I just finished my latest translation job. It had to do with cars, fancy performance cars, produced in a bleeding-edge state of the art factory in Italy that anchors the economy of an entire region. The interviews I translated were conducted on a noisy factory floor. It took me over fifteen hours to complete the job. I had to crank the volume up very high to be able to hear well, so I feel as though I have spent weeks on the factory floor, myself.
But my mom is visiting, and we went out for coffee this morning because it’s an off day for my meds, and I realized that right about now, three years ago, is when the whole metastatic melanoma mess began for me. Three years tomorrow since the lung biopsy that confirmed it was indeed melanoma, and three years ago the day after tomorrow that I realized my lung had collapsed as a result of the biopsy, and I wound up spending a day and a half in the ER, contemplating all that would come next.
This means that I have been trying to write an essay about that day and a half in the ER for three years now. It has been through more drafts than I care to remember. Now that I’ve finished my latest job, I’m of two minds — hoping some more work drops into my lap very soon, but also craving some down time, to get back to the writing. If I’m lucky, maybe both things will happen.
If I’m lucky? Actually, I know I am. Because it has been three years since my cancer went deep… and here I am sharing that anniversary with you.
Sometimes it takes a constraint — I need to go to sleep soon, early wakeup for apple picking tomorrow — to get me writing again. It has been an eventful few weeks of wrapping up camp (Young A), packing up the car for a week at the beach, unpacking the car after a week at the beach, the week at the beach punctuated by the need for medication that was for once not mine (Young J had to bring a nebulizer on the trip). And then a visit with my parents, and then, at last, coming down like a long-awaited blessing from heaven, the start of the school year.
Here’s some proof it wasn’t (all) aggravating!
Once the kids were back in school, meaning about an hour after they were back in school, I was back at my computer to work on my latest translation job. This time, television work, so I’m spending my days listening to and subtitling interviews conducted on a noisy factory floor. I still stop at certain moments and marvel that I have really done it, I have changed jobs, I have work I can do now. It is reassuring. This week, we bought a new dishwasher and had it installed. Knowing that the work I did over the summer paid for it felt so good.
Over the Labor Day weekend, we took the kids to see the 40th anniversary release of Close.Encounters of the Third Kind. It was a film I remembered fondly from my childhood, which I don’t think I had ever watched again. Seeing it forty years later, I was surprised at how much resonance it had for me. I wondered whether in fact the film had planted a seed in five year old me which would not germinate for nearly forty years. The film shares my very strong preoccupation with the importance of communication, the need to find ways to communicate with others by any means necessary.
Translation is important in this movie, from the very first moment.
The fact that music turns out to be the chief mode of communication is also not lost on me.
Nor was it lost on Young A, our resident budding pianist, who latched onto the alien’s riff and has been playing it incessantly. As I must have done after seeing the movie.
I have more I want to say about this film, but it may turn into an essay. I’ll save the rest, for now.
Taking my cancer medication every other day has been a joy. I hope I can continue this way indefinitely. Knowing I get a break every other day makes the fasting on the “on” days more manageable.
I have my latest scan results now. All is well. All is stable. And in a vote of confidence, Dr P is letting me skip my six-week checkup and go three months, until my next scans, before I see her again.
But I’m also getting a little medication reprieve: I will now take meds every other day, rather than every day. This is pretty huge. To be able to count on having regular breaks from the tyranny of a twice-daily three hour fast is very liberating. Dr P also said I’d probably start feeling better. There’s nothing to make you feel worse than hearing you could be feeling better. Right? The fact is, there is a baseline exhaustion I have been living with, a generalized sluggishness which I would love to pin on my meds. I hope that is the case.
As the gap between my crisis years of 2014-2015 and the present widen, so will the anxiety. I know that. Advertisements like to warn us, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”
Also, just as I started to think about writing this post, a word in Italian popped into my head. It’s a fun word, one you learn in class because it is very, very long and fun to say. And it forms part of a handy proverb:
Chi troppo in alto sale, cade sovente
Which basically means: the higher you climb, the faster you’ll fall. I’ve seen this happen. I can only hope it won’t happen to me.
There are many ways of falling, but not all are bad ways. For the next three months, I’ll be trying my best to keep that in mind.
It’s been quiet. Quiet enough that when I stop talking, as I did for many hours this week while plowing through to the end of a translation job, I started tuning in to other sounds. In this case, sitting out on the balcony with my laptop, I kept hearing loud buzzing at very close range. It wasn’t some far-off saw, part of the symphony of never-ending construction in this neighborhood. This was much closer. It wasn’t the thin whine of a mosquito, either. After waving my hand past my ear a couple of times, I stopped working to look, and I realized it was bumblebees. A lot of them. All dive-bombing the red impatiens I planted a couple months ago, which have gone wild in the rainy summer we’ve had. And me with my red hair, which bees often do mistake for flowers, right there nearby!
I had an intense childhood fear of bees, and even remember going back inside the house to change to long sleeves and long pants on a hot, sunny day when I saw bees buzzing around the roof of the porch. I saw my brother get attacked by a nest of yellow jacket wasps when I was a little older, something that nearly killed him because he hadn’t known he was allergic. Even though it took me decades to get stung for the first time, myself, I was always wary.
Having kids can make you reassess the things you’re afraid of, though. I don’t want my kids to grow up in fear of the insect world — after all, when it comes to insects, humans are outnumbered by far. While I think I am right to caution them about yellow jacket wasps in September, which is when they go a little nuts just before dying, I would like them to be able to admire a bumblebee going about its work.
