Bump of Acceptance

Two weeks ago Paul had a blocked bile duct. A simple little surgery and all was well. He bounced out of hospital and went straight home to build his shed and lay in a supply of firewood for the winter. A week later he had a diagnosis of a tumour on his pancreas. Now there's a piece of news that will make you sit up and pay attention. It's a small tumour, found early because doctors were poking about in the vicinity and saw something suspicious. It's the word, isn't it? Cancer. It took me three goes to write that. I kept leaving the 'C' off the beginning. One of those Freudian things, because of course I would rather deal with an 'ancer' than a 'cancer'.

This is not what we were planning for autumn. We were going to build things. Maybe go camping. Do some long walks. This is not the future we had in mind. But when is it? Paul has very short hair - he shaves it off close to his scalp every few weeks. He has a beautifully shaped skull. I love to run my fingers over it. If I were to take up phrenology I could have a go at interpreting the various planes and lines of his beautiful bones, but I know at least one thing I would find there, and it would be a great big Bump of Acceptance. Paul is one of the most zen people I know. He accepts what comes to him, says, "Right, this is what we have now."

It makes him very easy to be with. On the other hand, Paul also expects other people to be just as Stoic. "I don't want people to worry," he says. "HA," says his entire family and all of his friends. I try not to worry but my words betray me. We have a conversation that goes like this:

Paul: Would you stop telling me that you love me?

Me: But I do love you.

Paul: Well, you don't have to keep telling me all the time.

Me: I didn't know that was a rule.

Paul: Of course that's a rule. It's in the contract.

Me: (reads the contract) Oh, yes, here it is on page twenty three: There will be a minimum of twelve (12) days between iterations of undying love.

Paul: See? I told you it was in the contract.


Me: I don't love you really.

Paul: Good.

My version of acceptance is the one where I keep trying to fix things. If I can control some small things, my tiny monkey brain reasons, then maybe the big things will also be amenable to being controlled. But truthfully, I cannot control anything, not even when the surgeon will ring us back and give us news. That does not stop me from coming up with a plan for how to get the surgeon to ring us sooner. Paul says, "She's a surgeon. In a public hospital. She will ring when she can."

I think, well, that isn't good enough. This is Paul, he is the most important person. He has a tumour. On his pancreas. He needs to know all the things right about right now (Meaning, I need to know all the things, so I can pretend I have some control). When the surgeon finally rings, she is apologetic. She has been in surgery until past ten every evening. But she hasn't forgotten Paul. "I knew it," Paul says placidly. "Don't worry." 

Here is another thing I have learned from Paul. It doesn't matter what emotions you are having, what's important is to watch them, recognise where they come from, say hello. I sit here watching my emotions like sheep jumping over the fence. "Hello fear, hello worry, hello attempt at control (second cousin of fear), hello anxiety, oh, look, here's worry again. Then there's denial, because, honestly, Paul looks fine and he's been riding his mountain bike up the actual mountain. Then there's the one where I sleep for twelve hours except for those three hours from 2.30 to 5.30 am. Then there's the bit where I have read five and a half novels this week, because honestly, other people's stories are so much better than mine right now. Oh, and there's the time, when prowling around the house desperate for sugar I remembered the Easter chocolate in my wardrobe. "Red," I called, "I found some. This way for eggs." We ate a lot of eggs. It didn't make us feel better, but just that moment where you unwrap them and get that first sugar hit? Sublime. 

The path ahead is not clear. It is all, "If this, then that." It is more tests and then a plan. I believe that having a plan will be easier. It will be something to grab hold of. Or maybe that is me wanting to grab hold of something that looks like control. Maybe it is. That's ok. 

As for Paul, what do you do when you're diagnosed with cancer? You continue to cut wood for the winter. You plan on getting some gravel for the concreting. You decide to take the motorbike for a run. You do what you do every day. You watch the birds and pay attention to the setting sun as the golden light stripes across the valley. You say, "This is what is."


simplelife said…
oh Jo,
I am so sorry this is happening to both of you.
love and big hugs,
cheers Kate
Linda said…
Dear Jo
So sorry to hear this news. Wow, Paul is some guy! Being positive is more than half the battle but I can understand your reaction too. Stay strong, Linda x
Kathy said…
Very scary when getting a cancer diagnosis and great news that due to other circumstances they did find it early. Thinking of you all, and keeping busy is I'm sure the best way to give your brain a break from thinking 24/7. Hope all goes well. Kathy, Brisbane
Orlenna said…
Your writings are so beautiful and grounding, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences.
Lots of love and positive vibes coming from my way
Orlenna xxx
Suzanne from UK said…
Hi, I often read your blog and it’s been a great source of comfort over the years. Very sorry to hear this news. I found this poem recently and thought of what you said about carrying on chopping the wood.

Instructions on Not Giving Up
Ada Limón - 1976-

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

Jo said…
Kate, I totally agree with you!

Linda, yes, Paul is staying positive, and I am helpfully doing all his worrying for him. We are a team!

Kathy, yes, it seems the prognosis is pretty good. And as for keeping busy - yes, that is one way i cope - the other is reading all the books and eating all the chocolate..

Orlenna B from Queensland? Or a completely different Orlenna? Either way, welcome, and thank you for those positive vibes. I will take them all!

