I went with mum to visit the oncologist last Thursday. We went to the Epworth hospital in Box Hill. Like many people I dislike hospitals. They give me the creeps. I sat there in the waiting area for us to be called in. I exchanged small talk with mum and with my aunt who had come along to. I cast an idle eye over the other people sitting there. Most where old, and most of the patients appeared to be men. They were a collection of largely shambling, breathless men sitting there patiently with their wife at their side. They seemed humbled in a way, which is what serious illness will do to you I guess. How do you fight the mysterious might of the invisible flaw that threatens your life? Sitting in the doctors waiting room you place your faith in the doctor, and in God perhaps, your wife clutching your hand.
It was a depressing scene for me. I sat there fit and healthy and determined to remain so. I did not want this decline. I was horrified to believe that I to might be subject to this one day and be just as powerless. To live between doctor’s appointments swallowing drugs and scratching out the months is the life of thousands across the world, but it seems no life to me.
It’s not death that scares me. It’s the powerlessness. Of being a mere pawn in the struggle and knowing it. Of becoming irrelevant and dispensable as I grow frail and tired. I’ve seen so many people just wind down even when they’re well. The driving force that kept them fit and vital wanes when they find they are living day to day without real purpose. That’s the key to it: purpose. It’s what keeps us alive. Just like a shark needs to move constantly forward to stay alive we need a sense of purpose in our lives to do the same.
I once wrote a poem of sorts about that. It was derisive in a way, amusingly bitter. The movers and shakers of yesteryear, the captains of industry now retired filling their empty hours trailing their wives in the supermarket like children with their mothers. That’s not for me.
We were called in. The oncologist asked a few questions and then examined mum, and then we discussed her case. Without going into detail the basic facts are these. Mum has two tumours. The smaller tumour is the primary and might be operated on but for the second tumour. The second tumour is larger and in some kind of pouch. He spoke of giving mum a mix of radiotherapy and chemo daily over a six week period. When prompted he admitted that the cancer was advanced and quite aggressive, but reckoned she had a 50-60% of surviving.
It’s funny how everything is relative. A month ago if you had told me that mum had a 40-50% of dropping dead I’d have been aghast. It’s different now. We walked into his office fearing the worst. Walking out this seemed a kind of good news. We talked it up like that and it was only later that I stopped to wonder at it. Yes, mum will probably survive, but it is a thin margin. She may equally not. What has happened in the last few weeks is that the goalposts we were so familiar with and took for granted have been moved. We have been conditioned to a new reality, and anything that brightens it just a little seems like a positive.
Don’t get me wrong: I am much encouraged. I expect that it will turn out okay, but I know it might not. It is looking better, but we’re not out of the woods yet.