And so it was that I spent the latter part of this week, crunched into the small space my balcony allows for a stool and a table just large enough for my laptop, typing furiously as I turned Italian into English, aided by the busy, buzzy industry of my new friends. The fact that I have never been much of a gardener, yet somehow managed to produce a bumper crop of whatever these guys want, this year, was also satisfying. I feel the bees perhaps brought me luck — because I completed the project I’d been working on for months, and then another one quickly showed up.
And the bees did something else, too. They helped pull me out of some deep sadness, which began when I learned, earlier in the week that a writer had lost her life to cancer. A mutual friend of ours had introduced us, and we were supposed to meet for coffee one day last April, but that day she canceled because she wasn’t feeling well. We never managed to find the time again. May her memory be a blessing to all who knew her. I’m glad I at least had the chance to know about her. And, we have her words.
I’m heading into a weekend before my next scans on Monday, with results that day and the next. I’m hoping I’ll find good distractions this weekend. Tomorrow they’re calling for rain. Not good for the bumblebees, but maybe good to keep us busy indoors (and hopefully not going stir crazy in the hive).
Facebook serves up memories on a daily basis. Every day I get a complete rundown of what I was thinking, or what the kids did or said. Every post takes on the weight of history — deserved, or not.
Yesterday, this photo showed up. Young A is sitting on a bench on a rainy day. He’s two and a half years old. I remember that day. Young J was at day camp, it was raining, and we needed to find something — anything — to do. We went for a walk in the rain, and when we got to the corner, we came upon some workers from the city drilling holes in the sidewalk to install a brand new bench.
We stood under the awning of the dry cleaners and watched them work. It didn’t take long, and suddenly, there was a bench where there had not been one before. Young A was invited to be the first to sit on it, and one of the guys wiped the rain off for him. From that day, we call it “Young A’s bench.”
I thought about this photo all day yesterday, and eventually realized why it was haunting me. That photo was taken when I was just a civilian. A mom with a toddler to entertain in the rain. My concerns were any mother’s concerns.
Eight months later, when Young A was three, I’d be diagnosed with melanoma, and I’d never again get to be the person I was when I took this photo. Although I’m much (older and fatter and slower and) wiser now, I miss that person.
Here we are in midsummer. A lot of things have already taken place (namely, Young J and Young A gone off to sleepaway camp for the first time, one back already and the other returning this weekend). I have cycled through giddy feelings of sudden freedom, audacious frittering-away of precious free time, and then the difficult readjustment to parenting mode. Arguably, we were still parents while the kids were away; it’s just that that type of parenting was exclusively sentimental and involved little more than hunting for the day’s latest photos of the boys, or sending them fun letters and emails.
I had a lot of work the first week they were away. It feels good to be getting paid on a somewhat regular basis. It’s been so long since I was paid for anything, I nearly forgot what it was like. Which is sad, because I used to have such a strong identity as a worker. I filed income taxes from age fifteen on. At the end of this year, it will be a decade since I left the comfortable, cradle-to-grave type job I moved to New York for, and since I was at that job for a decade, that means my 20th anniversary of living in NYC (which I like to call an Appleversary) approaches, too. So much to think about.
I joined a melanoma community on Facebook which is vibrant and quite wide-reaching. In recent weeks there has been a constant drip of bad, sad, and simply terrible news there. I find myself trying to negotiate being present there with self-preservation. Especially hard when the people you have identified with the most experience setbacks, or the end of the line altogether. Two very young boys lost their mother to melanoma today, and I wept when I read the news.
I wept, and then I reached for the one thing that has never let me down when I feel desperately sad — a notebook. I hadn’t written longhand in ages, and it was the feeling I needed. Not the deliberate click of keyboard keys. More of a sweeping action, one that has never failed to help me generate new ideas. And I started something. I’m not sure what it will be yet, but I will definitely fill up the notebook with it.
I have kept up with my monthly check-ins on my Seven Year Plan, the one I came up with last December upon turning 45. I am not always 100% pleased with my progress, but I am also much less stern with myself than I used to be. The temptation to measure my progress with borrowed yardsticks is as strong as always, hard to undo a lifetime of that kind of behavior, but I’m doing what I can. And I am learning that I can do a lot.
Tonight I went to see Dr. D once again. I had a few days of waking to what seemed like a Vaseline-coated lens in my left eye. The eye looked red. I stopped wearing my contacts for a day, but things didn’t improve. Finally, today, I acknowledged defeat and called for an appointment, which I was given at the unfamiliar hour of 6:30 pm. I also hauled out my eye drop collection and squirted some Prednisolone drops in the bad eye a couple of times. The instant relief diagnosed my condition even before I’d had a chance to see Dr D. Iritis again, once more, with feeling (actually, this time, with no feeling). The pressure in the affected left eye was half what it is in the healthy right eye. I can somehow see perfectly through both.
Back to steroid eye drops every two hours for a week, but I don’t need to dilate the pupil, which has me feeling strangely euphoric. I mean, yeah, I have side effects! But they are entirely familiar! And I know how to manage them myself! Also — because these side effects come from Tafinlar and Mekinist, I’ve taken the day off those! Which means I can have a snack after 9 pm! So right now I’m off to figure out what that might be, and then to watch another episode of Twin Peaks with J. A blessedly ordinary night.