Thursday, June 15, 2017


            Kim and I are underway in the long process of healing from her back surgery, and this week we started to treat this latest attack from cancer: first radiation, and then whatever medicine the oncologist suggests.

            We have asked our doctors about the prognosis. The word is derived from Greek words meaning “before” and “know.” This origin is misleading. Our future with cancer, wherever or however it might pop up next, is not at all known, or even knowable. The definition of “prognosis” includes words like “probable” and “likely,” and our doctors use words like “might,” “may,” “possibly,” “as long as” and “several years.” These words are a long way from “know” in the root of the word.

            The word “gnosis,” interestingly, means “knowledge of spiritual mysteries,” which appears oxymoronic because aren’t mysteries mysteries because they are unknown?

            But still, that word “know” lingers as a troubling reminder of how far from really knowing we are. We are living with uncertainties. Of course, we have always been living that way, but now we are more aware of it. There was always the possibility that we would get hit by a bus, or that a refrigerator would fall out of an airplane to crush us while we were going for a walk. But this uncertainty is different, largely, in my case, because the course of our lives had seemed pretty secure, even including the certainty that we would grow old and die. And then cancer jolted us off the rails.

            There are some near-future uncertainties:

·      How will Kim respond to radiation? So far, nausea and fatigue, which she is fighting through.
·      Will the upcoming PET-scan show more cancer in Kim’s body?
·      How quickly will the pain subside?
·      When will we be able to remove the rented hospital bed from our living room?
·      How long will Trump stay in office?
·      When will the idiots get dumped from The Bachelorette?

            But there are larger uncertainties, too:

            Two of our docs said that with metastasized cancer, we can never say that we are “cancer free,” or that we are “cured.” One said that the situation is more like “managing a chronic illness.” Think diabetes, fibromyalgia or arthritis, two of which Kim has been “managing” for many years. “Managing” sounds like a good thing, and Kim is a good manager. But “cured” sounds a whole lot better. What will it be like to manage her illness? We were given descriptions of possible medications in our future, each with about two pages of side effects. The description said the side effects would end when the treatment ended – which in our case would be never. Genne’ suggested that we research the probabilities of each side effect for each medication, stated as percentages, but that information is very hard to find. Instead we find words like “common” or “rare.”

            There is also uncertainty about where will we live, and how will we live there? We are going ahead with our plans to build a home on Torch Lake – that’s one of Kim’s passions – but what will it be like to live there if Kim’s recovery is not complete – and how can it be complete with stage 4 cancer? At the same time, we are looking at houses with Alice because it's a lot easier to buy a house than to build one. And if recovery is complete - her disease "managed" - then there is a good chance that we will become old. It happens. Then what?

            Perhaps the quantum physicists are right. In Schrodinger’s famous thought experiment, a cat is trapped in a box with a vial of poison that is released when a radioactive atom randomly decays. You cannot tell if the cat is alive or dead without opening the box. Schrodinger argued that until you open the box and look inside, the cat is neither alive nor dead but in “an indeterminate state.” We are the cat in the box. Always have been, but we are just now realizing it.

            Kim said the other night, with a wisdom that is typical of her, “Whatever happens, I want to do it with grace.” If anyone can, she can. “Grace” is one of my favorite words.

            Coming home from a session of radiation therapy I picked up the mail. It included an ad from a local funeral home. I said, “Fuck you!” and gracefully tossed it in the trash.

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