There has been a long time since my last blog. Frankly, I wasn’t sure if I would keep it going. But gradually, it called me back, this small record of living with cancer and reckoning with the strange wilderness of remission. Having left my last post out there, like a marker on the trail, I simply went on with my own daily truth, which turned out to be hard enough. Now I take up the story once more.
Enter The Bardo
I entered 2019 with a shadow over my head. In that strange eerie way of leukemia, little out of the ordinary blips were showing up in my blood work.
Steve and I went on to nearly a month in La Manzanilla, Mexico and the worry of it hovered over us upon our return into an uncertain spring. Still, for awhile, I convinced myself that the growing fatigue was normal, just another step along the path of remission.
The Medicine Dog
Our dog hunger was growing. Instinctively, we must have known we seriously needed the pure zest for life and love and patience of a companion dog. We decided on a puppy, and only regretted that a few times. We wanted a lot from our next dog, not yet knowing she would be called upon to wait for long hours in the Seattle Cancer Care parking garage, or be expected to calmly meet busy, noisy Seattle streets, full of things she’d never seen. We wanted a pup to make us laugh, who wouldn’t eat too many shoes (she did eat a few), wouldn’t shed all over the house, or wander and who would love all children and other dogs. In other words, we wanted Izzy (or Isabella, as Steve calls her), whose original name was Grace –and this signaled to me from the beginning that she was the right dog for us. Izzy came to live with us, in mid-April, and breathed her puppy energy on our lives, giving us an anchor of love and the groundedness of earthly needs and delights.
We settled into a hopeful rhythm, awaiting Mariya’s baby, walking and puppy training. But we had those trips to Seattle too. At the end of May, suddenly there it was, a positive for leukemia, unmistakable and cruel.
I always knew leukemia could–probably would– return. But when it did, I just couldn’t process it. This was the second relapse and the first since the T-Cell immunotherapy. I had somehow trusted and hoped this remission would last much longer. There was no time to mourn that it wouldn’t, or to reconnoiter. Immediately the oncologist presented me with hard options: the preferred being a trial for Keytruda –the wonder immunotherapy that had cured Jimmy Carter. It had not been tried for leukemia. All my options were draconian, for as the doctor didn’t say but I said, and he nodded, we needed desperate measures to keep me alive.
As the summer progressed, and a friend decided to end her life and pain quite publicly, I was drawn to the concept of the Bardo, borrowed from Tibetan cosmology, as a metaphor, –the state of existence between two lives on earth. I called on my old tool, disassociation, to keep me going. I was quiet, and restless and edgy and wanted only distraction. It was a gray and hollow time, completely separate from the summer blue skies and busyness of our tourist-economy town.
My personal experience of the Bardo, threaded its way between carefully scheduled and conducted trips to Seattle, each one punctuated with bone marrow biopsies or tests. I was facing death once again, as we all do, but don’t. Until we have to. I had no idea that the Bardo would come to overtake the whole world. I had seen the plume of smoke on the horizon, of an out of control wildfire coming for all of us.
Thy Will Be Done
I wasn’t sure I could face more cancer treatment. And what did that mean? Giving up? It was on my mind as a possibility. Not surprising that the only prayer that wanted airtime was : “Thy Will Be Done”.
Somehow, somewhere, perhaps deep in my mysterious body, my fate was being decided.
Our new grandson came into the world on June 17, 2019 by Caesarian: Wyatt Ingalls Hamilton, two weeks after I got the message the leukemia had come back. We were still figuring out how to navigate the next round of cancer, but we had a new grandchild and a new puppy. L’Chaim. Life had armed me for this next battle with new life.
In Part 2, I continue this journey toward our modern, communal Bardo, in the time of Coronavirus.