Well, it’s done. 8 months, 16 chemotherapy cycles, 6 weeks of radiation and 4211575752157507 scopes, scans, and examinations, and my husband is cancer-free.

Clear CT Scan, clear endoscopic ultrasound, and not one cancer cell in the biopsies.

Holy fucking shit.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Large Hadron Collider. I’m waxing philosophical, here, so bear with me. I have felt, over the last eight or so months, sympathetic to the lead electron at the nose of a high-speed electron beam, roaring around an accelerator ring at nearly light speed, every lap incrementally nudging closer to a head-on-collision with an opposing electron beam, traveling at equal speed. But, less dramatically, I’ve been thinking more about what they’ve found.

The intent of the Large Hadron Collider is to investigate the structure of the atomic nucleus. (I copied that from the LHC website). But it’s been doing more than that- like any scientific investigation of the unknown, it has the potential to change everything, by altering our perception of the nature of stuff. If, for example, the LHC reveals that energy becomes matter in describable/predictable circumstances, or becomes matter by describable/predictable mechanisms, it would radically change how we see the universe. It’s literally a tiny change, but it would be a boundless change, philosophically.We already believe/theorize that matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed, which basically means that everything in the universe was always here, in some iteration of either matter or energy. Everything that you are always was, and always will be, in one form or (maybe and/or) another. You are, and always have been, infinite. You probably knew this already, deep down. It’s the kind of thing you can feel, even if it takes you half your life to put it into words, or the words you finally find are from the Large Hadron Collider website.

Since the dawn of science, pretty much, humans have been searching for one unifying theory of everything- one set of rules to describe how the universe works. Pure science often distances itself from “WHY?” The more ruminative or philosophical science community tarries on “WHY?”, but returns first to “HOW?” as the first answerable question, since “WHY?” is a dependent variable. So far, most every new determination in science has been used to take the magic out of “WHY?”, to make it explicable, intelligible, rational. Crashing these electrons around and finding, in the resulting measurable detritus, the field in which energy becomes matter, is the scientific equivalent of finding the body of Christ, withered and carbon-based, behind a very solid rock. It means to many that there is no unifying force of creation. No sentient or, more importantly, benevolent force orchestrating the matter and energy of the universe. No God, loving us individually.

This is confusing to me, in the same way evolution somehow disproving any creation stories confuses me. In fact, I can’t believe one without the other. I feel closer to understanding the organizing force of the universe when destruction and transformation are part of the magic, too.

As Lex Luthor said, in the latest Superman installation, “If God is all good, He can’t be all powerful.” And that’s bumper-sticker simple, right? But it’s also gorgeous. Choose your nomenclature – God, Allah, Gaia(aiaiaiaia), the Universe – in the way that resonates with you, because that’s important. But the rest of the sentence is fine. The cancer is part of the magic. The dying is part of the magic. It’s not the end, or the tailings pile, or the dregs. It’s as much a part of the system as the fucking, the cheeseburgers, the birthing, the poetry, the fall of the Berlin wall; it’s as real and intrinsic to being as your beating heart. It’s not the shadow to the light- not the opposite of life or the other side of the coin. Scientifically, there is no opposite of entropy.

Entropy is the measure of disorder in a system. It’s not a philosophical concept even if it’s growing in your husband’s ass.

What is philosophical to me is the infinite nature of the experience of my stuff. If entropy is an equal part of being, and being is meaningful, then entropy is meaningful, too. Moreover, because I’m intrinsically related to the Universe, I’m comparably connected to you, to my husband’s cancer, to Rwanda, and to Philandro Castile. The space between us is expansive at the same time our connection is connate- definitive, part of the fundamental laws of the universe. And, for some reason I still don’t understand, I have the ability to willfully operate my own little world-builder. I have the ability to decide. 

When I think about the electrons in my body, responsible for the communication of thoughts to action, and then think about how enormous they are, compared to the much smaller particles responsible for the creation of matter, I feel suddenly aware of how powerful that ability to decide is. I can make meaning. If I want to change the universe, all I have to do is change my mind.

One electron, at the head of a roaring stream, circling faster and faster, edging closer and closer to collision. One tiny particle, breaking apart the fabric of the universe, revealing a billion smaller universes within it.

I can love. And that changes everything.

I continue to exist. (At least right now.)

