July 19, 2021
Dear sensei glioblastoma
On July 22, it will be two years since you took up residence in the right parietal lobe of my brain. As you probably noticed, I just had my third clear scan in a row. Aside from some brain swelling (no doubt due to my plump ego as well as necrosis and chemo), you seem to have gone dormant. It’s awfully quiet up there in the attic.
Maybe you’ve gone AWOL?
Maybe you’re taking a nice long nap? Believe me, I get it about nice long naps.
Maybe you have discorporated back into star stuff? In which case may I wish you bon voyage and see you later, hopefully much later.
Maybe you have found more fertile ground to extend your entangling roots, hopefully somewhere other than in my gray matter? Or anyplace else in my body?
Maybe I have learned what I needed to learn from you, and there are no more lessons coming?
Okay, I know the answer to the last question. Of course, there are more lessons coming.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with your absence although I do wonder how long you plan to be gone. Is it temporary or should I go ahead and strip the sheets from the spare bed? Can I count on you to be gone the beginning of October when I have my next MRI? That would be really awesome because that would mean that I will have been clear for a year. Dare I say “cancer-free”?
Four clear scans in a row would be awfully convenient because even though I had hoped that the magic number was three clear scans in a row in order to negotiate for a drug holiday, I realize now that the magic number is four clear scans: a year of being clear. That’s when I could feel both oncologists relax and get on board with my proposed strategy to take a break from chemo.
I get it that I can pull the plug anytime I want — on chemo, MRIs, blood draws, urine samples, and doctor visits. It’s my body and my choice. Then it would be just you and me, sensei.
But I also get that I’m not an island. Henry came up with the magic number four in an intuitive flash that felt right as soon as I heard it.
And I’m also convinced that it’s not just straight Western medicine that is keeping you quiet for now, sensei.
If I’m going to trust anything or anyone, it’s going to be intuitive flashes and Henry’s heart. It’s going to be medicinal herbs, psychic healing, prayers from near and afar that compose the circle of support surrounding me — my treasured family and friends, the best use of social media that I can think of, as well as my incarcerated students, eager to hear the latest news and to assure me that they are sending me prayers and good juju. I get that somehow my decision to include them in my cancer journey isn’t just helping me because I get to be the recipient of their prayers. It is empowering them as well. We empower each other. They are my touchstone and some of them tell me I am one of theirs. There is great power in the desire to live, to be useful, to help, to speak truth, to make beautiful things, to turn the compost pile, tend the garden, engage in mutual grooming with my horse, cuddle with Henry. And mostly, there is great power in the desire to love and be loved, to validate and be validated, and to savor that connection.