IX. The indeterminate space
A long year ago this week, I found myself fleeing to a land full of silver-tongued indigo seas and soft pebble beaches only three short days after surgery to biopsy the sinister lump that planted its roots deep in my armpit. It was a foreboding sign that my situation was dire, but for that week I chose to live in the moment and push back against the darkness that seemed to press round so close. I found myself in the Croatian sun to once again bask in the company of the most beautiful spirit. A close friend whose advice always shoots straight to my heart and rings with resonation in my ears. I listened to each of her words carefully, for we’ve been through hell and back before. Together we finished an accelerated one-year MBA, which at times, the demanding pace of presentations, exams, classes and consulting, left us frazzled on wits end and ready to throw in the towel. Luckily, my friend has wisdom in her bones and always knew the solution. My heart never forgets the night that followed a long day on campus filled of high tensions. It was nightfall by the time we escaped campus, and in the Irish summer, well past 10 p.m. The typical light drizzle didn’t deter us from filling our glasses with bubbly Prosecco and climbing onto the roof of her apartment to plunge into the hot tub. There, on top of Dublin, whose lights glittered through the storm, advice flowed as easy as the wine and as soothing as the pitter-patter of the rain cooling our heads. I now desperately sought her advice that once flowed forth freely on the rooftops of Dublin.
Here amongst the winding stone streets of Croatia, we sat in Peristil Sqaure, a former entranceway into the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s palace. As we sat in the square flanked with marble columns and jet-black sphinxes, I calmly laid out the peculiar indeterminate space in which I found myself. No doctor had yet uttered the word cancer, but a down and dirty Google search of the words lump and biopsy revealed my probable fate. Timing is never right for the devil to rear his menacing face. True to nature, he decided to invade my body amidst moving to a new city, starting a new job and carelessly seeing a new interest. Under a blanket of starlight, I divulged all the details of my indeterminate space and finally arrived at the action on which I sought her advice. If my indeterminate space turned dark and ominous, my new quixotic addiction offered up the option to move into his apartment. I feared this the most. How could I impose my impending doom onto another soul? My counsel sat for a moment tuning out the music floating through the air and churning over the details in her head. All at once, and without hesitation, her advice struck, “Fuck it Lisa, just move in. What’s the worst that can happen?” With no more and no less, right there in Diocletian’s entranceway my fate was decided. Our night in the ancient square is etched forever in my heart right next to our adventure in Dublin for she gave me the unwavering confidence that I needed to jump and he caught me when I fell.
A year has passed since my diagnosis, when darkness gathered in my indeterminate space and I made that fateful decision to move. With each passing day, I have not grown accustomed to his grandiose visions. I’ve never seen such loveliness in a human, nor imagined in my mind. He remains an enigma. No words that I know can solve him. My worst fear of imposing doom onto another soul was never realized for his face is still fair and his eyes remain bright, fearless and full of joy. The sides of my eyes crease into a hundred wrinkles of laughter each evening as I burst through the door after work and jump into his arms. As he spins me through the air, he walks me through his visions of the day to make the world a better place. I am convinced that this magical realism saved me. No one on earth can replicate the happiness that I experience when I swing open the door and the melody of his voice drifts through the air to finally ring in my ears. A sweet-tongued melody that keeps me strong in a new indeterminate space, a space between illness and health that is tempered with pain and uneasiness.
Every nerve in my body twitches at the thought that I’ve endured pain each and every last day of the past year. Three hundred and sixty-five days of agitation. Although the novelty has long worn off, the suffering has not. The rumble and bumble of my stomach continues. The strange noises wake my constant and I from the deepest of sleeps. The churning of my stomach interrupts Sunday brunches with my sister and I find myself comically sprinting at high-speeds towards my apartment praying that I make it. At first I panicked, assuming the worst. Then the truth gradually emerged from listening to the experiences of others. In listening I could see through my brick wall. The indeterminate space has a name. I discovered the name through carelessly chatting with a friend’s mom who heroically won her battle with breast cancer. She described the same relentless stomach pain, underwent countless procedures and tests, yet ten years later still endures pain. Next came the unfathomable. This hero’s experience crystalized the horrifying truth and then she named it: the new normal. My mind raced and immediately put together the pieces. I thought of my heroic grandfather who won his battle with Lymphoma two years ago and still suffers every last day. My heart breaks as my mind finally realizes that my grandfather fought his devil to win a new normal filled with agony. Each week that I call him, I can hear the pain through his voice. With his voice and this truth ringing in my ears, I fight against accepting a new normal. How can my life now be permanently filled with pain? The logic in me immediately uncovers the answer. I fought off my cancer by pumping toxins with fancy names into my bloodstream: Cyclophosphamide, Adriamycin, Vincristine, all which have lengthy lists of long-term side effects scary enough to bring giants to their knees, including secondary cancers. As another hero blatantly put it, we are all now members of the world’s worst club, fighting against death with other venomous dangers.
As a card-carrying member of the world’s worst club, I am still trying to be courageous. I rarely discuss my pain with those not in my inner circle. Each day I bide my time by marching to work in my signature heels with my head held high amongst the clouds. Despite the effort that I put forth into building a persuasive depth of conviction, my constant is never fooled. It’s comforting, yet stifling all the same, that the presence of pain never strays far from his awareness. I try to suppress the overwhelming pain, but he intuitively understands even the slightest sign of discomfort. And there I find myself whisked away on a Friday night to the ER. The cab ride filled with friends seems to drag on forever as I fight back the tears that yet another Friday night has been ruined.
Suffering in silence is not courageous, and courage is found in the most unlikely places. This serves as the basis for my decision to write a book based on this blog. There are millions of us survivors walking in the shadows and unless a voice is heard, it goes undetected to the naked eye. I want to make some contribution to the world, bring those out of the shadows and use my voice to advocate for a better solution than accepting the indeterminate space, the new normal. As the world keeps on turning, I am not pulling together the threads of a new normal; instead I am using my voice to pave a new path moving forward. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl; but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” Adventures never have an end.
PS – I recently met a bold family whose son at the age of fifteen won his battle against Leukemia, a similar form of blood cancer. Four years later, he is still in remission and holding the line for the five-year mark, a point in time in which the disease is considered cured. My heart danced with victory as I discovered that he did not feel any more pain. Today I am EIGHT MONTHS CANCER-FREE with only FIFTY-TWO months to go for a cure.
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