Tonight I will fill in the last blank space for Year Two in my line-a-day-five-year memory book that my friend Mary gave me soon after I was diagnosed with cancer. Tomorrow I will begin Year Three.
I like to look at what was happening in the previous year’s entry (now it will be years’ entries!) Mostly they’re pretty mundane: “Hiked Baldy and went to work.” “ Skyped with the kids.” “Saw Gone Girl [disappointing].” “Saw Kill the Messenger [two thumbs up].” “Slept poorly.” “ On track with my eating.” “Not on track with my eating.” “Wrote.” “Avoided writing.”
Sometimes, though, when I read the previous year’s entry, I’m jolted by the poignancy of all the mundane moments that make a life, and how they do not last forever. Three days ago, for instance, I read that last year on the same date, I had lunch with a colleague. We met to share our experiences about what it was like to be therapists who were working while undergoing chemotherapy for an article I was writing, “The Myth of the Intact Healer.” Seven months out of treatment and with an excellent prognosis, I had just come out of my wig. My colleague admired my curls, then told me about her collection of wigs—the ones she would never come out of because she was never going to be done with cancer until it had finished her off. She was as beautiful and full of life as all the times I’d seen her throughout the years. I remembered our lunch as I read last year’s entry for October 25: “Had lunch with S.” That was the last time I saw my colleague—she died last month.
It brings me up short, this turning of the pages, remembering, filling in the blanks, wondering how many more blanks I’ll get to fill in, whether I will complete one or two or ten line-a-day-five-year memory books.
And now, on this day of the calendar’s cusp, as I move from Year Two to Year Three, I’ve opened an email from a woman I haven’t yet met named Marcy. Marcy lives in Portland, and has been living with Stage 4 ovarian cancer for the last four years. (She blogs about it at livinglydyingly.com) A long-time organizer and activist, Marcy believes in the power of community, building it through ever-expanding connections. I came to know her through being on one of the farther concentric circles that ripple out from her center. Marcy’s request for help with transportation and housing to pursue cutting edge treatment around the country traveled through many networks to reach my friend’s activist daughter, who forwarded it to her mother, who forwarded it to me.
I haven’t yet been able to take Marcy to the airport when she’s needed me to, and she hasn’t yet needed our extra bed. But we have struck up a lovely email correspondence. In the one I opened today, Marcy included a link to something she’s written for Yes! Magazine. It’s called “What I’ve Learned About Living from Dying of Cancer.” You should read it yourself, because as you can see from my confession in earlier paragraphs, my summary certainly won’t do it justice. But here is one of my favorite parts:
I sought out other women living with a pink slip from life and discovered how hard it is for us to find each other. Medical privacy laws don’t help. Advocacy groups are often Web- or hospital-based, but not everyone flourishes in those settings. Eventually I created my own support circle of other women with terminal cancer. The group is called “It’s a Dying Shame,” and the outreach flyer states, “Our goal is to explore the rich and peculiar territory of facing our own deaths. Together we can mine the humor, strangeness, and beauty of a life turned upside down. Join us for tea down the rabbit hole.”
My cancer scare notwithstanding, I do not pretend to have the vaguest idea of what it is like to have gotten a pink slip from life, and I am glad for the ignorance, glad that I have the luxury of skirting that rabbit hole for now.
Still, when I turn the page on another year tonight, I will think of my colleague, of Marcy, of the many good and bad movies I have seen and hope to see more of. I will try to honor each day’s moments, and how precious and mundane and fleeting they are, whether they stop before they can be recorded in the next entry, or go on and on and on.