Years, months, weeks

It would have taken me months to write many more essays. Years, probably, before I wrote a really good one. And it would have taken me forever to understand and figure out all that I wanted to understand and figure out.

But what I got are weeks.

The chemotherapy regimen I’ve been on, Gemcitabine, has stopped working. Blood tests show that my tumour-marker levels are rising. My pain is being managed well, but it is getting worse — it’s clear that my disease is advancing. And my appetite has diminished greatly; eating often hurts.

The most promising treatments are not all that promising. They are phase 1 clinical trials of drugs broad enough for any cancer, whose effectiveness is thus far only speculative and whose dosage has yet to be determined. So at this point, they’re more likely to do harm than good.

And because pancreatic cancer moves so quickly, what I got are weeks.

Before I had cancer, I too had years. And for the last year and a half, I had months. It was only logical that it would turn into weeks at some point. And so it happens now.

Marcus Aurelius once asked himself how he would react if a god told him that he would either die tomorrow or the day after. And he couldn’t see what difference it would make.



How could I be angry?

Time seems to slip away from me. Days and hours seem to go missing. Fatigue seems to be the most common culprit. Sleepiness and exhaustion take me down at unpredictable times.

I used up four days in the hospital last week, due to a fever. Fevers, if you are in chemotherapy, require going to emergency. You are given saline and a lot of antibiotics. It probably saved my life, and I should probably feel grateful. But it’s hard.

Before cancer, I would spend most of almost any day reading and thinking, but now it seems that I have to spend the hours I have on errands, in hospitals, going to and coming back from hospitals, leaving little energy and time for what matters to me.

But as often as it comes to the fore of my mind, I find that I cannot sustain my anger and my feeling of unfairness.

I am often grateful. When I heard about the earthquake in Japan mid-April, I felt sad for the victims, and grateful that I did not suffer their awful misfortune.

I think about all the people who have died in car accidents every year and about who will die this year and the next. Over 32,000 people die every year in car accidents in the U.S., and over 2000 in Canada.

I think about how sudden their deaths were and are — how they had no time to contemplate the rest of their lives.

I think about the 3 million children who die every year due to starvation. These children didn’t get to do what I have been able to: grow up, read books, make friends and lose a few, find love and experience heartbreak, to struggle and learn about the world and what it means to be human.

One should not think about fairness without thinking about the context. That is what fairness is, after all – what we have in the context of others. But real fairness, ultimate fairness, isn’t about how much you get compared to your brother or your sister, or how much you get compared to your friends, your co-workers, your neighbours, or even your fellow citizens. It’s about how much you have, and how much anyone has, in comparison to everyone in the world.

And by keeping that in mind, how could I, a man lucky enough to be born and raised in Canada, a country with socialized medicine and a stable economy, think himself the recipient of worldly unfairness? How could I — who have such loving parents and brother and sister, wonderful and devoted friends, a decent education, time to reflect, and the most wonderful partner — be angry with what I’ve been given?

How could I be angry in the face of all this? I’m not sure, but I do manage it from time to time.