I haven’t written for awhile, because I’ve been conflicted. Each time I set pen to paper (or fingers to iMac), I realize that I can’t talk about Life With Sophia without talking about the turn that our life has taken.
I’ve been waffling, as I always do, about how much to share. How much of the story I would be telling is my story, and how much of it is someone else’s story. To what extent do I want to make the private public. But the effects of not writing about it are inhibitory. The reticence spreading like the very disease that has entered our lives. That’s how it is when you make something taboo. If you don’t talk about something, you find that you have to talk around it, and everything you say feels like a half-truth.
Part of me hopes that if I do talk about it, I will draw the support to me that I need and, maybe I’ll say something of value along the way that will be helpful to someone else.
I don’t mean to be so mysterious. My father has been diagnosed with metastatic throat cancer. He is coming here to live with us through the duration of his treatment and recovery…whatever that may look like.
I have fears about what that may look like. Fears that visit me in the night.
Last night I had a dream. I was trying to get Sophia ready to go to school and there was a strange man in my house. He opened up my freezer and took out a frozen sheet of naan, as if he had every right to do so, leaned against our Formica countertop and chewed it, eyeing me.
“I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” I told the man. “I’m taking Sophie to school, and I have to lock up the house.”
He ignored me, went on chewing, and said, “Don’t you love Barq’s root beer?”
“Uh, I do like root beer, but like I said, I really have to get going. Could you please go?”
“I’m not going anywhere,” the man replied menacingly. I began to feel anxious—the pressure of needing to get Sophie to school on time, to get to work on time, and not knowing what to do about this uninvited guest.
“I have to lock the door behind you,” I insisted, standing next to the door, trying to reason with him. He pressed a code into a pad on the door—something I had not noticed before—and replied, “I’ll lock up behind you. I know the code. “
“I don’t want to have to call someone,” I threatened vaguely and hoisted my bag higher onto my shoulder.
He moved in close to me. I could smell his breath, which was boozy. He kissed me lightly on the lips, and, still close, whispered, “You’re not going to call anyone.”
Then I woke up, still frightened. It had all felt so…intrusive. I felt helpless. It wasn’t until I was sharing the dream with Kevin as I prepared breakfast that it occurred to me: the intruder was Cancer.
And that’s how it feels. Insidious. By the time you discover it in your house, it has already established residency. Made itself at home. Spread out. Taking. Locking itself in. Refusing to depart. Cancer doesn’t care if you have other things to do, places to be. It demands your attention.
My father’s cancer is incurable. In a week, they will begin to try to attack it with chemotherapy. Cisplatin. A heavy metal and a cellular poison—as deadly to healthy kidney cells as it is to cancerous cells. But even this “big hammer,” one of the original cancer drugs that still works better than anything else they’ve got for throat cancer, will not eradicate every mutant cell from his body. It will shrink the tumors, hold them at bay for sometime, minimize symptoms—difficulty swallowing, breathing, speaking—extend his life. But all it takes is one microscopic cell, dividing over and over again, because that’s what cancer cells are—a mutation of the DNA in a healthy cell that creates the uncontrollable division of cells in the body—to form new tumors.
I wonder if it feels like a betrayal of his body. I watch my father struggle to understand what is happening to him—not just the medical realities, but the metaphysical whys.
It is hard not to look at the hourglass and spend one’s days exclaiming, “My sand is running out! My sand is running out!” What a thing to suddenly realize that your life is finite. My father, who is seventy, had assumed more time. I had assumed more time. There always seems to be more time. So we fritter, and we worry, and we fight.
I am scared. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know what to tell Sophia as my father grows more deeply ill. I worry that our attachments will deepen, and then I will lose him.