Living with cancer 1

I don’t have cancer, my husband does, but it feels like it does not matter at all who has the cancer.

Cancer has been a part of our lives for a little more than two years now.  Looking back, I realize every aspect of my life has been impacted by it.  Looking around me, I realize that while in this day and age we hear the word “cancer” almost daily, few really understand what late stage cancer involves.

Take treatment, for example.  It seems to me that most people assume that treatment makes the patient well again.  In reality, that is not the case at all.  Even if the treatment is efficacious, be it radiation or chemo or surgery, there are all kinds of side effects, both immediate and long term, to contend with.  Radiated skin, for instance, must always be protected with a strong sunscreen because it is extremely sensitive to the sun’s rays — and that’s for the rest of one’s life.  That may be a minor inconvenience, but cancer patients can also develop deep vein thrombosis, sleep apnea, neuropathy, and countless other serious health problems.  My husband’s cancer treatment closed his esophagus permanently and he depends on a G-tube for his life; his food, liquid nutrition supplement.

In many cases, treatment does not cure.  The best that it can do in those situations is to keep the cancer manageable.  Chemotherapy can be a way to buy a bit more time.  However, the last time I said that to the medical oncologist, her response was, “If it even does that.”  She was not heartless or cruel, just realistic and I appreciated that.  As a caregiver, I need to be told the truth so that I can prepare myself for what may eventually transpire.

When friends call up and ask, “How is he doing?”  that, I find, is the hardest question to answer.  It is also an unfortunate fact that people do that a lot.   What they would like me to tell them is probably something along the lines of, “Oh, he’s doing so much better!” or “The cancer’s all gone!”  But cancer is not the flu, one doesn’t take to one’s bed for a couple of days and get back to 100%.  I find it unimaginable that even when I have told our friends that the cancer has metastasized, they still seem to expect a miraculous cure.  I refuse to lie and tell them what they want to hear and yet, my husband is not on his death bed.  The decline is slow and it eats away his days without his even being aware of it.  The best that I can manage is, “Well, he is stable.”  There was a time after we were told about the metastases that we were told no treatment would be ordered because there were no symptoms.  It’s another way of saying the cancer had got to another part of the body but it was not acting up.  I could fully understand the doctors’ rationale; here you have a patient who is capable of living normally, why put him through the misery of chemotherapy just yet?  That, as one can imagine, was a concept that I could not get our friends to understand, tried as I might.

Today my sister remarked in an email to me, “Visiting the very sick is an art form.”  Unluckily, not very many people are aware of that and even fewer would even take time to work on the “art.”



Entrelac 1

S said, “Finally you’ve got drawn right back to doing what all women in your clan do.” There’s a lot of exaggeration in that — my mother knits, so do my two older sisters. It’s true they make up four-fifths of my family, but they are hardly the clan.

When I was a child, everybody knitted or crocheted — aunts, teachers, my mother’s friends, the woman who manned the newspaper stall,  — and then, as the years passed, the knitters and the crocheters slowly, one by one, dropped out. These days, if I pull out my knitting in a public place, inevitably, someone will ask, “What are you knitting?” It is almost like knitting has become an esoteric art, only for the initiated.

I knit to give myself a task to calm my overactive mind. The need to focus shuts out the busyness. L, who is a fantastic knitter, likes to try out different stitches. I look for patterns which experiment with shapes and the assembly of the different pieces. I find that more interesting. Of course, not being a very good knitter, complicated stitches can be a problem for me. If i make a mistake, I often have to go back and unravel the whole thing because I may not have a clue how to go back a row or two to correct it.  Although every project that I choose has to have new elements in it — it may be using a different kind of yarn or making bobbles or doing colourwork,  I see the acquisition of new skills as a measurement of my progress as a knitter.

Ultimately, I like making garments which are unique, which, at a glance, will say to people, that has to be handcrafted and cannot be purchased in a store.  That, to me, is the only point of taking on a craft.  I don’t aim to make pieces as good as what one sees in a shop window, I just aim to be different.

Library Fines

library bookshelvesFor the first time ever in my life I got a library fine.  It wasn’t much, only thirty cents.

It was totally my fault.  I took a book out and simply assumed that the loan period was three weeks (which is normally how long one can keep the book).  But this book has hundreds of holds on it and for these highly-in-demand books, the loan period is two weeks. I could have checked — and there are multiple ways of doing this online — but I didn’t.  

When I brought the book back this morning and asked to pay the fine, the librarian looked up my account on his computer and said, “Never mind, you’ve never had fines, so forget it.”

His leniency actually made me feel bad.  I know that the library imposes fines only as a means of making sure that users return their books.  The fines are so small that I don’t, for a minute, think that they are a source of revenue for the library.

I felt bad because I had broken the commitment to return the book on time when I took the book out.  It’s all part of good citizenship, just like not littering, sorting the recyclables from garbage, not spitting, and thousands of other obligations that we have as citizens. We may not think much of fulfilling these obligations, but they are really what enable us to live harmoniously in a community.  It is never about whether we will get a fine for breaking the rules.



Any Human Heart (William Boyd)

Two passages from the book that resonate with me:

That’s all your life amounts to in the end: the aggregate of all the good luck and the bad luck you experience.  Everything is explained by that simple formula.  Tot it up — look at the respective piles.  There’s nothing you can do about it: nobody shares it out, allocates it to this one or that, it just happens.  We must quietly suffer the laws of man’s condition, as Montaigne says.

Here’s a dark thought for a dark night: we all want a sudden death but we know we’re not all going to be provided with one.  So our end will be our ultimate bit of good luck or bad luck — the final addition to the respective piles.

Coffee spoons

Picture of Ground coffee spoon and brown coffee beans in the background.


I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;” T. S. Eliot The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The drip, drip of the IV — that’s how I measure out my life these days.  It is my life and J’s life too that is draining away with each drop.  I have told friends and family that I would take it a day at a time (later amended to a step at a time); in reality, the unit is no more than one drop of the trial medication at a time.  As long as the drops continue, there is hope — not of a cure, only of more time borrowed.  Today, I felt the threat that the drops may now stop.  

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, despite the French literary awards it has received and its perch at the top of the European bestseller list, is just an airport paperback. It is true that it is a page-turner, but there is nothing convincing about the twists and turns of its plot. It is repetitious, filled with cardboard characters and, at the end of the day, has nothing important or insightful to say.


Keeping a blog

This is not the first time I have had a blog.  With my previous attempts, the task inevitably became a chore to me after a few posts.  I guess I took it all too seriously.

This time around, I will post when I can, write whatever I feel like writing and that’s about it.  There is no established intent.  Whatever pleases me, is it.  I will, however, try not to bore.


a bit of this and that