Two Months to Two Years

What’s it like to be told you have two months to two years to live?  I mean, really.  After two CT scans in February of this year, after kidney stones brought me panting and throwing up to the Providence Milwaukie ER, there we are, Eric my husband of 30 some years and me, facing the surgeon a week or so later who was going to talk about removing my kidney. Except it didn’t go like that.  Instead, he said “You have cancer in both kidneys, in a few lymph nodes between the kidneys, and there are at least 5 nodes total in all four lobes of your lungs.  If we take out your left kidney, the primary, you still have it in the right one.  And in the lungs, too small to biopsy or remove.  We only do chemo after surgery for kidney cancer, we can’t use radiation.  Let’s talk about palliative care…”

Shock.  That’s the first thing that happened to us.  Pure shock, and a hefty dose of adrenalin that lasted in my body for at least a month or two.  Heady stuff, adrenalin.  Fight or flight.  Except I decided not to do the whole “battle with cancer”, “go to war against the tumors” route.  Nor did I flee.  As a practicing Buddhist, I keep my seat, mostly.  As a certified Hakomi therapist, I observe as closely as I can how my mind and body are interacting, and how to dance with this thing in my body that can, maybe will, kill me someday, maybe sooner, maybe later.  Maybe not at all.  No way to know, really and that’s part of my challenge.

How can I love this part of myself, these cells that have lost their way?  What is my new mission in life, as I seek a remission?  Deeply spiritual, mystical, how can I keep the portal open to Mystery, to the shimmering grace that I feel all around me almost daily now?  And what in the world do I mean by Shimmering Grace?  How do I keep ego from stepping in and announcing that I will beat this thing and show the entire medical world how to survive cancer without the western medical model?  O yeah, I feel an upsurge of that bluster from time to time.  And truthfully, there are days when I just read mystery novels, sit in my recliner, and zone out.

Since the diagnosis, we sold our beloved home near the Willamette River in three days (!), downsized by giving away about 14 pickup trucks full of stuff, and moved to Rose Villa, a unique retirement community about a half mile from home.  They called us less than a week after we met with the surgeon, to offer us a cottage: the Holy Spirit was showing off big time! The move was cataclysmic and exhausting beyond endurance, let’s just leave it there.  In the middle of all that, I heard one evening in my heart my Grandmother’s voice, “Do not despair, help is on the way.”  She died in 1976, so hmm…  I tucked that away.

We have a two bedroom cottage with a fenced back yard for our dog, we share a study, and have a great view across the river to the west hills.  I watch the sun set nightly, and after almost 6 months, am gradually emerging into my new life, of facing death intimately.

Perhaps by sharing this journey others may find comfort, companionship, some resources to consider, share the view.  In the Tibetan Buddhism that I follow as best I can, the View (or Rigpa) is that clear mind that transcends all compounded reality, the uncompounded way, the One.  As a Catholic, I watch for the shimmer, for the presence of God.

I hope my blog will be of service to us all.

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