Monday, August 13, 2007

August 13, 2007 - Shooting Stars

“Wait without hope
For hope would be hope of the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith,
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought.
So the darkness shall be light and the stillness the dancing.”

– T.S. Eliot, from “East Coker”

Early this morning, just after midnight, Claire and I drive down the street and walk out onto the beach. We’re looking for shooting stars. This is supposed to be the height of the annual Perseid meteor showers. We sit there for about 15 minutes, enjoying the cool breeze, listening to the sounds of the surf. It’s not exactly dark enough for optimal viewing – the bright lights of the boardwalk amusements are behind us, and off in the direction of the sea are a couple of spotlights from not-so-distant fishing boats.

It feels good to be here, all the same. Like many people who live in this beachfront community, we tend to avoid the beach in the summer – too crowded. There’s also something that irks me about having to pay for admission to the beach (as is common all up and down the Jersey Shore, but rare in most other parts of the country). It seems, somehow, sacreligious to cough up six or seven simoleons for the privilege of sitting on the sand and looking at God’s ocean. The people in other parts of the country seem to have it right, while we New Jerseyans just don’t get it. (Just wait till the next hurricane – then we’ll learn who really owns the beach.)

In the early hours of the morning, though, none of that matters. Admission is free.

We sit there, leaning back on our the palms of our hands, regarding the firmament. We see nary a shooting star. Maybe it’s the lights or maybe it’s the slight cloud cover, but this doesn’t appear to be the right time. When you’re looking for shooting stars, the trick is to keep your eyes on the sky, but to focus on nothing in particular. If you’re lucky, you’ll be rewarded with an ever-so-brief trail of luminous stardust, and your eyes will immediately track over to that spot.

Eventually, we conclude this is a night of fruitless waiting, so we go home and go to bed.

I think my watch-and-wait approach to lymphoma is going to be a lot like that. What I’m watching and waiting for is not, of course, anything so delightful as a shooting star. I’m waiting for emerging signs of cancer. Yet, as this passage from Dr. Elizabeth Adler’s Living With Lymphoma reminds me, I’m also waiting for a cure:

“If indolent disease is asymptomatic, many oncologists practice a watch-and wait (or watchful waiting) approach. You don’t start treatment right away; the doctor simply checks up on you at intervals to see if the disease is progressing. Studies have indicated that people who are treated with a watch-and-wait approach, who begin therapy only when treatment becomes necessary, survive as long as people who start aggressive therapy as soon as their disease is uncovered.

Some people find it tremendously nerve-wracking to sit back and do nothing while waiting to see if (when) their cancer progresses. If you feel that way and your doctor has recommended a watch-and-wait approach, you may find it more appealing to think of this time as a reprieve, while you ‘watch and wait’ for the discovery of an effective and nontoxic cure. A cure seems close enough that I have no doubt one will become available before some of us who are newly diagnosed with indolent disease are ready to start therapy.”

– Elizabeth M. Adler, Living With Lymphoma (Johns Hopkins, 2005), p. 99.

As the poet says, “the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.” Until now, my approach to the disease has been characterized by energetic activity: reading, studying, obtaining second opinions, going for treatment. Now, I’m regarding a wide-open sky, with no idea when something significant is going to emerge.

In one sense, I can go about “business as usual.” I don’t feel bad. My illness isn’t preventing me from doing anything I’d like to do. Yet, in another sense, the mere thought of cancer is as much an impediment as the disease itself. Waiting is never easy.

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.”

– Psalm 130:5-6


Anonymous said...

I think , if treatment is a destination , then our wait and watch is a journey and as the poet says:

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure , full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon- don't be afraid of them,
you'll never find things like that one on your way ,
as long as you keep your thoughs raised high,
as long as a rare excitment
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon - you won't encounter them,
unless you bring them along inside your soul ,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
(K.P. Cavafy ,from ITHAKA).

Vicky said...

Thank you for this beautiful column, Carl.

Rob Pollock said...

A great description of watching and waiting in your last two posts Carl. I hope this treatment regime last a long,long time
Rob; in Vancouver

Carlos ("Carl") said...

Thanks, Rob.