When I was first diagnosed with low-grade prostate cancer, eight months ago, I noted that I would occasionally forget my diagnosis. Perhaps it was the immersive nature of teaching, the normal turns of a busy life. But I would remember, every few days, and it surprised me.
Perhaps the mind only lets us hold new realities for as long as we are able to hold them. Perhaps we know, deep down, we have to take small steps. That makes sense to me. It especially makes sense now, eight months later, as I see it change. For several months, I had these occasional “I have cancer” surprised moments. Today, they are not occasional. I don’t forget much anymore.
I’m not buried in the fact, in some depressing or heavy way. I just no longer forget and experience the reality coming into my mind like a guest. I know it. I know too that I am very fortunate. This cancer was discovered very early, without symptoms. I still don’t think this will be what takes me from this life. But no timing the doctors can give you is certain.
This knowledge has done some good. I reflect on “end of life” issues in ways that I didn’t before. I hear dates for various events in the future and I wonder if I will be alive to see them. These reflections are good. In some ways, I’m Meeting Bone Man in ways I haven’t yet met him. In my early poems about mortality, they were focused more on grief, experiencing the deaths of others. Now, I’m thinking about my own. And this is good. This is not terribly heavy or paralyzing.
When we know the shortness of our own lives, we can prioritize. There are events and concerns that come up in the daily run and walk of life that I know don’t matter much anymore. I just don’t spend time worrying about certain things because I know I can’t change them– or I don’t want to take the time to change them. I want to use time in other ways.
I’ve also given myself permission to rest. Living my life on the academic calendar, I’m given the intensity of a school year but also the freedom of breaks. This summer, my first with cancer, I’m taking walks, running on trails, going to bed early, reading what I want, even taking naps.
I wrote earlier of making my own life into a vigil, a night watch. I’m better now at looking carefully, taking time to listen in silence. All of this feels a little surprising, like unexpectedly hearing from an old friend.
Photo: Rock Creek Park, May, 2018