Tuesday, December 30, 2003

so many things we really don't control

My father grows less and less capable of using his right hand, a situation that I understood the doctors thought might have something to do with one of the chemotherapy drugs he was taking. So last week, they did an MRI on his brain. As of last night, when I had a rather clumsy phone conversation with my mother from the dripping stairway of the Civic Center BART station after a dance class, the results aren't back. Other than the news that he has carpal tunnel in both hands from so much keyboarding (he's fine at the computer, it's handwriting and gripping objects that fail him), we don't know anything yet.

The fear, of course, is that the cancer has metastasized and gone to his brain. I rather wish I would have had today free to really think about that, but I'd already promised Poi I'd go help him look at fabric for curtains. Strangely enough, this makes two days of the past three that I've spent most of the day helping a man shop, which is a whole 'nother thing, but I won't go there right now. So instead of sitting and letting myself have a reaction to the possibility, I've talked about it--briefly--with a few people. Mostly in the context of, well heck, I don't think I'm going to go look for an apartment yet after all, I think I'm going to see about putting all my stuff in storage and heading back to Detroit for a spell.

In some ways I'm totally prepared. It's frustrating to not have a "real" job with benefits and the kind of income I covet (especially after spending two days watching my employed friends shop, and wishing I could spend money without thinking about it so much), but the flip side is that if I need to jump, I can. Relatively easily, outside of the logistics of my stuff. If I leave the area for a while, it's not like my vaunted, much-beloved career as a waitress is going to be forever lost, for example. I made a point of trying to keep my life loose so I would have the flexibility to go home if I needed to.

What's getting me is that somehow, I still thought we had more time. And maybe we do, who knows? This could be some relatively benign thing (many things become benign when you compare them to cancer) and we could be worrying unnecessarily. For that matter, if it has gone to his brain, it can still be beaten. They have technology for that. But. But. But. Up until now the fact that my father has made it as long as it has can be attributed, as much as anything else, to will--my mother's in particular, but dad's as well, and that of his doctors, some of whom are phenomenal people by any standard. My mother was the one who first noticed that something was weird with dad's voice and made him see the doctor who found the first tumor, and like the warrior she is, she has pushed steadily for two years. I pity the doctor, pharmacist, or assistant who has given less than their all to the project of healing my dad and had to contend with my mother.

No. Scratch that. I don't pity them at all. I'm impressed as hell with my mom, and I don't think my father could have a greater champion. As the cancer has burned away the superfluous in him, revealing him as a manifestation of grace, it has done a similar thing to her; every day she becomes more clearly the embodiment of love. Not necessarily that pinkish, lacy kind. The harder, fiercer kind that comes in darker, more saturated colors; the sort you might find inside the body where this fight is taking place.

Her strength; and his equilibrium; and the doctors with their radiation, and bags of fluid, and pills that cost more per ounce than most street drugs; and whatever little I have done and will do (mostly finding ways to stuff him full of calories, peeling potatoes and grating cheese without crying). All of these things taken together still serve as no guarantee that we are really in control of anything. We do our best to slow it down, to distract it, to cut away what we can and stifle what we can't.

But none of this means we can plan or anticipate. It's not like figuring out what classes you're going to take to fulfill your major, and in what order. It's not like breaking a project down into steps and ticking off the steps as we complete them. Cancer does what it wants, when it wants, on its own quixotic schedule.

I hope to hell this isn't what we're afraid it is. I am not ready.