Death has inflicted a deep wound on my life which will not heal anymore. Ever since someone called this wound “cancer” and declared it incurable, I have been living with the presence of death in my everyday life.
It glares at me when I look at myself in the mirror. In the mornings, it wakes up at my side and it huddles up against me in bed at night. It laughs with me in my happiest moments and cries with me when I am miserable. As soon as I put my arms around my little son, death stands between us. And even if I kiss my love, the bitter taste of mortality will remain on my lips.
I make up my face artfully by applying some life on my pallor. Camouflage. Death will not leave me. I dress up, hiding the scars which don’t heal anymore. Masquerade. They are tattooed on my skin. I might run away, getting faster and faster. In vain. Death will be waiting for me as soon as I arrive.
Don’t pity me. Cancer is playing on our most fundamental fears. Cancer patients are referred to as warriors. We live in a war zone, fighting death. You, the healthy ones, want us to win this battle. It’s a fight against windmills though. In the long run, none of us will survive. I have left the battlefield. I am a cancer renegade.
My open wound is a daily reminder. I have learnt to live with it. No dressing material, let it bleed and give me the bloody truth. Life is short. Mine might be shorter, yet neither of us is immortal. They say that cancer is merciless. However, in all its cruelty it has provided me with insight – it has made me aware of my restrictions. And by perceiving those limits I have decided to head straight for them. To go to the edge without necessarily living on the edge.
It all began when I suffered a miscarriage. Shortly afterwards, my pregnancy tests were positive again and the obstetrician had a complete blood count done. Together with the news that I was expecting our fourth child I received my cancer diagnosis. I was told I had chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Nobody knew what it meant in the beginning. Nobody could tell what was going to happen to the baby. During an incredibly long period of nearly three months I had to wait for my prognosis. My family needed to make crucial decisions. While life was growing inside me, I was forced to face death. I was surprised to hear that few cancer patients ask for the truth. I did. “How much time do I have left?” For me this was essential; it enabled me to make peace with my own mortality.
In the meantime, I make the best out of my life. Instead of being paralyzed with shock, my family realized a long-cherished dream and moved to Southern Europe. When my doctors told me that I had to stop traveling to exotic countries, I went on a last backpacking trip to Africa. I changed my career: I cannot be exposed to people as much as before and work as a ghostwriter from home now. When I was feverish for months, I felt too weak for scientific studies. I looked for alternatives and started to blog. Through my blog I have met lots of inspiring chronic illness warriors. My compromised immune system, permanent infections and the cancer fatigue I am suffering from are limiting me, of course. Yet I have found many new ways of getting involved. I am even thinking about starting my own company! Life has given me plenty – before and after my diagnosis – and it continues to do so.
I want to live my life to the fullest. This is not merely an epicurean thought. I do not believe that the pleasures of life alone serve to give it a purpose. More than anything I am in search of meaningfulness. I want to grow within my limits: spiritually, mentally and emotionally. And so far, it seems that my limits are growing with me.