"I'm beginnin' to feel like a fugitive from th' law of averages."
I've been thinking a lot about the Law of Averages lately, and also about this whole metaphor of cancer as a "war" -- something we battle courageously and to which we never surrender, even when the odds are long against us and we seem to have little to live for. The cancer survivor as heroic warrior -- and if for some reason they do not survive, their courage must have somehow failed them, or they just didn't battle hard enough.
But modern warfare isn't really like that at all. You wait, you patrol, you wait some more; you clean your weapons and look forward to hot chow, and when the battle comes (and it can come at any moment) it is loud, and confusing, and you follow orders and act as you've been trained, and just hope that today is NOT the day that your number comes up. The violence of the modern battlefield is anonymous and unpredictable, and often times who lives and who dies really does seem like merely a matter of luck and random chance. And courage consists of being there despite your fear, and doing your duty, following your orders, accomplishing your mission, even when you would rather be just about anywhere else in the world.
Cancer courage is a little like that, I think. I didn't choose to get cancer, but now that I do have it there is nothing really that I can do to get rid of it besides just hanging in there day by day and following my doctor's orders. It doesn't matter how brave I am, and I can't really change anything by being afraid either. Just don't give up and don't give in...knowing like the combat soldier that your number might come up at any time. The one that has your name on it. The one you never hear....
As for the law of averages, I know that when I managed to survive my first year after diagnosis, my odds of being alive five years from now improved from one-in-twenty to approximately one-in-three. But I also know, like the combat soldier, that so long as I remain in "harm's way" my odds of eventually being killed in combat increase to 100%. But also like the combat soldier, I don't really have the option of simply remaining in my warm bed with the clean sheets pulled up over my head. (Ok, maybe I do - but only every once in awhile). I need to get up and live with my disease every day.
In any event, stumbled over a copy of Bill Mauldin's book that Debra had found in some sale somewhere, and left here in my new bedroom, and it has been a real joy to read -- an almost divine Godsend of inspiration and perspective. And a feeling akin to finding a lucky penny this morning in the parking lot outside the pharmacy, and actually being able to lean over and pick it up! I like my new oncologist, who in many ways is much more down-to-business than my very capable oncology team at the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine. Bothers me a little how casually he talks about the possibility of brain metastasis, for instance, or how one of the potential side effects of some of the drugs I am taking is a form of medically-induced diabetes.
But I'm going to let all that play out at its own pace; right now apparently the agenda is to "re-stage" me, running an entirely new set of diagnostic tests over a year after my original diagnosis, simply to get a sense of how far my disease HAS progressed, and what new might be available for me now in the way of therapy. Meanwhile, I still need to pull together the rest of my treatment team as well -- meet my new Primary Care Physician, and track down as well a new psychotherapist, a new Physical Therapist, and perhaps even a new Massage Therapist as well. I'm getting a new nutritionist this time around as well, which should be pretty interesting. And I still haven't really given much thought about what I'm going to do in the way of church.
Meanwhile, here's Bill Mauldin:
Religious services in battle zones offer weird contrast to bursting shells and the twisted wreckage of war. I is strange to seee reverence helmeted and armored. I saw a Catholic chaplain at Salerno gather up is white robes and beat a Focke-Wulf's tracers into a muddy ditch by a split second, tghen return and carry on the service as if nothing had happened. I have a lot of respect for those those chaplains who keep up the spirits of the combat guys. They often give the troops a pretty firm anchor to hang onto.[Bill Mauldin, Up Front, (New York: Henry Holt, 1945) p. 103]