I am sitting outside, overlooking the hills of the Carmel Valley; hills so tall they are mountains, covered in live oak and pine. The wind comes up through the trees and the sound reminds me of long summer days working in the forest in Oregon. There are few sounds besides the wind; an airplane, every once in a while, a car. The house is so unlike our own; it’s clean and uncluttered, and the perfect size for two people. I took a bath in the outdoor tub this morning, watching the sun burn away the fog. Adrienne is snoozing in the big fluffy bed. My mind has finally relaxed.
Last Friday I found out my current CEA number. For those of you who don’t know, CEA is a protein found in the blood of people with certain cancers. There are at least twenty different, “blood tumor markers.” Some cancers don’t have one, and not all cancers are reflected in a marker. My cancer has followed the CEA number religiously. If the number goes up, cancer is on the move. Mine has been as high as 65; normal is under two.
When I decided to quit chemo, my CEA number was 13. Now it is 20.5. I knew I was making the right decision, what I didn’t know was that having that number go up would send me into another freak out. Now it is official; I have stage 5 cancer… I am terminal.
Terminal is an awful word and I will never again use it to describe myself. I haven’t yet decided how to describe myself. It reminds me of when I was pregnant, very pregnant, and I looked in the fridge and saw the expiration date on the half and half. The date was February 15. My due date was February 10th. That half and half would still be good when my baby boy was born. And it was; he was born on February 13th.
I have an expiration date, but I don’t know it. Will it be sooner or later? And how do I live until then?
This is the hard part, how do you live while knowing you are going to die? Sure, we will all die, and we can all ask when. But my expiration date is coming. Will it be before the holiday’s? Mac’s birthday? Quinn’s birthday? Mine?
I have said before that I am not scared of death. I am scared of leaving. I don’t want to miss anything. Looking at the kids is hard. I want to see what kind of grown-ups they become. I want to see Adrienne’s turkey adventure come to fruition. I want to keep learning and growing and be with my friends and family. I could write pages and pages about the things I don’t want to leave.
The moment of death doesn’t seem nearly as scary as the downhill slide known as dying seems. I have had a sore throat going on three weeks. I’m coughing more. These things scare me. Will the cancer stay in my lungs or spread to other parts of my body? Will I ever feel any better, or is this as good as it’s going to get? Will I feel up for the vacations we have planned?
It’s time to find some answers to these questions. I have avoided reading about death since I was first diagnosed. Now is the time to take the fear and mystery away from something we will all face someday. That feels like a good decision. I am always one to run and find a book on something I am interested in. The time has come to find a book on dying.
So how do I proceed, trying to hold living and dying in one hand? Even through the mundaneness known as regular life? I’m fumbling trying to find the answer. But I believe it has to do with taking away the fear and being grateful for what I have. What do I have? I have so much; a family that I love more than anything, great friends, an eye for the beauty of nature, Mexican Cokes, my comfy chair, a little dog that sits on my lap, good food, an amazing wife… and even though it may be short, I still have time.