My husband is having his last chemotherapy infusion right now. Then, much in the same way one faces a lifetime of not drinking, we contemplate how to be for the rest of our lives.

And like drinking, it’s probably more a question of what we will do than what we won’t.

Eight months. A whole life.

Also, hi. I’ve missed you all, and you look terrific.

I feel better. I’m sorry for utterly disassembling, and so grateful to those of you who reached out.

If your abusive dad gets Alzheimer’s, and then your husband gets cancer, and all the people in your house are puking, or whatever fresh, creative configuration of horrors your life presents, I will love you, too. Except I already do.

An update.

I appear to be losing my shit, a little.

I can hear the reassurance from here, huddled on a mattress in my living room, attending to my stomach-virused three-year-old. “Girl,” you’re saying, “You are doing so great.” But I’m not. I’m really not.

I feel like all of the good stuff is over. I feel like everything is cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, puke and loneliness and grief.

I know it’s fleeting. I know it will pass. But I’m really tired. And really sad.

So much good has happened this week. My husband has his mid…cancer assessment yesterday, including an endoscopic ultrasound and consult with a colorectal surgeon. The tumor is gone. The affected lymph nodes are gone. The spot where the motherfucking tumor once smarmily lounged is now smooth and shiny, thick with what might be scar tissue, or might be the last remaining cancer cells. If the biopsies reveal cancer,  my husband will lose his rectum and live with a colostomy bag for the rest of his life. If the biopsies reveal no cells, well, who the fuck knows. My husband might opt to be in the experimental set of people who decide to just wait and watch. And I guess I will, too. Yay?

We went to trial for my father on February 16th. It was fucking awful. Our former step-mother hired a trial lawyer, and although we were not on trial, he proceeded to rake us over the coals, grill us about our intentions, our thoroughness… I cried in front of the judge. It was stupid and horrible. We left feeling utterly defeated. Today, after receiving two fucking ridiculous emails from the ex-step (in which she suggested we go for a long walk with our father, visit more, buy him socks, etc., etc.), the child support officer called to say my father’s obligation had been reduced from $1,450 a month to $268 a month. Holy shit. Amen?

My new job is great. I like everyone I work with- I really connect with two people there who I hope will become real friends over time. I had a hysterical laughing fit with one guy today about gluttonously wasting staples because I was so rich, rolling around in them- gingerly-  just because I could. Anyway. I feel kindred there, sort of. It’s fun to go to work. Phew, right?

But then, I picked up my baby from daycare and our care provider said one kid had just puked and another had puked earlier in the week. Within an hour, my daughter had started vomiting. Now, 4 hours later, she is still puking. I have started the puke laundry and assisted three showers. Last night, the 6-year-old had nightmares, and woke me up from 2-2:30 am. The night before, the baby was up with nightmares for an hour, at 3 am.

So, tonight, in between vomit bout one and vomit bout 2, I just lost my shit. I sat down on the mattress in the living room and said, “all I do is take care of sick people.” I bet my poor husband heard me. And I don’t want the baby thinking about that, either. What the fuck is wrong with me? I don’t usually feel sorry for myself, but right now, I guess I do. Socks and vomit and assholes and chemo and fuck, man. Fuck. I know it will pass. But if you can, send a little goofy light my way. I need it.

In Jane Wagner’s screenplay, “The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life In The Universe,” her crazy character Trudy says that life is like a candle, and we are like the intrepid G. Gordon Liddy, our hand hovering over its flame. “It hurts like hell,” Trudy explains.

“The trick,” she says, “is not to mind it.”

 

 

Well, I know it’s too soon to call it, but I think 2016 is shaping up to be a real boomer. That’s such a relief to those of us in the “2015 CAN GO FUCK ITSELF,” club. (We meet weekly in the basement of the Unitarian Universalist Church on 19th. Coffee and cookies, bring a friend.)

We met yesterday with my husband’s medical oncologist. He has been reading everything he can on colorectal cancer, trying to make sure he’s got the best information. He contacted the Mayo Clinic, and one of his peers there to talk about what new things Mayo is doing (you know, as one of the top learning/teaching/other hospitals in the…world). It turns out, as much as I would never have guessed this before our colorectal cancer adventure (least booked getaway ever), the world of colorectal cancer treatment has been leaping and bounding over the last ten years.  Our doc. explained that, in 20-25% of patients undergoing chemoradiation, treatment is so effective that the ensuing scans reveal a “complete therapeutic response.” This means that there is no evidence anywhere of the cancer. Not in the effected lymph nodes, not at the site, nowhere. In this instance, oncologists have been offering a no surgery option.

