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The Horror of the Shade

April 17, 2015

Last week I elected to republish a blog originally entitled A Sense of Foreboding, with a new title this time – Impending Doom. This choice of title was hardly accidental. Ten days ago I had a biopsy; from that point until today, when I received the cheerful news that all is well -- full catastrophe averted! -- I have been in a fine old lather. As it turns out, I do not want to die. This came as something of a surprise to me. I thought I would be more philosophical about it. I was dead wrong.

I would describe myself as sunny, but not particularly optimistic. I would prefer to be happily surprised by an outcome than devastated by it. My immediate reaction to the biopsy was, therefore, to assume the worst. The absolute worst. After all, there was that chart on the mammography clinic wall pegging the rates of breast cancer in women in their sixties at one in twenty eight – odds I did not like. When I was thirty, a case of Guillain-Barre Syndrome left me paralyzed and on a ventilator. Ever since then I have viewed my internal workings with unease: what was going on in there that I didn’t know about? Because I know some damn thing was going on. Was this it? Had the other shoe fallen?

The next thing I did after assuming the worst was to go underground, pending, you know, the Apocalypse. I told my husband, of course, and a few of the more sympatico women with whom I work – largely to explain the fact that I kept walking into walls and had become, all of a sudden, unable to form complete sentences – but no one else. Not my kids. Not my sibs. Not friends, with the exception of one and then only very late in the game. I didn’t want to worry them. I didn’t want them to tell me, you don’t know, it could just be Stage One, Cancer Lite. My ex-mother-in-law, a nurse, was fond of informing appalled dinner companions, “They opened her up and she was FULL of cancer.” What if they opened me up and I was FULL of cancer? No, what I wanted to do … what I planned to do was to determine the full extent of my predicament, then conduct myself with sublime mindfulness, in the manner of Ekhart Tolle.

What I, in fact, did do was to alternate between nanoseconds of zen-like acceptance of the things I cannot control and explosions of sheer terror, punctuated with flashes of anger --“Why me? Why not a smoker?” -- and bargaining: “What if I never indulge in schadenfreude again?" "How about I stop fantasizing about a lone gunman shooting up an NRA Convention?"

I am fond of saying that I cannot imagine a time when I was not nor imagine a time when I will not be and that, therefore, as far as I am concerned, I am immortal. A nice theory, but it didn’t stand the test of contemplating what poet William Ernest Henley rather turgidly described in his poem Invictus as "The Horror of the Shade."

As it turns out, I can imagine not being. I can imagine my husband’s terrible loneliness without me; we are joined at the hip, after all. I can imagine not being at my son’s upcoming wedding and what that would be like for him or for my youngest daughter when she marries. I can imagine not being there for my grandchildren . . . and I dearly want to be there for my grandchildren. And I can imagine not finishing this damned novel.

The reprieve is temporary. I know that. The shoe will fall sometime. Just, thank the Universe, not today.

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