This Was Not the Plan

I really don’t want to be writing this. I want to be reading obscure things about drug regulation and thinking about how our ideas about governing business evolved and toying around with next projects. But instead I am tethered to a body that won’t go along with my wishes.

I could catalog symptoms, but long story short, it’s been another rough week. I had a few good days, but my life still is completely organized around managing the state of my body. That’s both in the day-to-day (how can I use the capacity I’ve got to get work done/make it through the day), and in terms of priorities (tracking down specialists, going to appointments, being very careful about what I eat and how much I sleep).

Part of dealing with cancer is accepting a new unknown. When you are diagnosed, and given a prognosis, the future collapses into multiple timelines. In some of them, you are treated and then there’s an “after” and life returns to “normal,” with unpleasant thoughts of illness and death banished, hopefully for decades.

In others, there is a rapid foreshortening. The old vision of the future disappears, replaced by an abbreviated period of decline, and then death. Of course these timelines exist as possibilities for the healthy, too, but cancer makes the darker ones bigger and harder to ignore.

Some of the art of living with cancer, or after cancer, is learning to ignore the dark ones, even as you try to use them as a reminder to live in the moment, to not take things for granted, to seize joy where you can find it.

Yet as I deal with my current state, I feel like once again the mix of timelines has changed. The “back to normal” timeline recedes even as I try to hold onto it. The darkest timelines aren’t front of mind, even though I know they’re there. Now a spotlight shines on the murky middle. This “rough patch” has lasted almost four months, though there have been stretches—alas, not in the last two weeks—where things have been quite a bit better. But what if this is as good as it gets? What does my life look like then?

I guess I have always lived in the future as much as the present. Planning, setting goals, daydreaming. Academia encourages thinking on a long timeline—looking six months out, or a year, or five years. Right now, though, I don’t know what kind of future I’m looking at, and it’s very unsettling. Is there a long period of recovery, then a return to something close enough to “before” that I can return to my prior life? Or is that truly gone, and I need to make some kind of new life with a new body?

Of course I can’t know. All I can do is deal with the present, keep looking for ways to make it better, and try not to close off too many possibilities for the future.

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