Dan’s latest scan came back clean. Below is a portion of what he wrote in the email update he sent to friends & family, in which one line in particular stood out (to me): “There is always fear, but often there is also happiness.”
Since the age of 15, Dan has always been a person with great depth and a seemingly endless fount of knowledge - but his wisdom, in the face of death, has deepened immeasurably. I am endlessly grateful for him, his beautiful fiancee Lesley, and their impending marriage. This world is blessed to have him in it and I am blessed to have known him - and to continue knowing him.
Upon learning about my health, a lot of people ask me how I am doing “really,” or “day to day,” or what my life is like. I have experienced this more than usual lately, because I look healthy, and the new people I meet in school are surprised to learn that I recently had cancer. That’s a hard question to answer. I suspect most people would struggle to succinctly describe what their day to day life “is like.” I generally can only provide the obvious (and unhelpful) truth that life is better in remission than with cancer. I honestly think that it is easier for healthy people to empathize with or understand sick cancer patients than healthy survivors. By adulthood, most of us have been very ill at least once, and have experienced what we thought was severe pain. But if you have never had a chronic illness, or lived in a place where death or injury strike seemingly at random, it is hard to understand what it is like to be healthy but living under a Sword of Damocles that may - or may never - fall. And although every survivor has been wounded by the blade, we cannot know how badly it will maim, whether its next blow will be fatal, and if death will come swiftly or slowly if it strikes again. Cicero’s essays on virtuous rule mention the Damocles legend and say: “…there can be nothing happy for the person over whom some fear always looms[.]” This is a valid point, but also a typical Ciceronian overstatement - I spend every day with fear and uncertainty, but also with humans, animals, food, books and ideas that I love. There is always fear, but often there is also happiness. I am never free from the fear that the disease will return, and the time around scans is always punctuated with panic attacks and sleepless nights. It has been a long time since chemotherapy killed off my hair, but in the 6 weeks before a scan, I find loose strands in my hands every morning when I shower. Even in the pleasant aftermath of a clean scan, fear and risk management is built into the structure of my daily life - from the stack of pills in the morning, to the ritual of sanitizing hands and surfaces while avoiding sick people and the careful approach to food at every meal and snack. Each of these minuscule calculations reminds me that I live in the shadow of cancer and will probably never leave it. For now, I have 6 months to live a semi-normal life in the company of my lady, my cats, and my human family and friends - and hope for many more similar months. I have found fulfilling and challenging work with pleasant colleagues in a great institution of learning. These things make me very happy.