The end is in sight, and we’re both jittery as hell.
At the beginning of this week, Faramir’s doctor announced in true doctor fashion that they were going to go ahead and start his fourth round of chemotherapy immediately. The possibility of sneaking in some extra home days between rounds 3 and 4 was already looking unlikely; nonetheless, we were both pretty taken aback by the news. But, we reasoned, the faster the treatment goes, the sooner it’s done, and the sooner he gets to come home.
Round 4. This is the one where we find out whether it’s all been working. The doctors are consistently optimistic about Faramir’s progress, his response to the chemo, and his overall physical state. That’s encouraging, up to a point. It doesn’t shake the underlying fact that we don’t know what’s going on.* That we won’t know what’s going on until we get some test results back. That they might have to move on to Plan B…and even though I’m sure there is a Plan B, the thought of it is terrifying. The other night, Faramir said to me that up until now he’s pretty successfully avoided thinking about what will happen if the treatment doesn’t work. My response?
“I think about it all the time.”
Earlier this summer, I read a book called When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron, which had been recommended to me by Faramir’s mom and others as a thoughtful, Buddhist response to change. The particular chapter which I found most helpful was called “Hopelessness and Death.” Chodron writes of cultivating hopelessness, not in a pessimistic or defeated way, but in recognition of the fact that the future will be what it will be. Whatever imagined future I construct for myself out of hopes and expectations will be shaken apart and rebuilt by what actually happens,and living with that is so much easier than fighting against it. Chodron recommends that, in lieu of the usual optimistic slogans, we put a slip of paper on our refrigerator that reads, “Abandon hope.”
I haven’t gone that far, but this mindset has really helped me to confront scary questions about the future. The truth is that, no matter how optimistic the doctors are, anything could happen. It’s been hard to maintain this point of view in front of our friends and family, however, who just want to know that everything’s going to be okay. “What’s his prognosis?” “The doctors are optimistic, right?” “Oh, he feels good? Does that mean it’s working?” I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, much as I would like to. I’ve tried to maintain my inner hopelessness (again, the peaceful, open-to-the-universe kind of hopelessness, not the despairing kind) in the face of a barrage of well-meaning hope.
But last night, I blew it. Faramir and I were talking about how scared we both are about what happens next, and I consciously discarded the Zen-mind that I’ve so carefully crafted for myself over the past few months. I looked him straight in the eye and told him the chemo was working. I told him I knew that, because if it weren’t working he would feel so much worse than he does right now. I told him that everything was going to be fine. Turns out, that was what we both really needed to hear.
Round 4. Today is the last day of chemo via the IV. Tomorrow is the last dose of intrathecal chemo. Then there will be tests, and recovery, and our old friend Neupogen. Then he’ll come home. Then we’ll see what happens next.
*I should clarify that when I say we don’t know what’s going on, I mean that in a very meta sense. I feel well-informed by Faramir’s doctors and by the research we’ve both done. What’s making me jittery is my overall inability to predict the future.