Hold or Fold

by | Oct 14, 2021

Fight or give up. 

I was always amazed when I heard someone decided against treatment for cancer, decided to just do nothing.

Why would you not fight? Why not continue clawing your way to life? 

Life is so good, exciting, invigorating and filled with adventure, every day. The adventure of being alive.

I’m in love with life and, especially after the first cancer was diagnosed and I journeyed through thoughts of mortality and the reality of life’s inescapable final sunset, whether imminent or not, I became even more aware of the adventure life is. Wanted to live it even harder, indulge, explore, experience, love, see, feel, touch and hear. 

Live on purpose. 

Not wanting life, or at least pursuing It, was inconceivable. 

I now see things differently, I now understand. 

Holding a glass of water is easy, it’s not heavy. But holding that glass of water for hours, its weight increases to the point of being impossible to hold any longer. The glass didn’t get heavier, you just gradually grew more fatigued and weaker. And your muscles can no longer cope with the weight of just a glass of water. Now, hold a tray with 20 glasses of water. How long before the weight of the tray is unbearable?

Cancer hands you a tray of weights. Thoughts of uncertainty, confusion, questioning, anger, lamenting and resentment. Physical effects from treatments that tax your body and test your resolve. Demands from the world around you, work, friends, family… even people just wanting to be helpful can become too much.  

What about the things I still want to do, the things I have planned? Will I have time? I don’t know what cancer has in store, what the treatments will do; yes the prognoses are good but what else is there? One cancer became two and now partial certainties have evaporated. Anything else can happen, it’s unpredictable, random and chaotic.

So too the thoughts are chaotic, they chase you around, wear you down, and severely test your resolve  

I realised that the overriding emotion cancer brought is grief. Grieving the loss of the life you had, it will never be the same. Even if you conquer it all, you will never be back to what you were before the invasion, you will just be in remission. Perhaps for a very long time still, but never how you were before. And once you had it, you will always live with the reality of cancer being somewhere at a roadside stop behind you or potentially on another horizon. It should not be defining your life but it does very much impact it. 

As life inches along its chronological path, point to point to point, we notice subtle changes, realisations about how our appearance changes, how we can’t do things with the same agility as we could before. Those do not disturb the underlying quiet belief that things are, and will be, fine. We don’t have to face the questions and realities of life being finite, and we don’t have to consider when our final nightfall might come. 

The luxury of that quiet belief has been removed and your mind is in provoked unease, an anguish that doesn’t dissipate. This is a long and unrelenting. It’s not like surgery that is over quickly and you can focus on recovery and rehabilitation.  This is an invasion with uncertain outcomes and the presence is felt at every turn. 

Intellectually I know what needs to be done, I have  to keep pushing, follow the process, endure the treatment, feed my body with the right nutrients and keep the fight up. But that is not the truth in my heart. My every grain wants to live and rage against the attack with a deep desire to survive, but my inner sense is subdued and often unable to muster the will and means. It’s exhausting, and I feel the deepest sense of utter loneliness because I am all that I can call on to do the inner work, but the power eludes me. 

How long can I sustain this? How long can I keep pushing? I know these are not my real thoughts, those have been overtaken by the lies of uncertainty. So I often have thoughts of folding, just letting it all go.

The hardest thing to contemplate in the midst of the effects of chemotherapy is that there is more waiting for me. I will go through this again, this will hit me a few more times, there is no escaping. To escape I would have to fold and stop and let it go. 

That thought is inconceivable. So I hold, I hold today, and tomorrow I will decide to hold again. Find some kind of autopilot that keeps me in motion. I am not ready to fold. Not just yet.