Ovarian Cancer and a Circumcised Heart

Unemployment (1909), Kathe KollwitzCircumcise therefore the thickness about your hearts.
—Deuteronomy 10:16

 

Her dying and death circumcised my heart.

For weeks, I knew only this: she’s on a lot of pain medication; she’s hallucinating; she’s in the hospital; she’s home; she has a staph infection; she’s in the ICU; she’s doing better; she’s in rehab; she’s in the hospital; she’s coming home.

How did I know the little I knew? Mother. She conveyed what they, my brother and sister-in-law, wanted others to know.

We knew.

We thought we knew. [Read more...]

Quitting the Cancer Battle

Dessicated Seated NudeI am not a hero. After my last post, some readers wanted to know how I arrived at my attitude toward cancer, which is to be found somewhere between a religious person’s submis­sion and the cordial host’s welcome. A better question—one my oncologist and I wrestle with at every appointment—is why most cancer patients tumble into a bottom­less slough of despond.

My intention is not to criticize other cancer patients. To be told that you have a disease which is going to kill you in the next few months or years is to be slammed by a violent and remorseless truth that nothing in experience prepares you for. At first you can’t even process what your doctor is telling you, because there is nothing to which you can com­pare the news in order to make sense of it—it is a monster from beyond your imagination. Denial, self-pity, panic, despair: these are the natural reactions.

I was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in the fall of 2007. Just before Sukkot my doctor phoned to warn that an “opacity” had shown up on my chest X-ray during a routine physical examination. To the Jews, Sukkot is zeman simhatenu, the “season of our rejoicing,” but there was little joy in our sukkah that year. Our season was one of dread. [Read more...]

Emily Dickinson Erased

Don’t go to Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts. There isn’t anything there. Not her writing desk, not her books. Not her treasured items. Not her.

Emily Dickinson used the house in Amherst to hide from life. As she got older, Dickinson left the place less and less. Often, she refused even to greet visitors. She’d lock herself inside her room. There, she wrote letters and she wrote her poems.

And then, in 1886, Dickinson died. She left behind thousands of unpublished poems. They are strange poems for all their accessibility, and beloved by people everywhere. Her poems went out into the world in a way Emily Dickinson never could.

After her poems made her posthumously famous, Dickinson’s readers began to long for the presence of Emily Dickinson herself. People go to Dickinson’s house in Amherst to make some connection between the poems and the person. The house seems to be the key. The place where she dwelt in silence and solitary confinement would seem to hold secret clues. [Read more...]

The Mercy of Sickness before Death

Just so you understand: I am dying. I am in the end stage of metastatic prostate cancer, and after six-and-a-half years of close association with the disease, I have another six months to two years to live. That probably sounds exhibitionistic, but I don’t mean it to. Nor am I fish­ing for pity. Truth is, I’d sooner have your laughter.

Man says, “I’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer, but I am going to fight it with everything I’ve got.” “My money’s on the cancer,” his friend says. Find me that friend.

When it is incurable, as mine is, cancer always wins in the end, but no one—I mean, no one—wants to hear any such thing. The preferred message in our culture is the sentimental one of hope. Hope is not, however, what the terminal cancer patient needs. Even if you believe in miracles, you cannot hope for one—not the way you hope the car’s skid comes to a stop before the cliff’s edge.

“By definition,” C. S. Lewis writes, “miracles must of course inter­rupt the usual course of Nature,” but if they were as common as mosquitoes in summer they wouldn’t be interruptions of the usual. [Read more...]

Avoiding the Mirror

Guest post by Cathy Warner

I have circled around this story several times, trying to write my way into it.

I begin with an inciting event:

An eighty-nine year-old man lies unconscious, unresponsive in intensive care in a California hospital. His name is Vince and he was hit by a car in the town he’s lived in near forty years, the same town that was my home for twenty-five.

I am now nine hundred miles north, but in my mind I see the pharmacy he left, the crosswalk, his wife waiting in their minivan parked outside the beauty parlor. I picture her stumbling from the car with her uneven gait, pedestrians rushing to her side, to his aide, sprinting to the fire department down the block for help.

I read the news on Facebook first, that “an elderly gentleman” had been hit, and stopped at this description of him. Though he’d been retired from his work as missionary to Pakistan the twenty-five years I’d known him, he was far from gentle.

From there my words add up to a litany of how hard this man—who died days later from his injuries—was to love, a long complaint about our relationship.

It doesn’t work. My editor tells me: “Basically you still believe he was deeply misguided about most everything and that you have the correct ideas, so the piece just becomes a ‘He was wrong and overbearing and fearful but we’re still all one in Christ.’”

[Read more...]


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