Tuesday, November 17, 2015

#SOL15: Being Present - The Value of the Moment


The first chemo treatment. 10.30.15
It's been nearly 90 days since my husband was first diagnosed with late stage lung cancer. During that time he has spent one-third of those days in the hospital. Most of that time has been spent not treating the cancer, but rather diagnosing and fighting staph infections caused by the insertion of a contaminated port into my husband's chest on the early morning of September 14. 

As I write this, Rob is 30 miles away on the fourth floor of Morristown Medical Center recovering from surgery to remove and clean an abscess that formed in his chest. More staph. He's been there for 12 days. Yesterday he waited for the technicians to whisk him to the imaging center to have an MRI of his brain made. No one arrived. We have been trying to get the MRI done since September--to see if his inability to walk unassisted is due to the cancer spreading to his brain.

Waiting gives rise to counting. 

Out the window of the hospital room we have been living in these last days, a murder of crows lifts from a field, winging sharply in an odd synchronization that forms and breaks. Against uncertainty, quantifying the bits and pieces of life offsets some of what we cannot know.

Early today, the MRI was done and now we wait for the results.


Your body, like mine, has trillions of cells. If cells could be counted like coins, it would take more than 31,000 years to count just 1 trillion and you have far more than that in your body. Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. In Rob's body, old cells don't die like they do in healthy bodies. In his body, cells grow out of control, forming new, abnormal cells. Some time ago these cells amassed and formed a mucinous cystadenocarcinoma in the apex of his right lung. While the cells amassed, we continued to walk through the days, ignorant, until this August when time folded in on itself like a poor house of cards. 
All around us, life as we knew it began to slowly collapse and we were none the wiser, nor were we able to wake ourselves from this trauma.  
It was 8:16 a.m. on August 20th when the doctor phoned. I remember later thinking how odd that such news arrived before the morning papers, before the first sip of coffee.  It was a day we had planned to sleep in. Work was over until September and we were planning a quick end-of-the-summer trip to Maine. What makes lung cancer so deadly is that the patient is often asymptomatic until the cancer metastasizes elsewhere in the body. For Rob it was acute chest pain that sent him to his doctor who said, "Let's be safe and get a picture of your chest." That picture led to a CAT scan and then an MRI and finally to a VAT procedure of the lung and a needle biopsy of the lesions that were found on his spine. And that morning, as I paced in our bedroom listening to Rob's voice, i tried not to piece together a possible story of cancer.

It's always a matter of life and death. I had forgotten that.


Last Friday in Paris, 129 people were murdered and another 352 were injured by terrorists. Ordinary people going about the business of living.

I think of those killed and wonder what each might have done differently that Friday the 13th knowing that in a few hours their lives would end.  It's tricky to live with knowledge of your mortality not as some distant, unformed end, but rather as that which is potentially more imminent, more present. Living deliberately is best expressed in the small, innocuous acts that typify an average day. For example, earlier I bought some tissue paper that I intend to use to wrap the few gifts I've gotten Rob for his birthday. I took time selecting what I wanted, imagining a small pile of gifts wrapped in this rainbow of colour. In the past, such acts were more like tasks to be checked off rather than opportunities to be dwelled in. This deliberateness, this odd gift of being present in the moment, gives definition to the mundane.

Some days it is easier to forget the mortality that signals our impermanence, dogs our steps.  Others less so.

It's how we live in the moment, in the here and now, that matters most.


  1. I am so, so sorry that you and Rob are having to go through this. I hope there are lots of people around you to love and care for the two of you. This is a beautiful piece of writing, with each word and image so carefully chosen and piece together. I will be thinking of the two of you…

    1. Thank you Carol. It helps to write and to read your response.

  2. Tears.
    Your writing is powerful and moving.
    Heart aches for you.
    Just came from Toronto with my husband who was diagnosed in September.
    We met strong and courageous people like you and your husband. I still haven't been able to process all of it yet They so deeply touched my heart.

    1. I'm sorry to know you travel the same road as we do. My best to you and your husband.

  3. Yes, the sacred and the profane. So well delivered.

    While I mourn circumstances I am so pleased you are able to recognize and live in the sacred of the ordinary. It's a gift you give yourself, and it proceeds from your years of love and caring for life and others.

    And it's a gift to your readers and those who care for you and your family. The best of humanity always in troubled times. Thank you.

    1. The sacred of the ordinary. Exactly, Bill.

  4. I hope and pray that you and Rob find peace and joy and that there are many more days of both. This is a beautiful piece that brought tears to my eyes.

    1. Thanks Deb. Joy, peace and love are with us in each touch, each expression, each moment we simply are.