I have a wonderful Summer job playing bass with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in upstate New York. Towards the end of the season last year I started developing some indigestion and low back pain that I chalked up to work and the excitement of ending the season.
When I finally got home the indigestion seemed to intensify, the back ache didn’t go away and on Labor day weekend I had a low grade fever and slept most of the weekend. I’m one of those lucky people who rarely gets sick and even if I do it’s just a cold. These symptoms continued and I eventually went to my doctor.
I felt like a hypochondriac. None of the symptoms were debilitating; not the indigestion, not the back ache, not the daily low grade fever. My doctor was perplexed as well. So she started some tests. After a blood test that came back normal she asked for an ultra-sound. After the ultra-sound I asked the technician if it was a boy or a girl? I also asked if I needed a blood test. I thought my doctor wanted one. They told me to wait. They’d send the ultra-sound to my doctor and if she needed blood drawn they’d take care of that as well. After a fifteen minute wait the techs told me my doctor wanted to see me right away. This is never a good sign in a medical situation.
That day was September 27 and my primary physician diagnosed cancer. She told me that the way the health system works it might take up to two weeks to get all the necessary tests done and hook me up with an oncologist. But, she was going to push the tests and make sure everything happened ASAP.
How do you feel when you hear the word cancer? Nowadays one knows of so many people overcoming this disease. I was scared. But I imagined a difficult process that would eventually end with my being cured.
On October 6 Kristina and I met with my oncologist. The cancer was stage 4. It’s inoperable and incurable. As the doctor discreetly left the room to allow us some moments to collect ourselves I burst into tears, turned to Kristina and said,”I didn’t do anything wrong”.
We live our lives as if we are in control of our destiny. Yet sickness, disease, disaster strikes randomly, unreasonably. We all know that intellectually. But, our first instincts in these situations is to try and find blame. In ourselves, in those around us. To think that we have a bargain. If we keep our heads low, exercise, eat right, follow the law we’ll avoid misfortune. And, if the bargain is broken it’s our fault. We must have done something because the universe could not be that cruel.
All we are really promised when we are born is that we will eventually die. What happens in between those two events is both wonderful, terrifying, beautiful and always inexplicable. It’s called the human condition. Embrace it in all its paradoxes.