Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Love and cancer

Two weeks ago, a dear friend phoned me to say goodbye. We've known each other for more than twenty years, but she felt herself slipping away from who she has been. With tenderness and toughness that I can hardly imagine, she wanted to spend ten last minutes with me before glioblastoma multiforme, diagnosed fifteen months ago, made that impossible.

After, I went outside into the bright spring sunshine and sat on the warped and splintering deck and wept. The three boys next door kept playing, laughing, living, just as my friend's three daughters will, I hope, in time. Then I went back inside to make the phone calls that she had asked me to make.

The first death that took someone I loved out of my life came from another glioblastoma multiforme. My grandfather went from vigorous septuagenarian to dust in a few short months. At fourteen, I spent his entire funeral struggling not to cry. That male imperative not to show my feelings was proxy for too-large grief.

No amount of experience with malignant glioma prepares you for another case. It's a dire diagnosis. Hope and pray is what we do even when there's nothing else to do. Especially when there's nothing else.

Sadly, the chance that Ted Kennedy will survive his glioma, whether it is GBM or merely grade III, is smaller than the chance his diagnosis is wrong. I don't want this to be true, but it's a brute fact.

Oh how I wish it were not.

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