I’ll give you a second to piss your pants, and then we’ll continue.

So, no surgery. Then chemo, chemo, chemo as written in the prophecy, and understood by the NCCS as the guideline for treatment of this kind of cancer, at this stage. Then, he explained, they would perform a rigorous and vigilant form of “surveillance”  – that’s what he actually called it, as though they’d be in cars, circling the block. Only the cars are endoscopic ultrasound wands and the block is his rectum.

In these cases, 65-75% of patients have no reocurrance. I know. Holy fucking shit.

To my fellow mathletes out there, this means that 25-35%, do. And then they have to saw out their colons, etc. But 65-75%? I’d sure as hell buy that lottery ticket. But I wouldn’t play Russian roulette with those odds. Which is it?

In order to have the chance to be saddled with the horrible, crushing weight of the decision, our doctor recommended we get more aggressive with treatment, in order to get that complete therapeutic response. Following the normal treatment curriculum includes chemoradiation for 6 weeks (which we completed January 12th), followed by an intervening cancer-die-off period of 10 weeks, followed by surgery, followed by 6 months of chemotherapy. Now, there will be no benevolent die-off period. We are going to install the chemo port next week, and begin a berzerker kill-off endeavor, in which we will just keep poisoning the cancer back until it’s all dead. After 6 weeks, we will do the endoscopic assessment (CT, MRI, and bears, oh, my!) and see what is there. If it’s nothing, we’ll have a huge decision to make.

I’m almost as astonished at how painful it is to hope this could happen to him as I am hopeful it will. 2016. Carried by pain and tragedy to an alien planet, we find water.

I have a friend who sent me an email saying I was terrific at “holding everything together in the midst of enormous chaos and uncertainty.” In fact, he suggested, I should see whether or not I can get a PhD in holding everything together in the midst of enormous chaos and uncertainty.

That would be marvelous, in fact, because right now I only have my Master’s.

Regardless of whether or not I can get someone to honorarily bequeath a bogus diploma, I thought he was on to something. I am. (Is anyone else sick of the word, “insightful?” I am. I’m going to use “cognitively dextrous,” or something equally unneccessary, to circumnavigate.)

Last night, I was feeling worn out and quiet, introspective and serious. I was nonetheless commanded by my sister-in-law to come visit with my girls for a few minutes. As soon as I arrived, my brother-in-law pointed out that her teeth were already blue from wine. “I know!” She remarked. “I only had a couple glasses and they’re already like that!” I looked closer at her, and saw that her eyes had that reddish, glassy look about them, and her face was ruddy in irregular patterns. She is a very heavy drinker. She’s really the only one left in our close-knit immediate group up north. My mother-in-law in Wisconsin, and my sister-in-law who lives down south are textbook alcoholics. But up here, only this SIL is still drinking like this.

For the next thirty minutes, she talked at me, non-stop, asking and answering her own questions, comforting herself, and generally being obnoxious. She’s worried about her brother. She asked me how the appointment went, then talked at length about how it might have gone, what it might have meant, and that it was probably okay. I didn’t even need to be there. It was not a conversation.

When she’s sober, she’s quiet and kind. She’s silly and smart, and cares deeply about everyone around her. But when she drinks, she’s obnoxious and rude, loud and bombastic. It’s sad to be around, now. Honestly, it was never easy, even drinking with her. But being sober while she drinks just isn’t an option. I can’t control my facial expression. I don’t like feeling sorry for her, and angry with her at the same time.

I know with categorical certainty that I am not an alcoholic. But heavy drinking is so pernicious, so seductive and deceptive, it eats you up, even if you’re not addicted to it. Even if you’re not dependent on it. Because it won’t settle for less than half the stage. Under this much pressure, with this many people to care for and this much to face every single day: I can’t table my concerns and tend to the confounding, illusory loop of drinking-thinking.

Nothing is easier while drinking. Nothing is better. And let me say this as unambiguously as I can: I could not endure this if I was drinking. I would not survive it.