On one of our first dates, in the risky sixties, Jack and I went to an amusement park. The only thing I remember clearly is the roller coaster. Jack feigned nonchalance and I pretended to be keen, and so we both ended up scared to death in an attempt to impress each other. Just at the point where the car plunged full-tilt into the abyss, the park folks had seen fit to post a sign saying “Please Remain Seated.” Really? We both laughed hysterically, grateful for a face-saving outlet for our mutual terror.
These last months have been a roller coaster of another kind, and we’re well past pretending or saving face. Nonchalance has been in short supply. Plenty of fear. Not a lot of laughter.
Many of you who read this blog know that a few months ago Jack suffered what doctors believed to be a metastasis of the cancer that we all hoped had been eradicated by the removal of a kidney in April. A CAT scan in August revealed nodules in his lungs, too small to biopsy at the time but clearly suspicious. That suspicion has defined the past three months. We knew, of course, that the cancer might spread. We hadn’t thought it would be so soon. Even Jack’s renowned optimism gave way to resignation and depression. A scan in November would be followed by a biopsy and a plan for treatment. Maybe, with luck, we’d be able to go to Mexico for a few weeks, but he’d be on the cancer treadmill. I was trying to prepare myself for whatever might be required of me—including trying to overcome my congenital pessimism because we all know the health advantages of having a spouse with a positive attitude.
Last week, Jack got surprisingly good news. The “almost certainly malignant” nodules have not multiplied or grown perceptibly since August. While they may still be malignant, they’re growing so slowly that no one is terribly concerned about them at this point.
So instead of contemplating a winter of cancer treatments, we are making plans for our annual migration to Guanajuato soon after Christmas.
We’re also observing with interest our surprisingly subdued reaction to this welcome news. Just when the roller coaster should be swooping us upward, we are both feeling a bit flat. We were psyched up for bad news—adrenalin flowing, fight or flight. And suddenly…no immediate need to either fight or flee. It’s almost a let-down, odd though that seems. It’s interesting to think about the unconscious strategies we use to protect ourselves from emotional pain, and the unexpected consequences they may have.
Of course, there’s no fooling ourselves. We’re climbing up from an abyss without really knowing where the roller coaster will take us next, or how long the ride will be, or who will be the first to hit bottom. But it all seems a little farther away than it did just a few days ago.
So now, it’s time to leave the amusement park, get organized for our move south, and stoke up my usual angst about living with a foot in each of two countries—straddling the raging behemoth in between.