IP:222.* * *
置之死地而后生 Living in the Post-Cancer Moment
Having cancer is like being kidnapped, being 1)harried to a dark and deadly place by an unexpected 2)assailant who has pressed the cold barrel of a gun to your skull. You might be strong enough or lucky enough to escape, to survive. Then again, you might not. And when you're 3)cornered in that 4)bleak and narrow place, you can't help but think about mortality. Will I be alive in six months? In six years? Sixty years?
But after going through Stage 3 5)prostate cancer and its treatment, I find that I no longer fear death. Post-cancer, more than ever, I am 6)stung by the fact that I am here, that I am this I, this7)improbable soul. For me, death is no longer abstract. I have wrestled with death, 8)in the guise of the cancer that 9)fed on my body. And I agreed to let death, in the form of 10)radiation, 11)pulse into my flesh so that it could kill my 12)mutinous cancer cells.
I have even had the privilege—and I don't use that word 13)lightly—to watch death at work inside my body. I was hospitalized for six weeks in 1984 with an acute case of 14)ulcerative colitis. Before my entire 15)ravaged 16)colon was removed, my doctors let me peer through the 17)scope and take a look at it as it died. The colon was18)ablaze, like a 19)bone-dry 20)bale of hay soaked in gasoline and then set afire. I saw yellow-white 21)explosions in my 22)gut, and it seemed as if23)magma 24)seeped through my 25)bowels.
So after all that, no, I don't fear death. But it's not that I want to die, either. I'm 54 years old, and when I think about it that's a long time. I was born in October 1957, one day after the Soviets 26)lobbed the 27)Sputnik satellite into orbit. I'm a true Space Age baby. Computers were the size of football fields, and Americans were energized by the prospect of the new Interstate highway system—not that other “inter,” the Internet. So, yes, 54 years is a long time. But I'm in no rush to visit the 28)boneyard. I want to remain a wise pillar in my two sons' lives as they marry, have children and discover their own truths. More than anything, I want to see how their stories turn out
The most disturbing part of my recent post-treatment depression was when this thought—“Why don't I kill myself?”—would float to the surface of my consciousness, like a fat 29)trout feeding at dusk. I would quickly 30)nudge it away, never let it set its awful hook in my gray and foggy brain. I'm not afraid of death. But I'll be damned if I'm going to give it a hand.
This morning as I write, the 31)stark 32)gnarl and 33)tangle of winter is 34)sugared with snow, deer tracks 35)stipple the backyard and the pale yolk of the sun is 36)oozing through the thick clouds. These things happened infinite times before I ever tasted this sweet life. And they will keep on happening after I'm just memories and dust. But, most important, they are happening right now in front of me—miracles 37)in a minor key.
I can't worry about tomorrow, can't 38)fret about death. I'm 39)reveling in the here and now.