Suzanne, I am so glad you are saying hello, and thank you for that gorgeous poem... a green skin growing over whatever winter did to us... yes, that image sums it up for me. We will grow that green skin.
Deborah said…
Oh Jo, now you're allowed to manage this in your own way. So worrying for Paul and it's good he's so zen about it all but you are who you are and you are loved for being that person, so cope with this your own way! Thinking of you and hoping for the best outcome. I also find chocolate soothing but wish I knew when to stop.
Anonymous said…
My friend, through the distance I am sending you a very tight hug. Hearing the C word changes everything doesn't it? And yet, colors become more brilliant, birds sing louder, our senses more in tune to our surroundings.
Do whatever you need to do to get through this time (and you will get through it). That includes chocolates, reading, and saying I love you 500 times a day. You will worry, you will cry, and then you will love more deeply and laugh more loudly.
Much love to you and Paul.
Penelope P. said…
Jo, I’m so sorry that you and Paul are facing this. My reaction would be totally yours, and chocolate , reading and saying ‘I love you’ would absolutely be on the agenda. I agree with Patricia, whatever you need to do is what you need to do! I’m sending love and virtual hugs to you all, Penny in the U.K.
Jo said…
Deborah, oh yes, Paul be zen, me, I just fall apart. The difference between me now and me twenty/ten/five years ago, is that now i feel free to tell people I'm falling apart, and that makes all the difference, because now i experience all the love and support and kindness that come when you can say what you really feel, and that also helps in accepting the reality of what we are experiencing. It's such a virtuous feedback loop. So glad I learned all that before now.

Patricia, I believe I am hearing the voice of experience here. I am grateful for that hug - and I feel all the love and kindness that comes with it. I do know that whatever else comes out of this experience, the loving more deeply one is inevitable. It will be quite the journey but we will get through it. Thank you xxx
Jo said…
Penelope, I think that maybe we are all here together in this space because we have a lot in common. Chocolate, reading, a propensity to worry:) Thank you so much for the love and hugs.
Wendy said…
Jo - I have been reading you and enjoying your words for many years.
Can I just say with complete honesty. You and Paul are so very lucky to have found each other.
Sending big hugs to you both 🧡
Treaders said…
Hearing the c word is scary as hell. I'm glad for Paul that he's a stoic. I guess you'll be doing the worrying for both of you right? Sending you huge hugs from far away across the ocean. He'll be ok hon - and so will you!
Jo said…
Wendy, you are so right!

Anna, you have me pegged. I am indeed capable of worrying enough for both of us. I am useful like that..
Anonymous said…
Dear Jo
One step, then the next. It's about all we can do when faced with frightening things like a cancer diagnosis. You and Paul will handle it, each in your own way. We are all a lot braver than we think we are. I wish you and Paul all the luck - and the love - in the world.

Linda in NZ
Jo said…
Linda, yep, one day at a time. Right now everything is in limbo and we can't even plan for this week, as Paul has a procedure booked for one day, but if an earlier day has a cancellation, he'll go in then.. it's a bit like that at the moment. However, today Paul is on the roof at his place, changing the angle of his solar panels, and I am pruning the apricot tree at my place and tidying the shed. It's a good week to potter about and do home things. When I am busy tidying the shed, or putting bandaids on after enthusiastic pruning, there's less brain space for worrying..
As for bravery - after many years I have come to the conclusion that bravery is just turning up. If we are not actually running away, then that is bravery:)
Unknown said…
My dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer. He was very humourous about it all. He said "the worst thing about having a colostomy bag is finding a pair of shoes to match." He also, like Paul, got on with his life and kept busy. My dad is fine now. He turns 58 in a few weeks and has returned to his job in the mines. I hope Paul will be alright and I wish you guys all the best.
Johanna xx
Mary said…
My sympathy and best wishes to you both and a virtual hug for you. I think saying the phrase "I love you" is a self-soothing action, so if you can't say it to Paul, say it to yourself and anyone else around you. I definitely concur with your definition of bravery - sometimes just showing up can be the most important and bravest thing we can do.
Angus Wallace said…
Very sorry to hear this Jo,

Hoping that it was found early enough to be (relatively) easily treated.

Best of luck
Jo said…
Johanna, it's good to know that your dad is fashion savvy enough to always match his shoes and bag:) I am so glad to hear of his recovery. He sounds like a joy to have around. And thank you, hearing recovery stories is the best xx

Mary, I think you have something there - Red and I tell each other 'I love you' several times each day:)

Jo said…
Angus, it seems to be a hopeful prognosis, and so we are holding on to that.
Unknown said…
Dear Jo,

this was not what I expected to read this morning. I am so sorry for this difficult news. Whatever emotions you are feeling are completely fine and normal, as is any sort of escapist reading, binge movie watching and chocolate eating! Be ever so kind to yourself, and remind yourself as I did during a major life crisis that your feelings are normal and okay, and they will pass in time. Huge hugs and love to you.

Funnily enough, I just wrote a post on my blog (yes FINALLY up though much more to be added) all about getting a scary or difficult diagnosis. It's called Which Direction Are You Going if you want to check it out.

Lots of love,

Unknown said…
Sorry here's the link: https://macrobioticwholefoods.com/which-direction-are-you-going/
Jo said…

Madeleine, it's certainly not what was on our to-do list this year, either.
I really like your new blog - it looks great, and it's wonderful for you to have a space to spread the word on healthy living. All the very best for your new venture:) xx
To my Jotje,

Twelve days hath not yet past and I say I do love thee, my lovely Jotje.
Moments with you do enthral me, your loving kisses do enliven me, hold my hand as together we walk through time to expand our garden of love.

For all the words from others, I wish to thank each one of you for your supportive words toward my Jotje, my little Jo as we say in Dutch. I have read many of your comments here over time and do know you have a special connection, one of understanding, compassion and love.

From your mountain man, Paultje xxx
Jo said…
Paul, what, not even 12 days? Come on. Who said you get to break the rules? Okay. Don't tell anyone. Je t'aime.
Bisous xxx

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