A Note from Fatty: For those of you who want to donate to Susan’s WIN fund, I’ve added a button at the top of the right sidebar. I’m simultaneously embarrassed to have such a link and grateful to those of you who feel compelled to help. Thanks.
I’m sure you’ve played the game before: “What would you do if you had only six months to live?”
Believe me, the game is a lot more intense when you’re playing it for real. And the rules are a lot more complicated.
First of all, you’re not actually given six months. As near as I can tell, they only give you a definite period like that on movies and TV, where a nicely defined timeline serves the needs of the plot. Instead, you’re told you have “months, not years.”
Next, Unlike in the game, when you’re given a short period of time to live, it’s because you’re already deathly sick. So things like skydiving, kickboxing, and (worst of all for us) going to Italy can’t be part of your list either. If your daily radiation treatment is enough to tire you out, you’re probably not going to be traveling.
And finally, unlike in the game, in the real world you might have kids who are in school. And you might need to have your husband keep his job so he can buy food, pay the bills, and keep your medical insurance.
So, with those rules in mind, what would you do with your last unknown quantity of months?
Our answer, for right now, is to keep doing things pretty much the way we have been doing them our whole lives.
And you have no idea how happy I am that we are.
You see, the fact that, when confronted with a limited number of days Susan wants to go on living the life she already has is a big relief to me, and a huge credit to her.
Think about it. When confronted with the end of their life, almost everyone wants to spend their remaining time with their family. And since Susan’s raised our kids (and me) so that we want to be with each other, there’s no change here. Everybody’s already in place, and there’s nowhere any of us would rather be.
I’m glad for that.
Even more, I’m glad that Susan is still Susan. I’ve told her over and over how lucky I feel that even though this stupid cancer has ruined her body, it’s left her mind untouched. Susan still has the same personality she’s always had. She still has her memories. She’s still exactly the person I married.
When I think about how it could have just as easily gone the other way — Susan’s body could still be working and her consciousness could have been altered or eliminated — I get a huge wave of nausea.
Earlier this week, I had lunch with a man; his wife of forty years died of breast cancer about ten months ago. He told me that he regrets not having recorded her voice, of not getting down her stories.
I realized how close I’ve come to having this exact same regret. I’ve been given a grace period; I need to take advantage of it. So I’ve bought a tripod for the camcorder. For just a few minutes each night, we’re going to sit on the bed together and talk about things. How we met, how we got engaged almost immediately, how we discovered we were having twins, how I told her as she woke up from a mastectomy to have me tell her I had quit one job, taken another, and put the house up for sale while she was in surgery. What she expects of the kids. What she expects of me (including a promise to not become a bitter and angry man, I expect). How the novel she’s been working on should end (I’m still very hopeful she’ll end it herself). How she feels when making jewelry. What growing up near Venice Beach was like.
Really, conversations we’ve already had, and stuff I already know. But I need to get it in her voice.
I’ll always be angry at what cancer is and does, but I am glad that we’ve been given something a lot of people don’t get: time to take care of what’s important.
And I’m so glad we’re happy enough with what we have that we just want more of it. And I’m glad that Susan doesn’t mind me taking some of her remaining time for my selfish purposes: collecting and saving a little extra of her, so the kids won’t forget, and so I can make do.