feelings, along with my natural inclination to leave no stone unturned, have gotten me, and my children, excellent medical care and a lot of information and support. They are also, in these weeks in which major decisions are required and little time is available, something of an obstruction.
The second thing that came up for me, and I'm not sure that we even got to it in our hours of conversation last night, is that it is sinking in that this process that has already gone on for two months will not be complete until at least three, and quite possibly six, more months have passed. You don 't just pop an implant in. For me, the person whose blood pressure rises into the stratosphere at the sight of a hospital, there will be weekly visits and one or two or more surgeries after the big one before everything is complete. All of which means that this is not just a burst of a crisis that will subside. This is months of living my regular life with the need to plan and show up for medical care as a new constant.
And then the shadow of cancer will follow me all the days of my life. As does the shadow of suicide.
I know that this part will be controversial, and I welcome all comments and insights. But here's where I am at the moment: I hate the military terminology that we use with respect to disease and loss. The fight battle victory defeat wage war terminology. (All of those, I might add, are words that I use, because God forbid that I should ever view consistency as a virtue.)
But I just don't find it all that helpful to view my body, or my family, as a war zone. I am going to have to live with the realities of cancer, just as we have to live with the realities of Josh's death. So the word that I am beginning to play around with is the word integration.
I have no idea what that means, in a practical or physical or spiritual or intellectual sense. I do know that, while there have definitely been times in the past few years in which I have felt as if I were fighting to survive, I have been better off, whatever that means, which I have been able to meld the complexity of the whole in some kind of metaphorical architecture that makes room for both the horrors and the goodness of Josh's death and, more importantly, life.
Integrate, it turns out, comes from Latin for to make whole.