Tag Archives: cancer

Like falling out of a window

Yes, it’s been seven months since I blogged. Shame on me, though I do have excuses. It is one year since I had a melanoma removed. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is like falling out of a window [a thousand other metaphors or similes come to mind] and ‘so far so good’ as I haven’t yet hit the ground. My quarterly check three days ago showed NED = no evidence of disease and no need to come back for four months.

You want more excuses? In July I had two related operations, nothing to do with cancer, ‘just bad luck’ consequences of the original melanoma operation. Successful, albeit with a long period of enforced inactivity.

Still not happy? Okay. This week I completed the first draft of ‘Stopping Time’, my novel about the challenges confronting modern universities; that is, the pressure to do more with less and to be more commercial, competitive and ‘relevant’ while maintaining core values of academic freedom. One hundred thousand words of pure gold. Maybe.

No more excuses.

Now it is decision time. Time to cross the river, not the Styx fortunately. The photo is one of many river crossings when I was hiking in the Flinders Ranges in September perfectly timed to coincide with a ‘once in 50 years’ weather event. Three ops and you gotta keep going through flood, storm, whatever.

Anyway, I digress. My decision, my metaphorical river to cross, is this. Which of my two manuscripts do I revise first? ‘Death on the Camino’, the one with potential but needs more work [according to an editor] and which is my first love? Or ‘Stopping Life’, the one which my mentor likes and which is probably more commercial and topical? The heart versus common sense.

Time for a walk in the rain and a spot of pondering…


My life and death in boxes

First the socks. Black ones bundled together next to the pink in the top drawer. Knickers in the next; everyday white here, black there, special occasion lacy separate. Not that I will need them again unless they bury me in them.  Damn, a blue pair muddled, bloody eyesight worse.

 Where are the wooden hangers for my shirts? So hard to reach, pain tearing my soul.

A place for everything and everything in its place. Once you start tossing your clothes any which way, ironed and unironed together, where does it all end? Like life, keep the bits separate, keep the parts contained. Compartments. Boxes. Control. Survival.

 I’m so bloody tired these days it would be easy not to bother, but what then? What would it say, to have lived my life in boxes and to fall apart at the end? 

 We don’t talk about the cancer. No point, doesn’t change anything. It eats my bones, eats my eyes, nothing to be done, nothing to stop it except time and that will be soon enough. Nothing left to say whereas once I couldn’t be stopped; a fountain of words and with Mark the words and sex binding us like honey. But I was married, still am and still to the wrong man and now I’m dying. You have to laugh. Or cry. Neither of us cried. Rob did, he was always the weakest. 

Damn, my good slacks are still marked, can’t wear them like this, have to wash them again – ah, bending down! That hurts, shouldn’t have done it. Shit!

Don’t leave a mess for others.

Don’t cry.

 Nearly finished, pullovers each folded in their plastic bags and laid in the wardrobe in their proper place, in their snug little homes.

Finished. All in order. Everything in its place.

Knives, forks, spoons, nobody throws them together them in one pile. Clothes the same. Life the same. Boxes each containing their secrets got me through Daddy, helped me survive Mark and it will get me through this. 

He’ll be home soon and I have to be finished.

Well, I was smart enough to keep quiet, not like telling about Daddy.

 We don’t talk about anything much, Rob and me and that suits me; silence fitted me like a glove when I stopped feeling after Mark. My navy blue silk dress and jacket became my armour. The ‘ice queen’ they all wanted to fuck.

He’ll be home soon, there’s leftovers and salad, that’ll do, he’ll be fine. I guess he won’t be hungry anyway.
Just a moment, rest for a moment, so bloody tired.

I learned my lesson and kept it in boxes: big or small, shiny or dull, old or new. Knickers, socks or love, it works the same way. Shove it in a box, push it under the bed where the monsters live and pretend. Simply pretend.

Ikea boxes are perfect. 

 He stopped loving me. Mark, I mean.

A life of boxes and compartments and one final box to unlock before he comes home and starts watching me with those doggy eyes. ‘What do you want of me?’ he asks. ‘I want you to be him!’ I scream silently. ‘Lives of quiet desperation’, who said that? I would have known once or Mark would have, finishing each other’s sentences, ricochet words of love and hate in our own world. 

 One final box, a pretty one. Open the lid, swallow the pills, close the lid and rest. Clean sheets, smoothed pillows. middle class manners to the end. So many words wasted on Mark and so many hours wasted waiting at the phone and now to rest in my box where nobody can touch me. I choose my last box and it is done.

Death: I am a part of all that I have met

On Sunday a friend died, perhaps she took her own life, perhaps not. She was not a close friend, others closer to her are grieving deep as I write; for me she was a smart, funny and caring person whom I liked and respected.

Her death shocked me and it has triggered profound memories of friends and family whom I have ‘lost’ over the years. In my student days from drug overdoses deliberate and accidental and later in life from cancer, the number one killer far above mental illness as number two and any other cause negligible. Some were ready to leave, others resisted to the last.

So, it has left me numb and triggered the predictable reactions of grief, sorrow, sad memories, questions about what is truly important in life and how to lead a good life and the importance of showing others that we love them and value them.

Nothing original here.

The beautiful title line is by Tennyson in his “Ulysses”.

What has intrigued me since Sunday is our use of the word ‘loss’ to describe our emotions. We ‘lost’ a loved one or the world has ‘lost’ a beautiful person. I understand why we say it and I say it myself, for they are gone and we remain, but now I am wondering what it means to say ‘lost’?
I write here of myself, I do not speak for others.
They are ‘lost’ in their corporeal selves – ‘never again’ to touch or to speak – but they are not lost to our memories and in their acts and shaping of others and not lost to the world except in an immediate, concrete, tactile sense which is never again. They are gone from me. I don’t know how to put this in words, nor what are the right words. what I do know is that I have spent four days puzzling over the word ‘loss’ and understanding it intellectually yet with a gnawing feeling that it is not adequate.

Death is a rupture. There is ‘before’ and there is ‘after’ and nothing is the same.

This is not about finding euphemisms for death, it is about finding the right word, if indeed one word can capture the emotional intensity of death.