It’s a phrase I heard this week on CBC Radio One’s The Current. They were discussing the so-called “narrative arc” of the world’s most recent health scare, the swine flu, just upgraded by the World Health Organization to a level 5 on a scale of 6 (see the CBC article here). For the narrative to work according to expectation, there must be a moment when the reader or viewer is confronted with an ambivalent feeling of being both frightened and fascinated.
The narrative arc of my own unwanted journey has delivered fear and fascination repeatedly. Given the anatomy of colorectal cancer, maybe it’s more accurate to speak of a narrative arse. That’s an approach used to good effect by Neil Crone and others responsible for the 5th annual Crack a Smile Comedy Night to benefit the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada. Like anyone else who enjoys laughter as the world’s best medicine, I’m more than happy to set aside discussions of the life-threatening nature of the disease, and to step away, even if only momentarily, from my terminal condition prognosis.
But eventually, one must return inevitably to the frightened and fascinated person dealing with this particular narrative arc. Again, because palliative home hospice care doesn’t have much to do with medical technology, I don’t have CT scans and MRI images to consult telling me that the liver lesions are growing or diminishing. I don’t have regular CEA blood tests indicating the changes of antigens indicating the progress of cancer in the body. All I have to go on is how I feel.
In other words, despite my fascination and curiosity, my daily life proceeds much like anyone else’s. Like most other people, except for the prescriptions, the Monday-Wednesday-Friday nurse visits (now with the nurse calling and going through a phone triage for the swine flu scare while sitting in her car in the driveway; depending on my answers, she either comes inside or notifies medical authorities about possible flu concerns), and the visit from the hospice doctor every couple of weeks…except for those things, I’m like most other people.
That’s where the fear, depression and anxiety surface. I keep surviving – that’s the good news. This month will see a few more milestones crossed off my list, including our 36th wedding anniversary tomorrow, M’s birthday the following week, my birthday the week after that, and then my eldest son’s birthday in early June. Back in late December, thinking such thoughts was a bit of a stretch. Now, I see no reason why I will not only survive, but be doing well enough to celebrate - quietly, to be sure, but with as much gusto as I can muster.
The bad news is that I have no idea how much longer I’ll continue like this before the inevitable decline occurs.
But I fully intend to enjoy all the moments and milestones I can. I’m going to get up, do some more reading and writing, enjoy the spring weather, take some photographs, purchase Starbucks coffee, talk with friends on the phone and during visits to our home…in other words, push the worries aside as much as possible.