Monday, November 26, 2007


This period in time that is euphemistically referred to as "'remission," or "period of forgiveness,'' is very strange. What does it mean? Had I first sinned and then been mollified via the cancer? Will I mess up (-miss-up?) again and therefore have continuing relapses (-re )? (Hint: The Torah teaches that G-d sent many boats to warn the people of the coming moab (flood). The boats were ignored, prompting G-d to cry out:"How many signs are you going to ignore?" Then came the flood.)

During remission, one marvels at one's ability to walk with only a slight - the very slightest - list to the right side. One marvels that one can speak with only the smallest degree of aphasia.One marvels that every day the pain in the esophagus decreases a little more, and it becomes slightly easier to eat. One is amazed at one's stupendous personal privacy: no gowns that "close" in the back or tylenol in one's rectum because one has a breathing tube inside of one's throat. One can only wonder at the indignity of having one's very own -very own - cerebellum probed and resected. Not to mention the exposure of self during kidney removal - one scar is perfectly parallel to one's "bikini cut" caeserean scar. (Some ob/gyn apparently envisioned a somewhat more hip lifestlyle.)

But let us imagine for a moment, if we can, the little circle of snakes that suround the word "remission." Sure snakes have some vague function on the symbol that means doctor - who knows what - but the snakes around the word "remission" are toothy and vicious and ready to strike at any moment. What will I lose next? The good doctors tell me kidneys, brain, liver, bones and lungs evolved from the same zygote: no wonder then that kidney cancer found a home in the brain! Will I emerge from "remission" only to lose a leg or perhaps an arm? Or will I lose more brain, renderiing me the idiot some people already think I have become? It is all open to conjecture and G-d's will, and one does better to take an extra sleepnig pill or two than toss around all nignt wondering if, a year from now, one will be able to toss around at all.

This piece would not be complete without mentioning exhaustion, perhaps the most prominent part of " remission." The body has suffered such unthinkable torture that denial, good old denial, becomes the only way to cope. Occasionally, though, after you have tried too hard to be the nicest person, the most helpful person, the most brave and cheerful person, the denial stops working, and exhaustion sets in. It is an exhaustion of body, mind and soul that rivals no other exhaustion. The skin, which has so recently and literally peeled and renewed itself; the hair that has shed and somehow started to grow back render the person so vulnerable to hurt, insult and exertion. I have heard other cancer "survivors" say the same. "It is par for the course," my long-dead mother would have said.

The worst part of being in "remission" is being in "remission" alone. It involves clutching your breasts in the middle of the night hoping you will not some day soon lose them to cancer; it means performing effleurage on the scars on your own belly, while wishing someone else could assuage the pain. It also means rubbing the palms of your own hands against each other, again and again, knowing that nobody else will ever again touch your hand because you have cancer.

Not even - or especially not even - while you are in "remission."