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.
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."